Fadumo Osman

On the Front Lines of Organizing

Sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park, the cold November air biting at her blue headscarf, Fadumo Osman is tired but in good spirits.

It has been a long week. Not 48 hours have passed since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and Osman, a CAS junior, has spent the previous day consoling her fellow students and dealing with her own emotions.

“It was really the first time where I couldn’t tell someone that it’s going to be okay,” Osman says. “I felt wrong saying it.”

Despite this, she tries to keep things in perspective and lend her shoulder to others who need it. As we talk, she recognizes a student walking by. “How are you doing, dear? Are you doing better?” The young woman nods, and Osman smiles a little. “I’ll see you tonight.”

In a few hours, Osman will speak at the Rise Above Hate rally hosted by the Muslim Students Association. More than anything else, she wants the community to stand up for the most vulnerable among them.

As the political director for the College Democrats, Osman has been instrumental in helping give a voice to marginalized students since she came to NYU — people like herself, a black Muslim-American whose dad came to Canada as a refugee in 1989 to flee political unrest in Somalia, with her mother following a year later. When she was five, her family immigrated to the Bay Area in California.

This wealth of experience probably has something to do with why she switched her academic focus from biomedical engineering, which she saw as too specialized, to computer science and social and cultural analysis after freshman year. She wanted to use her passion for technology to create tools that would help everyone.

The College Democrats and Tech@NYU, a student-run group for those geared towards coding and designing, were among the first clubs she joined on campus, attending meetings as a meek and soft-spoken freshman. Two years later, she is on the executive board of the former, bringing a unique perspective as the only woman of color in the group’s leadership.

Early on, she felt frustrated by the lack of action on campus by the College Democrats. She freely questioned whether or not they were active enough in the community, reminding them that, as liberals, it was important to get out and fight for the rights of others.

“I started realizing that organizing didn’t just mean we all got together and talked for an hour over food,” Osman says. “We support our brothers and sisters with whatever they are doing, on campus or off campus.”

This is part of what drives her work — her understanding that inaction is unacceptable, even if it means calling out close friends of hers.

Beyond this, she’s using her technology skills to organize. In the months leading up to the election, she created a website to encourage Muslim women who may not have been politically active in the past to register to vote, leading her to help found the American Muslim Women PAC.

“I saw that the narrative was shifting from us just being victims and our friends sympathizing with us to us actually taking control and getting work done,” Osman says.

That’s not to mention her work with the New York State College Democrats and her time spent interning at Facebook. She has a keen sense of the ways she can take advantage of technology and data to advocate for others. Others struggle to hone this skill, but Osman has displayed it so gracefully that others who work alongside her can’t help but envision something larger.

“I could see Fadumo as a technology executive challenging the paradigms of computing while championing diversity in her organization,” says Freia Lobo, who has worked with Osman at Tech@NYU. “She has strong beliefs and values, and she channels those into execution.”

Her penchant for execution is rooted in her curiosity for the individual; more than anything, she wants to know what makes you tick. It’s a sense of awareness that the political sphere could use right now, which Michael DeLuca, the president of the College Democrats, recognizes.

“I see her creating new tools for youth political engagement, pushing more women to get involved in STEM and spreading messages of love,” DeLuca says. He can even see her running for office one day. “We’ll all be better off when our representatives are more like her.”

These are lofty goals, but for now, Osman is taking it one step at a time, which means speaking her mind about the political challenges of today. Back at the Rise Above rally, she stirs the crowd speaking about her sister, a student at UCLA, who had been harassed by Trump supporters the night of the election. A long week, indeed.

She urges the hundreds listening attentively that just showing up isn’t enough. The last time they had gathered like this was in support of the Black Student Union last year — a fight that, in Osman’s eyes, tapered off too much. She wants to know who kept organizing after that rally, and who is willing to keep up the fight now?

It’s a question that may make some uncomfortable, and it’s not always easy for her to ask it, but that’s okay, she says. For her, complacency is not an option, no matter how many people she has to call out.

“We’ve been doing the work,” Osman says to the crowd. “Now it’s time for all of us to come together.”

Read the rest of Influential 2016 here

Email Alex Bazeley at [email protected]