Story time felt a bit like a motivational speech for Habso Mohamud as she opened her book and read aloud to dozens of antsy toddlers and children.
“It only takes one …” the 24-year-old said, motioning to the kids to finish her sentence.
“Yes!” the kids yelled back in unison.
“If you want to be the best teacher, be the best author, be the best president, you can start today,” she said at the recent event at the Minnesota Children’s Museum.
The gathering was the latest local reading for Mohamud, a first-time author from St. Cloud. Her book, “It Only Takes One Yes,” which she self-published in September, pushes children to make a difference in the world no matter their age. Donning a red checkered headscarf like her book’s protagonist — a nod to Rosie the Riveter — Mohamud interjected the reading with her own life story, describing how her family escaped war in Somalia before she was born in a refugee camp in Kenya.
“I went through so much as a kid,” she said. “Don’t ever underestimate what you can do.”
She’s read to kids in St. Cloud, St. Paul and even Washington D.C. in January for a UNESCO and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) event.
“The book crosses cultures,” said Tarryl Clark, a former state senator and now Stearns County commissioner who met Mohamud at community events. “She makes a difference in our region.”
Mohamud moved to the United States with her family when she was 10, first to Fargo, then to St. Cloud. One of 13 children, she was the first to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University in travel and tourism and a master’s degree in global education, gender and leadership development. Getting involved with UNESCO Center for Peace, a Maryland-based nonprofit that has educational events and cultural exchanges, inspired her to be a “change maker.”
Guy Djoken, the center’s CEO, said Mohamud is young, passionate and ambitious about improving the lives of the next generation. “That’s what we need,” he said. “There’s no doubt that she’s going places.”
In her book, available on her website, onlyoneyes.org, the protagonist Nasra, named after her mother, represents Mohamud and her childhood. The character, dressed like Rosie the Riveter with a red head scarf as she flexes her biceps, wants to be queen of the jungle. Her mother tells her she is already queen and “here and now is when to start.”
Mohamud held up the book for the crowd of children. “What do you all see?” she asked.
“A girl that looks like you,” a girl called out.
Mohamud smiled. “She is me, her story is parallel to my story,” she told them. “She wants to make the world a better place. Even though she is small, she’s still going to make the change.”
Mohamud found solace in reading books after she said she was bullied in school for being hospitalized for mental health problems. Now she works as a mental health practitioner and uses her book to reiterate messages about being kind to others and finding a way to make a difference no matter how little or poor you are. At the end of the book she also illustrates the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which aim for global milestones like no poverty and zero hunger.
“It’s very encouraging to younger people to make a difference,” said Zaynab Islam, 10, of Eagan, who lined up to get an autographed book from Mohamud.
Two 6-year-old girls watched as Mohamud signed their copy, scrolling with black marker inside the cover: “You are strong, you are smart, you are beautiful.” Then to a little boy, she wrote: “Keep dreaming and you can make those goals.”
Mohamud has big goals of her own, aspiring to start a publishing company and a mobile library in St. Cloud.
“If I can do it, you can do it, too,” she told the children at the end of her reading. “Because it only takes one …”
“Yes!” the kids yelled back.