The Minneapolis Public School District is mourning the loss of an influential Somali business leader who made history as the first Somali American to hold public office in Minnesota and possibly the United States.
Hussein Samatar, director of the Minneapolis Board of Education, died Sunday of complications from leukemia. He was 45.
When Somalia became embroiled in civil war 20 years ago, Samatar was among the first wave of immigrants who sought refuge in the United States. With the help of a librarian, he learned English and eventually earned his MBA at Harvard.
Samatar was elected to the board in 2010 and served on the audit, finance, teaching and learning committees.
"His genuine commitment to all children and families of Minneapolis, especially those in new American communities, was visible in all that he did," said Board Chair Alberto Monserrate. "He truly led by example and embodied the values he held dear."
Monserrate said Samatar will be profoundly missed by his colleagues, and extended the deepest sympathies of the entire board to his family.
Samatar was a native of Somalia, and he was a strong voice for immigrant students and their parents. During his tenure, the district began collecting academic results for English learners and his efforts made academic data and information available in four languages -- English, Somali, Spanish and Hmong.
As co-chair of the referendum committee, Samatar also helped win approval for a $60 million school levy in 2008.
"I join the rest of the Minneapolis Public Schools community in mourning the loss of Director Hussein Samatar," said Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of schools. "Hussein was a passionate leader, a committed public servant, a dedicated collaborator and a valued friend. My thoughts, prayers and the condolences of countless others at MPS and in our larger community are with his family as they grieve his passing and celebrate his legacy."
Samatar also founded the African Development Center, an entrepreneurial non-profit that works with African community members in Minnesota start and sustain businesses while promoting community investment.
Mayor R.T. Rybak first placed Samatar in public office in 2006 by appointing him to the Minneapolis Library Board of Trustees in 2006. In a statement, Rybak said getting to know Samatar was one of the greatest pleasures of his time in office.
"He has been an extraordinary leader and a real friend," Rybak said. "I am heartsick about losing him, but I will look for solace in knowing how many people he helped."
Samatar died at Fairview Hospital, surrounded by family and friends. He is survived by his wife, Ubah, and their four children.
Funeral services for family and friends will take place on Monday at 1 p.m. at Burnsville Masjid, located at 1351 Riverwood Dr., Burnsville, MN 55337.
Minneapolis Public Schools and AchieveMpls are working together to establish a fund for the Samatar family.