Trustees at the York Region District School Board voted on Tuesday night to rename a secondary school in Vaughan, Ont. after a late Somali-Canadian journalist known as a positive voice for her people.
Formerly known as Vaughan Secondary School, it will now bear the name of Hodan Nalayeh, trustees decided at a board meeting. Nalayeh had a TV show and established herself as a journalist who wrote uplifting stories about Canada’s Somali community. She was killed in an attack on a hotel in Somalia in 2019.
The school, and the city, originally was named after Benjamin Vaughan, a slaveholder in the 18th century. Black community organizations pushed last year for the name to be changed.
Shernett Martin, the executive director of ACORN, formerly Vaughan African Canadian Association, said the renaming is a positive move for the community.
“Her legacy will be kept alive and the joy of who she was and what she stood for will reverberate through the hallways and the classrooms of this high school and we’ll never forget the sacrifices that Hodan made. We celebrate having a hijab-wearing Black Muslim woman in a high school our city,” she said.
Trustee Bob McRoberts described Nalayeh as an “inspirational storyteller.”
“She believed that education was the foundation upon which life can be built,” McRoberts said.
Nalayeh’s family told CBC News in a statement on Tuesday night after the vote: “It is with a heavy-heart and with a deep sense of gratitude that we accept the community’s recommendation and in turn the York Region District School Board’s decision to rename the school in question with Hodan’s name.
“With it, comes a tremendous responsibility to uplift and support all students, their families and the communities they are a part of whether local to the school or across our great region.”
Emily Mills, founder of a group called How She Hustles and a friend of Nalayeh, said it is meaningful “to have somebody that represents, and reflects your community in a way, on a building.”
‘An inspiration for all of us’
“Hodan is an inspiration for all of us, you don’t have to be Somali, you don’t have to be female, you don’t have to be from Vaughan, I think she represents the best of what Canada should be about,” she said.
“I think she represents exactly what we need at this time, which is stories of resilience,” she added.
“When you’ve got someone who touches a community, in life and even in their passing, as Hodan did, it just lands a different way and it’s going to resonate in a different way, and I think it’s going to leave a legacy for this generation to relate to and many generations to come.”
Nalayeh, who once resided in Vaughan, Ont., and her husband, Farid Jama Suleiman, were among those who were killed in the July 2019 attack in Somalia’s port city of Kismayo. Nalayeh was pregnant at the time.
“It was really hard for so many in the community, it was really hard to understand how a light so bright could be dimmed,” Mills said.
Ahmed Hussen, who was minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship at the time of the attack, had said Nalayeh made immeasurable contributions to the Canadian Somali community.
“Through her work as a journalist, she highlighted the community’s positive stories and contributions in Canada, and became a voice for many,” Hussen told CBC News.
“Her work, particularly in helping women and youth, strengthened the ties between Canada’s Somali community and Somalia, as it continues to go through stabilization and reconstruction. We mourn her loss deeply, and all others killed in the Kismayo attack.”
Added Mills: “When you’ve got someone who touches a community, in life and even in their passing, as Hodan did, it just lands a different way and it’s going to resonates in a different way, and I think it’s going to leave a legacy for this generation to relate to and many generations to come.”
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