When Lewiston Wins....
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
I love Election Day. I always have. To be able to vote, understanding what so many people have done before me to make sure I can and to make sure others can too is something that I am in awe of every single time I do it. Election Day morning is filled with hope. Election Day evening can be exhausting, exhilarating, or bone-crushingly sad and disappointing.
This year, Election Day was something extra special.
I woke up thinking not of voting, but of soccer. The Lewiston Blue Devils Boys Soccer team was to face the Brunswick Dragons for the regional title. The winner would go on to states. The loser would, well, you know -- go home. Game day proved to be kind of miserable, defined by the cold and rainy weather that often permeates playoff soccer in Maine. But when the clock hit zero, Lewiston prevailed, 3-1, with Suab Nur and Bilal Hersi scoring goals backed by the offensive and defensive skills of both the starting lineup and the bench. Hunched over my phone with my daughter watching the postgame celebration via proud sister Halima Hersi's Instagram live feed, wearing the "I VOTED!" stickers we had received hours before at the polls (and thank you to the kind poll workers who gave the 12-year-old a sticker), I felt the familiar sense of awe that I get when Lewiston plays soccer. It is a feeling that has never gone away, no matter how many times I see them play. Lewiston, it seems, can’t stop winning. But the day was far from over.
I first met Safiya Khalid on the sideline of – what else? – a soccer game in Connecticut. Her brother, Mohamed, having graduated from Lewiston High School in 2016, a member of the stories championship squad described in ONE GOAL, was on the field for the Kent School, where he and Abdi H. were spending a postgraduate year playing soccer and preparing for college. It was a gorgeous fall day, quintessential New England, and Safiya and younger brother Sharmarke cheered Mo while goofing around with the various cousins who had accompanied them on the trek. Later, over pizza, Safiya told me about her life, about how she balanced work with school, and regaled me with hilarious tales about her brothers.
Now, just 23-years-old, she is the first ever Somali-American elected to Lewiston City Council. She nailed down almost 70% of the vote, and she worked for it. She campaigned in person, emphasizing door-to-door canvassing over social media, where trolls loomed large and ugly. She introduced herself to hundreds of people, telling them her story, how she got from the refugee camps of Kenya to the United States. How she majored in psychology at the University of Southern Maine while working full time to help support her family. How she unsuccessfully ran for school board when she was just 20-years-old. And why she wanted Lewiston's elected officials to better represent the diversity that now rings throughout the city, with thousands of newcomers from Africa settling down, going to school, raising their families, and trying to create a future. There are more young people in Androscoggin County than anywhere else in Maine, the "oldest" state in the U.S. Safiya wanted to get her voice into the mix.
When I reached out to Mo, who has become a close friend, early in the afternoon on Election Day to wish the family luck, he replied with a photo of himself and his friends -- soccer players, of course -- still canvassing for his sister, getting out every last vote they could. It would be several more hours before he would text again, but when he did, the unofficial results were in.
"She wonnnnnh!!!!" read the text.
Nothing else needed to be said.
Despite a lot of ugliness, including and especially the racist and xenophobic trolls who infiltrated her social media spaces (and some of my own), Safiya Khalid had done it. She won. Endorsed by just about everyone, surrounded by supporters and helpers, Safiya Khalid mobilized a historic door-to-door campaign for City Council that brought with it a huge victory.
I asked Mo this morning how he felt about all this, how he felt about his sister achieving what she did. He replied:
Safiya overcame so many obstacles, I can’t find the words to describe how much we’re proud of her. Internet trolls could not stop her, threats could not stop her. She’s the perspective the city needs. It’s a really big deal, a tremendous transformation for this city.
Lewiston is a city that has experienced a lot of transformation in a very short period of time. An influx of newcomers over the last decade and a half, downtown's ongoing rebirth, the expansion of the high school's athletic fields, the building of a new elementary school, and now a referendum voted just yesterday by an overwhelming margin that authorizes how the high school itself will be bigger before too long.
And there is soccer, of course, which has become one of the constants in this ever-changing city. On Saturday, the Lewiston Blue Devils Boys Soccer team will head back to the state final looking for a third straight title, and a fourth in five years. I hope the Falmouth Yachtsmen are ready. Because when Lewiston wins, American wins.