Somali-American Peace Feast
by Delaine Thomas
“I'm worried. I'm worried for my community. I'm worried about the imminent backlash. I'm worried about the increase of anti-Somali, anti-Muslim, and anti-refugee rhetoric that will be used to explain the suspect's motive. I'm worried that my community will be forced, once again, to prove their humanity to this nation. I know the circumstances would be entirely different if the suspect was a lighter shade, had an easier name to pronounce, and wasn't an immigrant. Make duaa/pray, send good vibes, and check in with your people. Home is where the heart is, and tonight my heart is with Buckeye Nation.” - Qorsho Hassan
My heart ached as I read these words from the Qorsho Hassan, a 3rd grade teacher, American of Somali descent, and member of the Somali Political Action Group. I knew that no matter what caused Abdul Razak Ali Artan to resort to violence on OSU’s campus November 28th, many of the Somali and Somali-Americans in Columbus, Ohio would honestly fear reprisal in our city - and that they would have to apologize and pay for the action of one individual.
Thankfully, Qorsho and a good friend and elder at my church, Tammy Eckhart, were inspired by God to create a safe space to foster understanding and unity. We decided to have the Peace Feast at Hoyo’s Kitchen ("Mom’s Kitchen" in Somali). Hayat and her son A.B opened the restaurant in November, 2014 and were the most gracious hosts! They closed their entire restaurant for us while providing an array of food and drinks. The event was private, warm, and peaceful. Due to limited space, we initially planned for 40 people but had 57 attend!
Tammy and Qorsho served as conversation facilitators, and each table had questions to help guide the conversation and keep the atmosphere lively, focused, and meaningful. Questions ranged in themes from culture and ethnicity to personal history and the world today. The goal was not JUST to eat great food, bless a Somali restaurant, and have great conversations; another measure of success was the amount of people who exchanged numbers and emails and who would pursue lasting friendships with the people they met after the Peace Feast ended. Thanks be to God, we ended at 9pm and by 10:30pm we still had people talking and laughing and enjoying one another! The responses after the Peace Feast have been so encouraging. People have said things like, “this was the best conversation I’ve had with a stranger in a while,” and “I really made friends Saturday night!” Others who were not able to attend have asked for another event soon. God-willing, this will be the first of many!