Samatar, 1st Somali elected to Minn. office, dies

  • Associated Press
  • August 26, 2013 - 4:10 PM

MINNEAPOLIS — Hussein Samatar, a Minneapolis school board member and the first Somali elected to public office in Minnesota, has died of complications from leukemia. He was 45.

Samatar played a prominent role in the city's business and education communities. He was elected to the Minneapolis Board of Education in 2010, and he also founded the African Development Center, a nonprofit group that helps members of the African community start and sustain businesses.

Samatar, who died Sunday, first entered public office when Mayor R. T. Rybak appointed him to the Minneapolis Library Board of Trustees in 2006. Rybak remembered him as "an extraordinary leader" and real friend.

"I am heartsick about losing him, but I will look for solace in knowing how many people he helped," Rybak said in a statement.

During his tenure with the city school board, Samatar provided a strong voice for immigrant students and children of immigrant parents, said Stan Alleyne, a communications officer with Minneapolis Public Schools and a family spokesman. Samatar also co-chaired a referendum committee that won approval for the $60 million schools levy in 2008.

Samatar considered running for mayor this fall but dropped his plans when he was diagnosed in December with cancer of the blood and bone marrow. He died Sunday of complications from the disease, Alleyne said.

As a college student at Somalia's National University he planned to become an economist. But a civil war erupted four days after he graduated, and the bloodshed eventually claimed the lives of his sister, friends and classmates.

"It makes you who you are, if you go through that humbling experience," Samatar said in a 2010 interview with Minnesota Public Radio. "One day, you are on top of the world, and the other day, you are fleeing from shelling, killing and mayhem."

His colleagues at the African Development Center called him a courageous and dedicated public servant who will be missed by many.

"In all that he did, Hussein brought a level of energy, drive, and optimism that was the envy of many," the center said in a statement.

Samatar is survived by his wife Ubah and four children.

Funeral services were set for Monday at 1 p.m. at Burnsville Masjid.

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