MINNEAPOLIS - Hundreds of Minnesotans from many creeds and cultures came to the Islamic Institute in Burnsville on Monday to pay their respects at the funeral of Somali-American pioneer, Hussein Samatar.
He died yesterday of complications from chronic lymphocytic leukemia at age 45-years-old.
Samatar came to Minnesota from Somalia in 1994 and was the first Somali elected to office in Minnesota, winning a seat on the Minneapolis Board of Education in 2010.
Board Chair Alberto Monserrate said Samatar was dedicated to the job even in his final days, watching board meetings from his hospital bed.
"He was a champion for all students and all families, especially those disadvantaged. We will keep his memory alive by championing the issues he cared about," said Monserrate.
Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of schools, said Samatar was a passionate leader, a committed public servant, a dedicated collaborator and a valued friend.
Samatar entered public office when Mayor R.T. Rybak appointed him to the Minneapolis Library Board of Trustees in 2006.
"He was one of a kind," said Rybak. "Hussein was a phenomenal partner and he was a good friend, and I am just sick about this. But I do think that he left so much good work with all the businesses and all the things in the schools. We just have to focus on what an amazing person did in a short period of time. We were lucky enough to have him."
Samatar announced on Facebook in March that he was diagnosed with a form of leukemia. He had reportedly been considering a run for mayor prior to the diagnosis.
Samatar was the founder and executive director of the African Development Center, an entrepreneurial nonprofit organization that works within the African communities in Minnesota to start businesses.
Osman Ali said Samatar gave him a business loan to his start his restaurant and coffee shop in South Minneapolis, Bright Moon Café, but said Samatar also quickly became a friend and mentor, as he was to so many in the Somali community.
"Although this has happened God willing and nobody can stop that, everybody is feeling so sad tonight. They are feeling so sorry. They feel they lost a great leader. I don't even know if we can get a replacement for Hussein Samatar," said Ali.
Prior to his leadership with the African Development Center, Samatar worked as a commercial banker with Wells Fargo and Norwest Banks. He held an MBA from the University of St. Thomas and was fluent in five languages.
"What seemed so hard was easy for him. Because people who met him knew he was sincere and dedicated. That is something that transcends culture, nation, language and place," said Rep. Keith Ellison. "He was truly a Minnesotan at heart. He was concerned about this whole state and everyone in it and demonstrated that thousands of ways, and of course he was a loving father and husband. Those I think his greatest achievements right there."
Samatar leaves behind his wife Ubah, and his four children. Minneapolis Public Schools is working to establish a fund for the family, who issued a statement before his funeral.
"Hussein was a loving husband and father. As the head of our family, he provided a caring presence and we were blessed to have him in our lives. We will miss him deeply," said Ubah Jama, Hussein's wife. "Like all of you, we also knew Hussein as a vibrant, dynamic leader; as an advocate for the success of African communities in Minnesota; and as someone committed to providing every child with the education necessary for future success. We are grateful to our friends, neighbors and community members for their support throughout Hussein's illness and at this time. If we could ask for one other thing at this time, it would be for privacy as we mourn and heal."
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