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#OhSoWSU: From refugee camp to runway


In the last decade minorities have accomplished a lot of firsts. Sterling K. Brown became the first black actor to win Best Actor in a Drama Series at the SAG Awards, Ava DuVernay became the first black woman to be nominated for best director at the Golden Globe Awards, and in 2017 Halima Aden became the first hijabi supermodel to grace the covers of Vogue, Bazaar, and Allure Magazine’s.

During a two hour interview and Q & A in Wayne State University’s Student Center ballroom, Aden shared her journey of how she went from refugee camp to runway. Aden is a first generation Somali American born in a refugee camp in Kenya. She sat before a room of more than 50 strangers and shared the highs and lows of her humble beginnings. She shared how most refugees have “two birthdays”, and that she enjoys getting double parties and gifts. Or of the times when food was scarce and had to last her family weeks. She summed up her time in the refugee camp as a learning experience where she relied on her friends and imagination to fuel her dreams of being on Disney Channel.

Aden’s family eventually moved to Minnesota where she battled with placating her mother’s desire for her to pursue medicine and her own desire to pursue a creative career. She went out on a limb and entered the Miss Minnesota Beauty pageant and became a semi-finalist. That’s when she realized that she didn’t have to bend her standards and change her physical appearance to be accepted, that she could participate and the world would meet her where she stood.

Aden’s participation in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant caught the attention of major celebrity stylists and IMG Modeling agency. She’s managed to walk in shows for Yeezy and Maxmara while maintaining her modesty and not compromising her faith. She stressed to the audience of high school and college aged girls that the life they see on Instagram is only a fraction of her reality. Aden still values her mom’s opinion and faithfully practices her religion while finding a common ground between work and faith. Aden works with UNICEF to help children in refugee camps like hers and actively tries to educate everyone who’ll listen about the Muslim religion.

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