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OPINION | Echoes of Exile: Navigating Generational Trauma and Unexpected Betrayals

by Ubax Gardheere

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear, I rise into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear. I rise, bearing the gifts that my ancestors gave, the resilience of the dream and the hope of the stolen ones.” —Inspired by Maya Angelou

April 1996 remains an indelible chapter in my life. Reflecting on these words, I recall standing in the narrow confines of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, Kenya, teetering on the edge of a life-changing decision. In that moment, saying farewell to my mother, I embraced the unknown. As a spirited teenager, my departure was shaped by my mother’s formidable sacrifices. She sold everything, facing societal disdain, to ensure my escape from war and poverty and to afford me a chance at a brighter life. “My dear, don’t become a wasted opportunity,” she whispered, her nomadic strength masking her profound sorrow.

However, I’m penning this out of profound concern. As King County pulsates with voices and investments championing youth justice, transformative justice, and health equity, I’m anguished to witness some of our Somali leaders faltering. Directors, who were once trusted with the mantle of effecting change, now appear swayed by sub-clan loyalties, personal interests, and greed, overshadowing the broader community’s welfare. With dismay, I’ve observed mothers, much like my own and myself, who once escaped the cruelties and trauma of war and poverty, now wrestling with the reality of their children trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline, imprisoned in the juvenile justice system, or drifting into local gangs, numbing their pain by seeking solace in the haze of substance abuse (a path that has tragically led to numerous overdoses) or, even worse, becoming casualties of gun violence.

Being born in exile and having faced displacement to and from more than four East African countries by the age of 6 before anchoring myself in King County over a quarter-century ago, I’ve internalized that healing is a spectrum. Generations of trauma are intricately woven into our DNA, their weight often pressing down heavily on our souls. My PTSD, borne from these traumas, is exacerbated by those considered well-educated in the traditional American sense. These individuals, often in positions of power — people I’ve believed in, championed, and labored for — have sometimes proven to be unexpected sources of pain. Their institutional privilege, buoyed by the often self-serving mechanisms of the nonprofit industrial complex, not only mirrors but often amplifies the systemic inequities that persist in our broader community, becoming a manifestation of the very issues they purportedly aim to address.

Past experiences have also put me under a harsh spotlight. My passionate and outspoken nature once led to a very public breakdown. The breakdown garnered the attention of right-wing media giants, including personalities like the former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson (when I dared to run for office). But even in the face of their threats and vilification, my resolve never wavered. Today, however, the attacks I’ve endured from within our community, especially from leaders whom I have supported and who shirk accountability to their boards, funders, or constituents, have wounded me more deeply than I could have imagined. Yet, I recognize that these attacks, painful as they are, could be manifestations of their own unhealed traumas. These attacks resonate with the grim statistics; as it’s often cited, Muslim and Black women in America confront a matrix of barriers — be it the stark wage gap, wherein Black women earn 63 cents to every dollar earned by white men, or the heightened levels of discrimination and hate crimes reported by Muslim women. Yet, amid this pain, I discern that these onslaughts could perhaps be the outward manifestations of their own unhealed traumas, entrenched in a system that often overlooks or exacerbates the marginalization of our shared identities.

These experiences are entrenched in broader systemic issues — food, education, jobs, immigration, and housing. Systems that many in our community still grapple with. With a past molded by forced migration, trauma, colonization, and displacement, my mission has always been to serve, guide, and inspire.

To our elected officials, benefactors, and the broader King County populace, I implore your understanding, support, and vigilance. Our community deserves genuine leaders who stand unwaveringly by our collective values and dreams. As we journey ahead, let it be with unity, clarity, and an undying commitment to justice and equity.

In unity and hope,
Ubax Gardheere

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📸 Featured image by melitas/

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