Shukri's brother died in Somalia. He was six. Her family fled poverty and violence soon after and gained refugee status in Kenya, the US, and eventually earned American citizenship.
They left their home, friends, and family in search of a safe place for their children. Throat cutting and gang rape were commonplace in Somalia. Shukri's mother remembers that, "You’d walk on the street and see people getting shot in front of your eyes, people left Somalia because they didn’t want to watch people die."
Shukri is an American citizen, and she is my student. This makes me happy because though the refugee process took years, the United States recognized that our country is better because of her.
She is in high school and wants to be a biochemical engineer:
"My parents didn’t have a chance to change the world. They had to make sure we survived. I want to take advantage of what they’ve worked so hard to bring me. This is how my childhood shaped my ambitions to help people."
I've gotten to know this incredibly thoughtful and intelligent young woman over the past two years. As an educator, it's humbling to know students like Shukri: when she concentrates on a problem, the intensity is electric.
On top of schoolwork, she is leading two projects at one of America's first socially-conscious makerspaces. Her first project, a low-cost prosthetic robotic arm, and the second, a network of "smart" free food pantries located in our lower-income neighborhood in Denver, CO. She is focused on improving the lives of real people in our Denver community, and she works hard every day to repay her parents and the country that gave her a real shot at life.
America made a wise decision to grant Shukri's family citizenship, and we did so without alienating entire nations. Shukri's work to help our local community—and her achievements as a young American—will strengthen our country and make us safer.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: she is Muslim.
I asked Shukri her take on the recent travel ban, and here's what she said:
“I’ve never lived in Somalia, so I don’t know exactly what it’s like. I was born and raised in America, and I had it a lot better than my parents. But from their hard work and struggle to get me where I am today, I know that these refugees are not bad people—they’re just trying to help their kids through life without going through the same thing. Not everyone is what Muslims are perceived as right now, people are coming here for reasons different than what Trump is trying to say we’re coming here for.”
We don't need to alienate nations to be safe. People like Shukri make us safe.
As an educator, I've had to think very hard about what to say to my high school students in the middle of all this. I'm reminded of what my teachers said to me after 9/11. They told me that the goal of terrorism is to strike enough fear into our hearts that, in our frenzy to maintain safety, we harm ourselves. This strikes me as correct, and I believe it's something we've lost track of in the years since.
America must be strong, and we must continue to create great patriots like Shukri.