Ibrahim Mohamed hopes to make history in his run for Scott County commissioner. If he wins, he'll be the first person of color elected to the Scott County board—and the first Somali county commissioner in Minnesota. Credit: Becky Z. Dernbach | Sahan Journal

Ibrahim Mohamed made history two years ago as the first person of color elected to the Shakopee school board. Now, he hopes to set a new milestone. 

Ibrahim is running for Scott County commissioner this fall. If he wins, he will be the first person of color to ever serve on the Scott County board. He would also be the first Somali American county commissioner in Minnesota, according to the Association of Minnesota Counties. He hopes to claim a seat at the table for Shakopee’s increasingly diverse population.

“They need representation,” Ibrahim said. “I think I’m the right person that can work with everybody.”

Scott County has five commissioners, who together pass legislation and adopt the county budget. They oversee services and programs including child and family services, adult mental health, libraries, and roads. The seat Ibrahim is seeking represents most of the southwest suburb of Shakopee, which is home to nearly 44,000 residents. Scott County Commissioner Mike Beard, who is not seeking reelection, has served the area since 2015. 

Ibrahim, 47, hopes to bring his background in finance and school counseling to the county board to focus on housing, health, and education and economic development. He’d like to see the county provide more mental health services in schools, encourage hands-on work training and internships for students, and develop more pathways to homeownership for people struggling with high rents.

“I’m someone who loves this community, who’s there anytime they need me,” he said.

Ibrahim works as a school counselor at Richfield’s SciTech Academy, a science-focused charter school. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in school counseling and psychology. He has built deep roots in the community since moving to Shakopee 15 years ago. His six children either attend or graduated from Shakopee schools, and he spent a decade as an educator in the district. He served as a board member of the local YMCA.

He also co-founded the Shakopee Diversity Alliance, which hosts international festivals celebrating the town’s diverse cultures and provides educational resources to new immigrants. Shakopee’s population has diversified rapidly in recent decades, spurred by the reconstruction of Highway 169, which connected it directly to the Twin Cities. In 1990, one in 10 Shakopee residents were people of color; today, more than one in three are.

Ibrahim has county experience, too. Last year, he served as a community health worker for Scott County, conducting outreach about COVID-19 vaccines and testing in the more rural parts of the county like Belle Plaine, Jordan, and New Prague, as well as Shakopee. He also volunteered for three years on the county’s Human Services Resource Council, which advised the county administration on issues like child protection.

Ibrahim said he’s learned to build consensus with fellow board members and the community during his year-and-a-half on the school board. In November 2020—the same election that elevated Ibrahim to the school board—Shakopee voters rejected a school funding referendum. As a result, the district had to make painful budget cuts that included letting go of teachers, school counselors, paraprofessionals, and fifth grade band.

Another school funding referendum appeared on the ballot in November 2021. This time, voters approved it. Ibrahim helped organize support for the measure. The experience taught him a lot about connecting with the community, he said.

“You can learn from them, they can learn from you, and then you can work together,” he said.

Ibrahim Mohamed poses for a photo outside the Scott County Government Center. Credit: Becky Z. Dernbach | Sahan Journal

‘A community leader’

Sahra Odowa, executive director of a Shakopee-based public health nonprofit, met Ibrahim through the Shakopee Diversity Alliance.

“He is a community leader,” said Sahra, who heads Advocates for Thriving Communities. “He is someone that is very easygoing, has a great work ethic, is able to get things done, and has a track record where he’d be able to work under pressure.”

Sahra worked with Ibrahim on health and wellness programs through the diversity alliance. They created exercise programs in the East African community, held forums in the Somali community, and helped immigrants who don’t speak English access health care through interpreters. Sometimes, those interpreters were Sahra and Ibrahim.

Ibrahim would bring voice to immigrant populations and the broader community, Sahra said. “He’s a great active listener and is willing to take those issues to the county, and will be able to get the job done,” she added.

Mark Gillen, a professor in the counseling program at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, taught Ibrahim in graduate school. Gillen was struck by how well Ibrahim juggled his family, his job in Shakopee schools, and his coursework. Ibrahim has continued to participate in the advisory group for the university’s school counseling program and donated to student scholarships.

“He’s not shy about saying what he thinks about things, but he also is good at working with other people and finding common ground and advocating, looking at systemic change, and collaborating with other people,” Gillen said. “That’s what we train our school counselors to do. It was already in his wheelhouse to do those things.”

Ibrahim’s counseling background can be useful in the political realm, Gillen added.

“He’s using listening skills, as opposed to hearing what people are saying and formulating your own thoughts,” he said. “He’s good at listening to where people are coming from.”

For Ibrahim, this ability to genuinely connect with people is at the heart of his approach to governing.

“I’m honest,” he said. “I’m not a politician. I’m a simple guy. I’m someone who would be transparent. I’m someone who can be accessed easily. I’m someone who will listen.”

Ibrahim is one of three candidates running for the seat. Jody Brennan, a Shakopee city council member, and Michael Luce, a former Shakopee city council member, are the other candidates.

The race is nonpartisan, so all the candidates will appear on the August 9 primary ballots for all voters regardless of voters’ political affiliation. The two candidates who earn the most votes will advance to the general election on November 8, when voters will choose their next county commissioner.

Early voting for the primary begins June 24.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...