Samatar, 1st Somali Elected to MN Public Office, Dies

Updated: 08/27/2013 4:38 PM By: Maricella Miranda

Family and friends on Monday celebrated the life of Hussein Samatar - the first Somali-American elected to public office in Minnesota.

Samatar, who served on the Minneapolis School Board, died Sunday, Aug. 25, of complications from leukemia, according to Minneapolis Public Schools. He was 45.

His funeral started at 1 p.m. Monday at Burnsville Masjid, 1351 Riverwood Drive in Burnsville.

In 2010, Samatar won a seat on the Minneapolis Board of Education. He served on the audit, finance and teaching and learning committees. During his tenure, Samatar began collecting academic results for English learners, which resulted in academic data and information being available in four languages - English, Somali, Spanish and Hmong.

Samatar was the founder and executive director of the African Development Center (ADC), an entrepreneurial nonprofit organization that works with the African communities in Minnesota to start and sustain business, build wealth and promote community reinvestment.

He first entered public office when Mayor R. T. Rybak appointed him to the Minneapolis Library Board of Trustees in 2006. Rybak remembers him as "an extraordinary leader."

Samatar created several culturally targeted alternative finance products and frequently addressed financial, governmental and other community institutions about building wealth in emerging markets, according to Minneapolis schools.

He regularly participated in broader conversations addressing existing and emerging economic development issues that impact new American communities.

Before his leadership role, Samatar worked as a commercial banker at Wells Fargo and Norwest Banks. In 2009, he was recognized for his leadership with ADC and was selected by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal as one of the top minority corporate executives of the year.

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.

Minneapolis schools and AchieveMpls are planning to establish a fund for the Samatar family. More details about the fund were not available Monday.

Samatar is survived by his wife, Ubah, and four children.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.