by Irene Jagla
The untimely and tragic death of Amina Ahmed, SeaTac City Councilmember and longtime immigrant and refugee advocate, shocked a community that had invested much hope in her tenure as a way to battle displacement and gentrification. Ahmed died in a car accident in the afternoon of December 8 at the intersection of South 188th Avenue and 16th Avenue South in SeaTac. She was only seven weeks into her council appointment.
In the months leading up to Ahmed’s appointment, SeaTac’s East African community was in the midst of advocating against the sale of SeaTac Center, a hub of commerce and East African culture that is central to the community’s livelihood. Ahmed, who is Somali by heritage and was raised in Kenya, represented hope for representation and a voice for the community in the council, which is currently considering the sale of SeaTac Center to developer Inland Group. The sale would force more than 50 immigrant owned businesses to vacate the property without any assurance that there would be another place to relocate.
Takele Gobena, who applied for the same city council seat as Ahmed, expressed sadness on behalf of the community when remembering her short time on the council. He was glad that she earned the appointment and believed that “she actually represented me, my campaign, and the job we’re trying to do in this community. And now she’s no longer there. It’s a huge loss.”
Lois Schipper, who has been friends with Ahmed since 2006 when their children started middle school together, was one of about 400 sitting on the women’s side of Abu Bakr mosque on Dec. 10 for Amina’s memorial service. She later attended a vigil at SeaTac City Hall on Dec. 11 where more than 200 visitors packed into a room and spilled out into the entryway to pay respect to this community advocate who made such an impact.
Prior to her appointment to the SeaTac City Council, Amina accomplished much in her community advocacy career. During her service on the Sidewalk Advisory Committee and the Public Safety and Justice Committee, Ahmed convinced the city to build a sidewalk in her neighborhood so children wouldn’t have to trudge through high water on their way to school.
It was community-focused projects like these, which she has been involved with since 1999, that led the SeaTac City Council to appoint her. After her nomination on October 13, councilmembers explained why they had chosen her.
“We are lacking some skills that Amina would complement us very well. We’ve relied on her advice in the past on things in the community and I know she’ll bring something to the council that we haven’t had,” Councilmember Rick Forschler said.
Peter Kwon said she had “a track record of experience working on various community issues,” and Clyde Hill commented that Ahmed was an intelligent individual with a well-connected network in the human services area.
Ahmed established her own human services agency, Partner in Employment, in 2015. She also served on the Governor’s Workgroup on Poverty Reduction, the King County Refugee and Immigrants Commission, the Refugee and Immigrants Tri-County Commission, the Refugee Advocacy Committee, the Regional Workforce Equity Committee, and the Regional Workforce Strategies Group for Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning. She was nominated for the State Refugee Advisory Council representing Region 2.
It was Ahmed’s consistency and determination that made these accomplishments possible. Tukwila Councilmember Zak Idan, who had spoken to Ahmed on the phone the morning of the accident, said he learned a lot from her brand of diplomacy. While Idan has been tempted many times in the past to walk away from negotiations our of frustration by seemingly insurmountable differences, Ahmed took a different approach: “She would say ‘We just need to listen; not listen to respond, but just listen and come back to the table the next day. You don’t even have to say anything the first two times. Just keep going back.’ Those are the gems that you pick up from Amina.”
Ahmed’s consistency even transferred into her friends’ projects. When Schipper was running for office last summer, it was Ahmed who pushed her to continue doorbelling even when Schipper was tired after a long day of campaigning.
Aside from these professional aspects, Ahmed will also be remembered for her curiosity and willingness to have new experiences. Schipper recalled a trip with Ahmed to Washington State University’s Mom’s Weekend.
“She had never been to an event like that before. We slept on the floor of my niece’s apartment and we just had a lovely time,” Schipper said.
Although Ahmed’s loss deeply affected the SeaTac community, Schipper said that there is only one way to move forward. “I’m going to challenge myself to carry her legacy by thinking about what she would do and what she would bring to the conversation. And trying to have that voice still be heard.”