Hussein Samatar today became the first Somali-American ever elected to office, winning a spot on the Minneapolis Board of Education.
Samatar was not opposed in the board district — which definitely makes winning easier. But one of his biggest boosters, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, said Samatar would have won even in a city-wide race.
“He’s that special,” said Rybak, who once appointed Samatar to the now-defunct Library Board.
Samatar’s story is compelling. He arrived in the United States in 1993, with an education in economics but unable to speak English.
Now, the 42-year-old speaks passionately of his love for Minneapolis and the United States. He said he decided to run for the board of education “because the job needs to be done.’’
Being elected, he said, is proof that “we [Somalis] are here to stay. We know that Minneapolis is the place to be.”
Samatar’s job will not be easy. The Minneapolis school district faces huge financial and education-gap issues. Samatar also now will be the only black man on the board at a time when the district is grappling with community issues over efforts to close North High.
“I am an African-American,’’ said Samatar of his role as being a bridge to the black community.
He also is a huge believer in public education.
“If we don’t get it [public education] right, the rest of the country begins to fail,’’ he said.