FARGO - Hamida Dakane came here alone from Kenya six years ago with the intention of earning a degree and returning home, but she's found a home here in Fargo-Moorhead, where she is a human rights activist dedicated to helping others.
"There's too much need, and love, to leave," she said. "This is where my calling is."
Dakane's contributions to the community are significant, and on Monday, Jan. 15, she will receive the Fargo Human Relations Award at the city's 17th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
In selecting Dakane as this year's award recipient, the city describes her as "an outspoken and compassionate voice for nondiscrimination, human rights, and collaborative community empowerment." It was noted how Dakane stood up last year when her cousin was harassed by a man in a grocery store for wearing her hijab. Dakane later met with police alongside her cousin, Fardoso Mohamed, at the grocery store and video of that interaction was viewed online 65,000 times.
Dakane said she doesn't like the spotlight, but "I do these things because I feel they need to be done ... nothing can compensate that feeling of helping the community."
She was a co-founder of the Afro American Development Association, a nonprofit established in 2014 in Moorhead that provides resources and tools to assist new Americans.
Twice she visited the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and on her last trip she left her hijab at one of the camps in solidarity. It was the first time she was in public without it since she was 9 years old back in Kenya.
When Dakane moved to Fargo-Moorhead in 2012 to study emergency management and international relations at North Dakota State University, she planned to return home after graduating in May 2017. She chooses to stay to help many new Americans who had little choice but to come here.
"If you listen to their stories, it's just heartbreaking," she said of the refugees she works with, adding many were deprived of food or watched their parents or children get murdered. "You cannot believe some of the things they have gone through, [but] they have faith that tomorrow will be a better day."
Dakane didn't hesitate to start volunteering as soon as she started attending NDSU. Families invite her into their homes for assistance finding work, interpreting languages or bringing them to a doctor appointment. She's very passionate about providing in-home tutoring for children. Dakane recalls bringing alphabet cards to a kindergartner refugee - now he's in seventh grade studying algebra. She also volunteered at Moorhead High School, helping students at risk of not graduating.
What's more, she works at a special needs group home in Moorhead, where she said she is too attached to the residents there to ever leave them.
Between balancing oftentimes emotional volunteerism and work, Dakane served as secretary of NDSU's Muslim Student Association and president of the African Student Union, which provided her with opportunities to meet politicians during a trip to Washington D.C.
She's formed relationships with local representatives and community leaders, saying "it's a blessing to be around people who are doing wonderful work" in Fargo-Moorhead. While she has mentored countless new Americans and continues to do her part in welcoming them to the community, she has a long list of mentors who have welcomed her here and helped mold her into the woman she is today. Of the refugees she's worked with, she said "I learn from them resilience and courage."
The Fargo Human Relations Award will be presented to Dakane for the adult category. Nastesho Ulow will receive the youth award. Prairie St. John's will receive the organizational award.
Presentation of the awards begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at the Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway. The free event will feature performances by the NDSU Hip Hop Dance Group, Treo'Soul, and Kwaician Traylor.