After five years as a teacher at Roosevelt High School, Ahmed Amin is now the assistant principal at Sanford Middle School. He also volunteers as an Empowering U coach at Heartland Democracy. In all of his work, he helps young people find and affirm their unique identities.
I was born in Somalia, moved here when I was 12—on Halloween of ‘96. I went from birth to the age of 12 without any teacher led, formal education—to starting 6th grade at the where school I currently work—Sanford Middle School.
When you come here from Somalia, you are seen as “Black.” But if you say you moved here as an immigrant, people treat you a lot differently than they do African American students.
I had a teacher in 11th grade, when I was a year ahead in math—and she just says “you’re going to college, right?” I said: “Me? Nah.” She walked me right down to the counselor’s office and signed me up for the ACT. On an April Saturday morning, she comes to my house in her tan Volvo and puts me in the back of the car, saying “You’re gonna go take this ACT.”
Not everyone had that.
I realized that the system is not set up for all kids to succeed. And I’d have a conversation with the kids: “Hey, this is a rigged game, and we need to form some sort of alliance to beat it.”
I would say: “What does school tell you about who you are? About the world? About power? About privilege? About success?” The kids would tell the most interesting stories about what school taught them about themselves. And my job then was to undo that.
There are a lot of Somali boys who are struggling. At Heartland we designed a program to say: “How do we get you off your path? What forces shape who you are?” If you teach kids to analyze those things, they can be more intentional about who they are.
In the classroom you just have your own space. But now I see the full picture of the building, how it works, the data, the disparity—and the sense of urgency gets me up in the morning. Changing things on a larger scale—it’s the hardest thing! But I like things that don’t come easy.
I got into powerlifting a few years ago. it’s an ego minimizing sport—try deadlifting 600 pounds! I pursue things where I can push myself. It teaches me that you can fail, it’s ok. You just try again.
People having really gritty conversations about what’s not happening. We like to think we’re progressive. When are we going to stop this B.S. and have a real, authentic conversation about the people we’re not serving? It’s an urgent situation. Our schools aren’t working for all kids. I wish we could all get on the same page, just name it, devise a plan and move forward. We cannot fail.
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