A funeral was held Monday for Hussein Samatar, the first Somali-American to hold public office in Minnesota.
Samatar died Sunday after a long battle with leukemia. Funeral services were held at 1 p.m. Monday at the Burnsville Mosque.
There's a saying in Somali that a man's greatness can be judged by the size of his funeral, and hundreds came to remember Samatar -- including several Minnesota politicians.
"He was a man of his own community. He was a Minnesotan," U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said of Samatar. "He cared about this whole state and everyone in it."
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 became a mirror of sorts for members of the Somali community in Minnesota, showing them what was possible in this country by making the personal transformation from refugee to leader.
Samatar was elected to the Minneapolis School Board in 2010 and served on the audit, finance, teaching and learning committees, and he quickly became an influential asset.
"He was a champion for all students and all families, especially those who were disadvantaged," said Minneapolis School Board Chair Alberto Monserrate.
Community activist Al Flowers told FOX 9 News in a way, it is fitting that Samatar's passing would coincide with the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's march on Washington.
"He lived the dream and became part of the dream," Flowers said.
The story of Samatar's life is a powerful narrative that testifies to the potential of the American Dream. After fleeing his homeland, learning a new language and graduating with an MBA from Harvard, Samatar launched a successful career in commercial banking.
Yet, Samatar's greatest achievement may be the founding of the African Development Center. In accordance with the Islamic faith, loans with interest are prohibited. So, Samatar offered no-interest loans to help start hundreds of local businesses.
"He was a man who could mitigate and navigate the Somali culture and the culture here and show you how to get things done," Abdi Bihi said.
Samatar is survived by a wife and four children. He was 45 years old, but in that time, he accomplished much. He sat on more boards and charities than could be summed up in a mention, and the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal as one of the top minority corporate executives.
"People who met him knew he was sincere and dedicated that is something that transcends culture, language, nation and place," Ellison said.
Minneapolis Public Schools and AchieveMpls are working together to establish a fund for the Samatar family.
REMEMBERING HUSSEIN SAMATAR
"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." - Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent
"Hussein Samatar was a pioneering leader and public servant who paved the way for so many in the Somali-American community. He brought passion, joy and a sense of optimism to everything he did, and his vision, dedication and good work have left a lasting imprint on our state. He will be missed." - U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar
"He has been an extraordinary leader and a real friend. I am heartsick about losing him, but I will look for solace in knowing how many people he helped." - Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
"His genuine commitment to all children and families of Minneapolis, especially those in new American communities, was visible in all that he did. He truly led by example and embodied the values he held dear. My fellow board directors and I send our deepest sympathies to Director Samatar's family at this difficult time." - Alberto Monserrate, Minneapolis school board chair