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Hussein Samatar, 45: Somali immigrant elected to dream big

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2013 - 10:02 AM

The first Somali immigrant elected to office in Minnesota, he made a difference on the Minneapolis school board, library board and among small businesses.

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Hussein Samatar

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“Dream big. Dream bigger,” Hussein Samatar told Shukri Gedi.

So she did. From floor to ceiling, Gedi’s store — Global Clothing and Accessories — is awash in color. Rich draperies hang from the ceiling, rolled tapestry rugs stand in a corner and clothing fills every cranny.

Leaving her war-torn country in 2000 with her husband and three children, Gedi landed in Minnesota, went to school and found a job as a nursing assistant.

Her husband worked the night shift in a factory.

But Gedi dreamed of running her own business and opened a clothing and jewelry shop in south Minneapolis. It didn’t do as well as she wanted, so she closed it, kept her nursing job and saved her money.

Then she met Samatar, a banker with an MBA who started the African Development Center to help immigrants launch businesses.

“He spoke our language. He gave us information,” Gedi said, working in her shop at the Karmel Square Somali Mall. “He understood we wanted to do serious things and grow.”

With Samatar’s help and a $25,000 loan, Gedi was back in business. A second loan let her expand. Business is good.

“I’m paying off the loans. I pay my kids’ college, I pay the mortgage, the car insurance, everything,” Gedi said. Samatar made that possible and more.

“I see him in schools that are better, libraries opened longer, stores that are opening and a generation of immigrants recognizing that the American dream is still possible in Minneapolis,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak. “I’m 1,000 percent convinced that Hussein would have been mayor someday.”

Now it is up to the next generation to heed his words: “Listen and you will learn,” he often told his four children. “If you learn you will lead. Then you will make a difference.”

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