Home means a few different things for Ismail Mohamed.
Right now, Mohamed works in Cincinnati as a staff lawyer at Baker Hostetler. He was born in Somalia, a country his family was forced to flee in the early 2000s as the civil war unfolded. But he feels his deepest connection is to the Columbus neighborhood where he was raised.
Mohamed graduated from Northland High School about a decade ago, earned a Bachelor’s and a law degree from The Ohio State University, and returned to the Northland last spring. Now, he's running to represent the 25th District in the Ohio House.
“I reached out to a lot of different politicians to kind of get answers on some of the concerns that are going on, and I was not getting the answers that I thought were really addressing the issues. So that’s what prompted me to run,” Mohamed said.
Mohamed will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent in the May primary. If he wins that election, and the subsequent general in November, he’d be the first Somali-American state legislator in Ohio and the second in the country.
Mohamed says his district includes a lot of New American communities, including from Somalia, Nepal and other foreign countries.
“It’s critical we’re promoting such communities to really advance our goals and our policies in the future," he says. "I’m so honored to be that poster-child and push that forward."
But Mohamed says those groups are part of the larger fabric of the 25th District, and the issues they face are largely the same.
“The biggest issue in our community, I would say, is lack of economic development. The 25th [House District] has the lowest income rate — I think median income is $31,000," he says. "A little more than half have high school diplomas. So there’s lack of educational attainment as well, which is driving the poverty issue.”
Mohamed is only 25 years old, far younger than the average age of Ohio lawmakers. But he said he doesn’t believe his lack of political experience will get in his way.
“Someone who doesn’t have a lot of ties to a political party, doesn’t have ties to the political machine, and is able to directly touch our constituents — I think that puts me in a better position,” he says.
And as tensions over immigration rise all over the country, Mohamed says local politics are more important than ever.
"It's not just a national arena that's defining us," he says. "It's more us defining what's going in the national arena."