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'Run for Refugees 5K' highlights women of color running for MN Senate

Two women selected as ambassadors for an upcoming 5K are also running for separate seats on the Minnesota Senate.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Settling into a new home as an immigrant or refugee takes time and money. That's why MORE Community Services is hosting its annual fundraiser, the Run for Refugees 5K, this Saturday, June 11 at Phalen Lake. 

At its headquarters just west of the lake, MORE offers adult immigrants and refugees English classes and other workforce readiness courses for free. Executive Director Cathy Rucci says around one-third of immigrants living in St. Paul for three years or less receive public assistance benefits and less than 10% of those living in St. Paul for four years or more receive public assistance benefits.

"For our classes, we get funding from the state for student contact hours," Rucci said. "Those don't cover all of the costs, of course, for the programs."

This year's race features two ambassadors: Foua-Choua Khang and Clare Oumou Verbeten.

In an interview Thursday, Oumou Verbeten explained that she was born in the U.S. after her mother emigrated from Senegal. She remembers coming to MORE as a little girl, working on homework and playing with other kids as her mom studied English and gained confidence in herself.

"The teachers here were so sweet," Oumou Verbeten said. "They were like, 'You've got this. You go back to school.'"

Her mom took the advice, enrolling in an alternative school in Roseville.

"She graduated with honors and she gave the speech at her graduation, and we were all just bawling," Oumou Verbeten said.

Proud of her mom's success, Clare found her own. She's currently the Equity and Inclusion Program Manager for the City of St. Paul. And while Clare gears up for the 5K, she's also focused on another race.

"I'm running for the Minnesota Senate in District 66," she said.

There's currently no Democratic challenger for the August primary election but in November, she'll face Republican and Libertarian nominees. If she wins, she could become the first Black woman on the Minnesota Senate. Or, she could become one of the first, because four other Black women are currently running for seats in other districts.

"All of the successes that I've had, I always attribute to my mom and like her fight and her just resilience to make it in this country," Oumou Verbeten said. "MORE was a big part of that."

Fellow ambassador, Khang, is among several candidates running for the East Side - District 6 seat on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners. 

So far, almost 160 people are signed up for the Run for Refugees 5K. It starts at 9:30 a.m. at the lake pavilion. Registration is still open.

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