RIT/NTID student Abubakar Ali wins public service award

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Abubakar Ali, an RIT/NTID Urban and Community Studies and International Studies double major in RIT's College of Liberal Arts, was named recipient of the Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Service Award for his service in the RIT community, in Rochester and in his native Somalia.

Ali, who was born in Somalia, helped establish the Somali Deaf Union, the first Somali organization for deaf individuals in his country. It later developed into the Somali National Association of the Deaf, and he served as its president.

Because he was working with government officials, Ali became a target of terrorists. He moved to Kenya in 2007 and resettled to Lansing, Mich., in 2009. There, he worked in a clothing factory and enrolled in a community college. He knew no one there, didn’t speak English or know sign language.

He transferred to RIT and is a cross-registered senator in RIT Student Government, representing 588 NTID-supported students taking classes in other colleges of RIT. He helped launch a mentoring program for first-year students and Make A Friend, which encourages integration and socialization between deaf and hearing students.

Off campus, he’s a member of AmeriCorps and works as an intern at the Center for Youth of Rochester, helping at-risk young people dealing with homelessness and other social problems, and at St. Mary’s Place, which helps children of refugees. Ali enjoys helping the children learn English.

“I truly enjoy working with others and in the service of the community,” he says. “My own experience demands it, having dealt with many of the obstacles that the communities I serve are confronting. My past experience has shaped me, sharpened my sympathy for those who need help and taught me the importance of being compassionate and to care about our community.”

Jane Amstey, coordinator for RIT University/Community Partnerships, supervises Ali’s work with AmeriCorps and called him “a remarkable, motivated person. He has overcome many challenges and obstacles in his life. He is a role model for other students on campus. He is eager to be involved, take action and is always on the run. He is enthusiastic and has a warm, engaging manner. His positive attitude and strong work ethic are exemplary.”

Ali will receive $1,000 with his award to be donated to the charities of his choice.

About the award:

The Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Public Service Award commemorates the public service of Bruce James, chairman emeritus of the RIT Board of Trustees recognizes an RIT student for exemplary public service in the community with hopes other students will engage in public service.