A Somali-American refugee who relocated to Boston 27 years ago to escape the Somali Civil War will be honored Friday in Washington D.C. with the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for her work in helping to forge a better relationship between her Roxbury community and law enforcement.
FBI Director Christopher Wray is presenting the award to Deego Jibril and 55 other individuals from the agency’s field offices for their efforts in engaging the community in areas of education and crime prevention with law enforcement.
“I’m honored to get nominated to this award. … Our work has been very inspirational,” Jibril said.
Jibril arrived in the United States in 1991, when she was 12 years old and didn’t speak any English.
“My father died when I was 1 year old,” she said. “Seeing my mom become the head of the household, seeing a woman in leadership, that inspired me in my childhood.”
Now 39 and the mother of four children, Jibril calls Roxbury home. She is actively involved in Boston’s largest Mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, and is dedicated to making her community better and safer.
Five years ago, Jibril founded the Somali Community and Cultural Association to help moms and youth find their way, she said.
“Mosques in a community are men-oriented, and we don’t see women in leadership,” Jibril said. “So, they’re seeing a Somali mom, who can help them navigate the system, who can help them advocate for their needs and get them resources.”
Jibril knows local government and isn’t intimated by the bureaucracy. She works in the Boston Office of Economic Development. In 2017, she unsuccessfully ran for the Boston City Council, the first Somali-Muslim woman to run.
2013 was a turning point for Jibril. She said stereotypes and fear were causing tension among members of the Somali community, who felt they were under a microscope due to many misconceptions.
“That we are pirates because of, you know, the pirate issue in Somalia or the terrorist group called al-Shabab,” she said.
So, Jibril took a bold step and turned to law enforcement. She asked the Boston Police for help to reduce stereotypes and cultural differences.
Jibril said she was welcomed by then Police Commissioner William Evans and the Boston Police Department, who want to help improve relations.
But Jibril didn’t stop with Boston Police — she also reached out to the FBI. According to Peter Kowenhoven, assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism at the Boston FBI Office, “it is an extreme high honor to have an individual selected from our region to get this award.”
Kowenhoven said Jibril has been instrumental in bridging the gap of mistrust between law enforcement and the community.
“You see somebody from the FBI walking through the Somali community with Deeqo, the immediate judgment is that Deeqo’s a snitch. She’s there to tell the FBI about us. You know we can’t trust her now because she trusts us. And that just can’t be the case.”
But Jibril is respected in her community and has the trust. She and Kowenhoven were able to tackle the stereotypes and help each other.
“Let’s build those relationships. Let’s get to know each other before things happen,” Jibril said.
There is a lot more trust, but there’s still some pushback by those who feel intimidated. But nowadays, every Iftar, which is when Muslims break the fast the last day of Ramadan, agent Kowenhoven and other law enforcement officers are invited to attend the celebration in an effort to help combat anti-Muslim, anti-police and anti-FBI sentiment.
And for her role, Jibril is being honored. Kowenhoven said he’s proud of Jibril.
“We’re extremely fortunate, mostly for her courage,” he said.
Jibril is in the process of setting up an orphanage in Somalia and is working with the FBI on a program to help youth in her community learn about opportunities for work in law enforcement.