After losing her school board bid, Khalid dug in deeper. She received political training through Emerge Maine, which helps Democratic women who want to run for office. Today, she’s vice chair of the party’s Lewiston chapter and has an executive seat on the state committee.
“I’ve just poked my head in places and gotten involved. Here I am, two years later, running again,” Khalid said.
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This time, she wants to represent Lewiston’s first ward on the City Council. If elected she would be the first member of the city’s recent immigrant population to win a municipal election.
Khalid also wants to be the voice of young people in a state known for being old. She pointed out that Androscoggin County — where Lewiston is the biggest city — is the youngest county in the state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 21.7 percent of residents are under 18.
“We need to invest in our young people. They need attraction, a vibrant community where they can work and live,” Khalid said. “We need nice apartment buildings, a nice downtown community. We have a lot of challenges we are facing. That’s why I get up every day and go knock on another door.”
Specifically, Khalid wants Lewiston code officials to regularly inspect every rental unit in the city instead of waiting until a tenant files a formal complaint. She thinks it would ensure that renters live in safe, lead paint-free homes while also helping landlords keep up on regular maintenance.
Lewiston is currently eyeing a $30 million housing grant from the federal government. If that doesn’t come through, Khalid would look at other ways to develop new housing.
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“The city or state should explore offering low interest or no interest loans to homeowners who want to fix their property,” Khalid said, “and we should be working to find ways to encourage owner-occupancy.”
Khalid also pointed out that Lewiston’s housing challenges affect everyone, recent immigrants and established residents alike.
“I think we’re struggling the same way across the city,” Khalid said. “The key is to recognize we have the same issues, and that we should come to an understanding as how to solve and face our challenges as a coalition.”
The Ward 1 seat is currently held by Jim Lysen, who is not running for re-election. Linda Scott was initially running against Khalid but dropped out. She was replaced by Walter Hill. He did not answer the phone or respond to emailed questions.
Credit: Troy R. Bennett
‘Where I learned to write my name’
Khalid was born in Somalia but grew up in downtown Lewiston. She said there is no question about it, Lewiston is her home, and it’s not by accident.
Her memories of Somalia are only dim shadows. Khalid remembers being sick in a large refugee camp and not much else.
More clearly, she recalls arriving in the United States in 2006 with her mother and two younger brothers. The family was placed in an apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey. They knew no one and spoke no English. Their social worker filled their refrigerator with pork, a food forbidden by their religion. The family was isolated and unhappy.
“We were so lost. It was the scariest thing we ever experienced,” Khalid said. “It was like being placed on the planet Jupiter and being left alone.”
In desperation, her mother stood on the sidewalk in front of their apartment saying, “As-salamu alaykum,” to people passing by, trying to find someone to connect with.
It’s a standard Arabic language greeting that means, “Peace be upon you.”
“If you’re Muslim, it’s universally known,” Khalid said.
It took weeks, but her mother finally met a man who understood the greeting.
“She hugged him and kissed him and cried,” Khalid said.
The man was from Algeria or Jordan — she can no longer remember which one — but he introduced them to a Somali family in New York City. They urged Khalid’s family to move to the Big Apple. They promised to help integrate them into the community. They would smooth everything over.
Her mother was grateful but wanted something else for her family.
“My mom said, ‘No. I need a place with a sense of safety and opportunity.’ They said, ‘Lewiston, Maine.’ The next day we took a bus and got here,” Khalid said.
Credit: Troy R. Bennett
Khalid was 7 years old when they arrived. The family first lived on Knox Street, in front of Kennedy Park, in the heart of downtown. Then they lived on Oak Street and, finally, Park Street, where her mother still lives.
Lewiston is where Khalid grew up, went to high school, earned her college degree, found a job and rented her own apartment. It’s home.
“Lewiston is where I learned to write my name,” Khalid said. “I don’t see myself anywhere else.”