By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Mohamed-Shukri Hassan has a sense of urgency about his new job. He was just hired to direct Metro’s Office of New Americans. The post had been vacant for 11 months. He said his first priority is to get a strong public health response to the COVID-19 infections that are higher in Southeast Nashville than any other district.
The second item on his to-do list is to make a concerted effort to get people counted in the 2020 Census.
“There’s a Census deadline and we have some people who have been living here for 30-plus years, like the Kurdish community. They have been undercounted along with the entire minority population,” Hassan said.
He has an office and desk in City Hall now. In his new gig, Hassan quickly traded on his background as an advocate for immigrants by connecting people he knows, including faith leaders, to make some PSAs about the importance of getting counted.
He said some immigrants are confused about the Census. “They don’t understand that the Census is a big deal. You don’t have to just count you and the wife but kids, too, and communicate that in different languages,” Hassan said.
He called the local head of the Census Bureau and they are going to provide enumerators and forms at events in Southeast Nashville. Hassan has already found some locations and will organize translators to help people fill out the census form.
He was a member of the mayor’s New American Advisory Council and worked with Lipscomb University’s business incubator for immigrants. Hassan led a $2.5 million fundraising campaign to build a new headquarters for the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition at 1409 Antioch Pike.
While a graduate student at Lipscomb University, Hassan worked as a community liaison for the Nashville Health Department. He talked to the Tribune about city government having blind spots when it comes to immigrants. He said sometimes there are disconnects between minority communities and city agencies and his role is to foster better communications and identify resources for the community.
“We have a majority-minority dynamic in this country and around the city,” he said.
And it leads to different and unequal outcomes of one kind or another. For example, when it came to testing for the coronavirus earlier this year, Southeast Nashville quickly became a hot spot of infections. (See Officials Can’t Control the Virus so They Control Information Instead, Tennessee Tribune, July 30, 2020)
Meharry Medical College, which set up one of the first drive-through testing sites in Nashville, recently opened another mobile testing site in Southeast Nashville during off hours and weekends. Hassan organized COVID-19 testing at the Smith Spring Community Center last week. Anyone can be tested without charge.
“My big intention is to do the work well and not forget about keeping it centered,” he said. “I won’t just be sitting here waiting for people to touch base with me but I’m going to be out and doing things in the community.”
Hassan said he will have regular listening sessions with different community leaders many of whom he already knows and has worked with in the past.
Hassan’s family emigrated from Somalia to Atlanta, Georgia. In 2006, they moved to Nashville. He has four siblings who have attended public schools here. He attended TSU and Lipscomb University. He is getting married in November but because of the pandemic, they will not have a traditional wedding in a mosque.
Hassan’s siblings are curious about his new job and he said they are happy for him. His parents are proud of him. He is looking forward to working with Metro’s Office of Neighborhoods. He wants to hear more community voices inside City Hall and he wants to see better services and get more investment into Nashville’s many neighborhoods.