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The Heights Herald

The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School

The Heights Herald

The Student News Site of Columbia Heights High School

The Heights Herald

IIhan Omar: A voice for change in Columbia Heights

Emarie Kusler
Breaking barriers and speaking truth, Representative Ilhan Omar visited Columbia Heights High School’s Performing Arts Center this September.

Our diction and choice of adjectives to describe politicians have typically fallen in line with “Greedy”, “Liars” and “Frauds”. American politics is characterized as nothing but messy; we find ourselves labeling before listening and distrusting all forms of government, but our very own Minnesota Representative wanted a chance to be translucent and open with the Columbia Heights residents, and she did.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota District 5 U.S. representative, came to Columbia Heights High School (CHHS) during Columbia Heights’ September Town Hall meeting to share updates about her political career and answer constituents’ questions. Some of Omar’s recent achievements include securing a $750,000 grant for Southside’s Boys and Girls Club in Minneapolis, allowing expansion of not only the physical building but also new opportunities for children’s education and creativity. 

In August, Omar also managed to provide $3 million to North Minneapolis’ Avenues for Youth, providing for the fight against homelessness, an extremely pressing issue in the metro area as of late. Additionally in August, she visited the city of New Hope to explore how the non-profit organization The Food Group has been working to serve an estimated 2 million pounds of food, across the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs. Omar continued her efforts to get the federal Raise the Wage Act of 2023 passed by appearing on Minnesota news channel WCCO, and she supported and helped promote local Black-owned businesses ZaRah and Ludy’s Boxing Gym during Black Business Month, just to name a few of the congresswoman’s recent hometown appearances.

Columbia Heights Mayor Amáda Márquez Simula introduced Ilhan Omar at the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at CHHS and praised her accomplishments related to the area.

“Today we gather not only to thank her but [also to] acknowledge her tireless efforts [in] securing just under one million dollars for our city, specifically earmarked for critical sanitary sewer infrastructure,” Márquez Simula said. “And this investment [is] to the health and prosperity of our city, and we owe her our deepest thanks for championing this cause.”

Mayor Márquez Simula continued to note more of Rep. Omar’s accomplishments within the Columbia Heights community such as securing $1 million for the Southern Anoka Community Assistance Program (SACA) and advocating for the citizenship of two Columbia Heights residents including an officer for the Columbia Heights Police Department (CHPD). 

After a proper introduction, Rep. Omar began the meeting by listing some of her proud accomplishments in Washington and informing Columbia Heights residents about various current efforts being made in Congress.

“One of the pieces of legislation that is near to my heart that the senator and others have passed is the universal school meal,” Rep. Omar said. “We introduced it on a federal level; [it] has been something that we’ve been pushing for and something that I have worked on since my days in the Minnesota House. I always believed that we have to feed our children’s bellies before we try to feed their brains.”

Rep. Omar wrapped up her sentiments with work that has been done federally including addressing climate issues, reducing medicine cost or working on gun violence prevention by passing legislation.

As Rep. Omar finished updating the audience on her accomplishments and current priorities in Congress, she welcomed questions from the room. What follows is a transcript of select portions of the Q&A:

What is your next big passion project? What will you be working on [since you already successfully helped Minnesota score universal free lunches]?

Rep. Omar: It’s still my passion project because the whole country doesn’t have it yet. And as a federal legislature, we legislate on behalf of the nation, but it’s been really incredible. I remember getting a visit from the state senator from California [Nancy Skinner, who introduced the Free School Meals for All bill in 2022] that pushed for the legislation in California. She said, “if it wasn’t for you and Bernie Sanders talking about it on the national level, sanitizing the situation, talking about the urgency, what it needs, [and] getting coverage for it, I don’t think we would’ve been able to pass it.” So to now see Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico and [others] be able to do [this], means a great deal. I remember going across the state and trying to get supper into the schools and trying to get them to do summer feeding programs, [having to meet with families who barely qualified]. That doesn’t mean that [the] family… just on the cusp of qualifying now has the money that they need.

Do you have anything on your agenda for seniors and affordable housing?

Rep. Omar: Yes, we have not forgotten seniors. We have been working on food assistance programs for seniors, lessening the burden of the cost of prescription drugs. We’ve been working a lot on housing. We have the Inflation Reduction Act, we put in lots of money to create affordable housing for seniors, [and] we will continue to push to make sure there [are] resources for seniors.

After a few more questions, The Heights Herald posed a question based on real issues seen in Hylanders’ very own community: the disengagement of youth when it comes to politics. By this time in a year, many graduates will be the newest voters to enter the polls. But woefully, many see no point in engaging in politics and remain uneducated about any state or local government. And that is not even to mention the question of whether they will even show up; an alarming 27% of voters are under 30 years old. While the use of social media has helped spread political awareness among younger voters, it’s obvious it isn’t a clear-cut solution. 

How do you plan to further bring the discussion [of politics] to younger and older teenagers such as myself?

Rep. Omar: I am actually interested in hearing what your ideas are in getting more younger people like yourself engaged. I think for us, it’s trying to demystify politics and politicians. We have pledged to visit every single school in the district, and one of the reasons we do that is [because] many people don’t go to elementary schools; they don’t go to middle schools. They only go to high schools because those are future voters. But I actually enjoy being at elementary schools and middle school. As much as I enjoy being in high schools, it is trying to ensure that young people are able to see who represents them — to know that they have the confidence to engage with them, to ask them questions, to make recommendations and, in turn, [to] understand [that] all politics is global. What we work on impacts you in your personal life. Obviously, whether it is the funding of the school itself, including the building, what kind of teachers you have, what kind of services they’ll hold. Whether you get universal school meals or not depends on what is happening in your community, right? That makes an impact politically, through policy, on your lives. So that is one way that we have been trying to do that work and trying to invite young people to have some agency in the decisions that are being made about their lives.

Needless to say, despite all the endless challenges Rep. Omar faces, and despite all the current disdain from many across the political spectrum, there is nothing that has held Omar back from her relentless service to not just Columbia Heights or District 5 but to Minnesota and the U.S. as a whole.


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About the Contributor
Emarie Kusler
Emarie Kusler, Co-Editor-In-Chief
Co-Editor-in-Chief Emarie Kusler is a senior who is returning for her last of four years writing for The Heights Herald. She is often found participating in her school's speech team and loves to engage in debates while pushing her knowledge of the world to the best of her ability. Outside of her efforts in school and extracurriculars, she absolutely loves caring for her pet dog and squirrel, sketching the beauty in the world, reading academic literature and creating her own world of words through poetry. Some of the artists she listens to the most are The Weeknd, Lauryn Hill, and Celine Dion. When she isn't singing along to her favorite music, you can find her re-watching shows like "The Queen's Gambit" and "Bojack Horseman".