Public health alumna strengthens her own community
When Maimon Queeglay ’15 comes home late from work, it could be because she was leading a neighborhood meeting, riding along with a police officer on evening calls, or talking with residents of Brooklyn Center, a Minnesota city on the northwestern edge of Minneapolis. Since July 2017, she is the new community liaison for the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
Although the position isn’t new, Queeglay, who is Liberian American, says it is undergoing a change in light of Brooklyn Center’s rapidly diversifying population. Indeed, so many Liberian Americans have settled alongside the Hmong and people from other cultures, the area is often called “Little Liberia.” As Queeglay explains, “Part of my job is to help facilitate the shift to an even broader multiculturalism in the community.” Nationally, this function has taken on a certain urgency as police departments across the country grapple with the complexities of serving citizens from disparate backgrounds.
If being a community liaison was not a career that Queeglay had imagined as a student at St. Kate’s, that’s likely because of her own cultural background. Initially, she enrolled intending to complete the nursing program. However, she couldn’t quite find her bearings in it. “Being Liberian, you don’t get to pick your major,” she says. “My dad said, ‘You’re going to St. Kate’s, and you’re going into nursing.’” Queeglay lasted five more semesters but finally resolved her discomfort, and reluctance to change majors, by taking a break from her studies.
She was working as a medical study coordinator at the University of Minnesota when her sister gave her exciting news: St. Kate’s had started a bachelor’s program in public health. It was easy to return for this degree, Queeglay explains, because it connects to so
many career opportunities while still touching on the healthcare realm favored by her family. Seeing the immediate application of her studies in her work was even more convincing.
“For instance,” she recalls, “we were learning how race impacts health. For so many in the black community, the trust isn’t there that the medical system will treat them well, so they don’t always seek treatment. The patients I was scheduling for the cardiology studies told me that hearing things from me as a black person made them more trusting.”
After graduating, Queeglay wasn’t certain which direction she wanted to go, but when she found the ad for the community liaison position, she knew it was a good fit despite her initial hesitation about working in a police department. “I consider myself an activist and a black feminist,” she notes. “I’m also first generation Liberian American. I was wondering, do I know what I’m signing up for? I don’t remember ever being as nervous about a job as when I started here.”
And now? “Now I’m so glad I took the chance,” she says. “Our chief has a great equity lens, and our officers really understand our community. I think I’m really lucky to be here.”
Representing the department and partnering with the officers on different projects has influenced Queeglay’s own views of the police. “My perceptions about policing have changed since I started doing ride-alongs,” she says. “It lets me see the officers’ lives and what we have in common.”
As she grows into her job, Queeglay expects to apply her St. Kate’s training to difficult public health and community issues facing the police department, including the opioid epidemic and sex trafficking. It’s challenging, but she’s eager to make a difference: “I love coming to work every day,” she says. “I love being part of this police department and this community.”