More Than a Meal

Last November, when the alert went out about an “active shooter” on The Ohio State University campus, every phone in town started buzzing with messages checking on safety, expressing fear, shouting outrage, or quietly questioning the state of the world.

As the news cycle turns, we learned there was no gun, we learned there were no deaths, and we learned that the perpetrator was a young Somali Muslim man who had just started attending the university. Later, we learned he had been featured in The Lantern expressing his fear of praying on campus, later we learned he had self-radicalized.

While condemning the actions of this lone man, some in the community started feeling uneasy, knowing what was coming: suspicion of the local Somali community, the second-largest in the nation.

Certainly, social media was in shazam mode; however, one post that scrolled by was a pinpoint of light in the clouds of the day:

“We stand in support of our CBus Somali community (LGBTQ and otherwise). They of all people know how devastating violence can be, most of them having fled such in their homeland to find a safe refuge here. Tomorrow (Tuesday) we will be having lunch at a Somali Restaurant (Hoyo’s Kitchen) at 1pm in support of this community. We invite you to join us.”

Posted on the Stonewall Columbus page, the status has since received over 600 likes. Just when my faith in humanity was ebbing– what a fall, yeah?– I felt that stirring of pride in the power of community and, by extension, civilization as a whole.

I reached out to Lori Gum, Stonewall program and Pride coordinator as well as local writing tornado (check out her past work for (614) Magazine), to find out about the inspiration behind the post.

Where were you when you heard about the violence on campus and what crossed your mind? I had just gotten to Stonewall Columbus when I heard there was an “active shooter” situation. And as it became obvious that there were victims, of course, our hearts and thoughts went out immediately to them. That was our first concern. Most of our staff at SWC are alumni and/or are presently attending OSU. It was horrifying.  As the incident became clearer, we conveyed our support to OSU as we work with many LGBTQ groups there and even called Police Chief Jacobs to commend the CPD on their quick and very thorough response. Then of course, our attention was turned to the young man who had committed this horrible act.   Who he was, did not, in any way lessen the responsibility of his horrible crime. But once we did find out he was Somali, we had immediate concerns with a potential violent backlash against the Cbus Somali community. We work very closely with LGBTQ refugees and some of them are Somali. We know their fears very well and we felt it was important to them and our City to show our support for that community in a very tangible way. It is our responsibility at Stonewall to particularly support minority groups that may be the victim of hate crimes/violence. We know as an LGBTQ community what that feels like. We, of course, categorically detest the violence that was committed by one individual.

I am sort of assuming here that you were behind the Stonewall Columbus facebook post about going to Hoyo to show support – what gave you the idea? I actually posted it first myself… just as a citizen wanting to show support.  I thought… what can I do personally to stand behind this community… to support a Somali business is a great way to illustrate support. And so I posted… on my personal page. Then my  Executive Director, Karla Rothan, suggested that we make it a Stonewall event in order to very publicly support our Somali community and thereby support ALL of our immigrant and refugee communities.

So…how was lunch? It was amazing! I met the owner of the restaurant, 28-year-old AB Hassan who himself was an OSU grad. He stood and stands very much at the intersection of this event…. Both as an alum and as a Somali-American. His perspective was enlightening and inspiring. He condemned the violence categorically, but also reminded everyone that he and many other Somali community members had worked hard to engage and participate as citizens in this country and was afraid that one person could undo all of the progress that had been achieved.

He put a very human face on the disappointment in their community that another Somali could do something like this.  I believe that bringing the story of A.B. Hassan and his family to light helps resist all of the xenophobic and anti-immigrant/ refugee political rhetoric in this country and we must as a city make sure that their voices are heard. Especially when a tragedy like this occurs. We cannot forget the victims… but we also must always resist retaliatory violence against anyone.

If the old adage, “show me what you eat and I’ll show you who you are,” were tweaked just a bit to say, “show me where you eat and I’ll show you who you are,” events such as Stonewall’s and Gum’s would show Columbus as a community that dines together, stays together.