As part of our 50th anniversary, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the many people who make MPR happen every day. Throughout the year, we'll be sharing the stories of MPR Members, staff and volunteers here and on our social media channels. We also want to hear from listeners. Tell us what MPR means to you.
When you visit The Kling Public Media Center in downtown Saint Paul, Abdifatah Warsame is probably the first person you'll meet. He just might be the nicest, too.
Everyone at MPR knows him as Abdi. In the two years he's been overseeing the lobby, he's built a reputation as a steady hand, a hard-working professional and a really decent guy. No matter how busy he is checking guests in, handling calls on the switchboard or sorting mail, he always has a kind word for everyone he meets. In fact, you could make the argument - and some have - that Abdi's the most popular person in the building.
He was born in Kismayo, Somalia during the worst days of the civil war there. Families, he says, were fleeing as quickly as they could as the country descended into chaos. "We moved so many times," says Abdi, "that I lost count from one refugee camp to another."
Those were hard years, but his family was luckier than most. He had a sister who worked for the United Nations office in Nairobi. She helped find a sponsor, which made it possible for them to emigrate to the United States. They arrived in the U.S. on March 10, 2000, when Abdi was nine years old. The family spent their first year in Atlanta.
"I'd never even gone to school until we came to Atlanta," says Abdi. "I started in the second grade. School was hard for me because all I did was just listen to the ABCs, and not communicate with anyone due to the language barrier." He didn't know any English at the time, though he says his favorite song was "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet Boys.
In 2001 Abdi's family moved to Tennessee and remained there until 2009, when they came up to the Twin Cities. Abdi studied at Inver Hills Community College, getting his law enforcement and criminal justice certification. He wanted to be a police officer. And in an odd way, that's what led him to MPR.
Like many companies in recent years, MPR has prioritized building security and the safety of its employees, as well as its many high profile guests. It was decided that the next receptionist hired should have a background in security.
While security is an important part of his role, it's his hospitality and welcoming presence that make him an invaluable part of the MPR team. He has an easygoing manner and that relaxed demeanor puts people at ease. He gives impromptu Somali lessons to colleagues who stop by the desk, chats about sports (his favorite teams are the Miami Heat of the NBA, the Tennessee Titans in the NFL and Chelsea in the Premiere League). From famous musicians to politicians and delivery people to MPR Members, Abdi makes everyone feel welcome.
Of course, he's also a fan of MPR. "I listen to MPR News the most, and sometimes The Current."
And his favorite part of the job? "My colleagues, and the visitors I talk to," he says without hesitation. "They make working here fun."