A lot had to go wrong, and then right, before Ridwan Mohamed started getting inspiration from police procedurals on American TV.
Born in a refugee camp in Kenya, Mohamed remembers it being hot and sandy, a sprawl of haystack houses with nary a road in sight. Her parents’ plan was to take their four children back to Somalia once it was safer. Years passed, and the allure of escaping to America grew. Mohamed knew only rumors of this country before her family arrived in Utah.
“All I heard was people eat pork here, so I always assumed everything has pork in it,” she says.
From Utah, Mohamed’s parents relocated to Fargo for a few years before finding a home in north Minneapolis. The family, which has since grown to nine children, passed time at night watching television dramas like Law & Order and NCIS. The shows expanded vocabularies, and, in Ridwan, struck a nerve on matters of justice.
“I felt like whenever something was wrong, you should do something,” she says. “I wanted to be a lawyer, and have that power.”
This attraction to law and politics makes her an outlier in the family, and carried over into her experience at Patrick Henry High School, where advisor Caroline Stammers recruited her to join the debate team.
Mohamed saw debate as a résumé-builder for college, and a way to dip her toe in the political world. She credits Stammers for her growth as a public speaker, learning to anticipate and neutralize opposition arguments before they were even made. Even in casual conversation, she can tap the warp-speed speaking gait debaters use to squeeze in as many points as possible.
In her most memorable and surreal experience, Mohamed and a partner faced a team from Wayzata High School—among the state’s best, and with one of the biggest and wealthiest student populations.
The topic was immigration, and, by luck of the draw, Mohamed and her partner were the ones arguing against it. They martialed arguments about clashes of culture, singling out the potential for discrimination toward LGBTQ Americans, and the risk newcomers won’t integrate with the local population. They won.
Of course, Mohamed’s in favor of immigration. But the experience of arguing the other side sharpened and honed her thoughts about the tricky topic.
“I feel like we should still let people in,” she says, “but always try something new to make sure this doesn’t become whatever problem they’re saying it is.”
The 17-year-old would-be senior is effectively out of high school, taking all of her classes this year at Minnesota Community and Technical College to rack up credits. She’s sorting out details, but law or politics is still her plan—and in DFL U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Mohamed has an up-close view of how “nasty” that might get.
“It is kinda scary,” she says. “But you see that people just overcome it over time. You have to be strong, and to just realize that the world is just not a great place. You just gotta push through. Politics sucks.”