When Ibrahim Hirsi applied for ThreeSixty Journalism summer camp in 2006, one of the application questions asked, “Why do you want to be a part of this program?”
Hirsi boldly responded: “If you allow me to be part of this program, I will use the skills that you teach me to start a school newspaper for my high school.”
Hirsi was accepted. A few months later, he began creating a journalism program at his school, Wellstone International High School in Minneapolis.
Now 10 years later, Hirsi is among only a small handful of full-time Somali news reporters in the Twin Cities. He covers workforce and immigration issues for MinnPost.
Hirsi was born in Somalia and later lived in Kenya before moving to America with his family.
“I came here with a passion for writing. I loved writing and I loved telling stories,” said Hirsi. “I never knew that I could actually make a living as a journalist.”
That was until Hirsi learned about ThreeSixty Journalism, a program specifically targeting culturally diverse Minnesota teenagers. Lynda McDonnell, the former ThreeSixty Journalism executive director, remembers Hirsi’s camp application well, and she was impressed.
“That’s a pretty ambitious promiseto say, ‘I’ll go back to my school and start a student newspaper,’” McDonnell said. “And so I thought, ‘Well, this is a guy who is really serious about journalism and willing to make a commitment to practice it in his school.’”
Hirsi found himself quickly learning the basic skills of journalism within the two weeks at ThreeSixty. From interviewing strangers and learning how to cover stories to writing articles, Hirsi developed his abilities and began working on his craft. He later started his high school newspaper, teaching others the skills he had learned at camp.
Hirsi went on to study journalism at the University of Minnesota with a focus on print reporting. He worked for the Minnesota Daily, the university’s student newspaper, and interned at Newsday for a summer during college.
As a sophomore in college, Hirsi received a research internship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to travel to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, in Nairobi, Kenya. While there, he helped establish a refugee-written publication called “The Refugee,” which has now evolved into a magazine.
But finding a full-time job was difficult after he graduated in 2011.
“We had a “Great Recession,’” Hirsi said. “Jobs weren’t available and journalism was even harder. Around the same time, people were getting laid off from the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.”
People close to him suggested he try another career path.
“My family, my brothers and some of my mentors were telling me, ‘Hey, Ibrahim, are you sure you still want to do journalism? Because journalism isn’t going well, people are getting laid off from their jobs. Are you sure you want to do this?’” he said.
Hirsi stayed patient, using other skills he learned at ThreeSixty and journalism school to land gigs in communications departments for Wallin Education Partners and in Minneapolis Public Schools.
“When you have a dream, you have to always be persistent in reaching and achieving your dream,” Hirsi said.
He kept working toward his dream. Hirsi found himself freelance reporting outside of work. As a freelance reporter, Hirsi wrote for the St. Cloud Times, the Twin Cities Daily Planet and MinnPost.
He spent his nights and weekends writing. He knew that he didn’t want to do communications anymore.
“That’s not what I went to school for,” Hirsi said. “It wasn’t where my passion was. I wanted to be on the streets reporting.”
In February 2016, several years after he had started freelancing, Hirsi landed a job at MinnPost as a full-time reporter. On his beat, Hirsi often covers issues and events surrounding Minnesota’s communities of color, including its Somali population.
According to McDonnell, Hirsi always strives to improve his writing and is determined to reach a story’s full potential. In doing so, Hirsi continues to grow in his craft.
“He has worked so hard to be a journalist,” McDonnell said. “He kept a notebook of all the pieces he had written. He would bring them to me, even when the story had still been published. He still wanted to know how it could’ve been better.”