'A beacon of hope': Edmonton friends remember legacy of slain journalist

Edmonton community organizers and artists joined a chorus of people internationally mourning Canadian-Somali journalist Hodan Nalayeh after she was killed in an attack at a Somali hotel Friday.

Hodan Nalayeh, killed in an attack in Somalia Friday, immigrated to Edmonton in 1984

Former Edmonton poet laureate Ahmed Ali says Hodan Nalayeh will be remembered as a journalist who was "always looking for the light." (Submitted by Nazim Baksh)

Edmonton community organizers and artists joined a chorus of people around the world in mourning Canadian-Somali journalist Hodan Nalayeh after she was killed in an attack at a Somali hotel Friday. 

Nalayeh immigrated to Edmonton as a child in 1984 before moving to Toronto in 1992. 

But her legacy lives on in Edmonton, through her journalism and the relationships she cultivated with the city's Somali community, says Ahmed "Knowmadic" Ali, Edmonton's former poet laureate. 

"She's connected. She was always looking for the light," Ali said. "It didn't matter where the light was, she just wanted to make sure that people saw that there was a light on there." 

Ali befriended Nalayeh after she sent him a message in 2015 saying she appreciated the work he was doing as an artist and community organizer in Edmonton. 

That unprompted benevolence was steady throughout their many Skype conversations over the years, Ali said. She invited Ali onto her show and helped him build his international profile. 

"She was always willing to help you grow," Ali said. 

Ali's voice trembled as he spoke about how Nalayeh uplifted the Somali diaspora across Canada, most notably through her program Integration TV, which originally aired on OMNI TV in Toronto. The program showcased positive aspects of the community without shying away from nuanced discussions. 

"I think that's why it hurts, for me personally, the most — because she was a beacon of hope. She grew up in Canada but she maintained her Somali integrity," Ali said. 

WATCH: Ahmed "Knowmadic" Ali in conversation with Hodan Nalayeh on Integration TV in 2016.

Nalayeh and her husband, Farid Jama Suleiman, were killed in an attack at a hotel in Somalia's port city of Kismayo on Friday, Mogadishu-based Radio Dalsan told CBC News. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. 

In recent years, Nalayeh travelled across Somalia sharing documentaries through the Integration TV YouTube channel, ranging from profiles of entrepreneurial women to the construction of children's libraries.

"She went back not because she was trying to get rich. She went back because she believed in the Somali youth that were there. And she believed in creating a better image of what is there," Ali said. 

Hodan Nalayeh, founder and host of Integration TV on OMNI TV, talks to a group of Somali nomads about drought conditions in Somalia. (Facebook)

But Nalayeh also made time to return to Edmonton. In 2016, she delivered the keynote speech and reported on a ceremony for 300 high school graduates, organized by the Somali Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton. 

"It was very significant and very important. We were delighted for her to come to Edmonton," said Jibril Ibrahim, president of the society. 

Ibrahim first met Nalayeh when they were students at the University of Windsor. He said Nalayeh took stories about Somali-Canadians, often laden with references to violence and civil war, and talked about the vibrancy and resiliency of the diaspora. 

"Hodan has resonated with the whole world," he said.