In May 2013, 10-year-olds Mohamed Fofana and Haysem Sani were killed in a landslide in the Lilydale Park area of St. Paul while on a school trip.
Jon Kerr, who lived in the area at the time and has since moved to Northfield, is chronicling how Fofana’s family used the settlement money from the city to advance the boy’s dream of helping build a new school and clinic in Guinea.
Kerr said he was motivated to write “Mohamed’s Dream” from his connection to Lilydale Park. Prior to moving to Northfield, Kerr and his wife were community leaders as members of the Friends of Lilydale Park organization. The area is mainly an undeveloped park along the Mississippi River in a wilderness area.
Kerr said he saw the Fofana family, through its Islamic faith, remain optimistic and look to make a difference from the tragedy. He saw a chance to share their story and create a historical record, help finish the projects and bring closure to the communities of St. Paul and St. Louis Park, the city where the boys were from.
Prior to his death, Mohamed had traveled with his mother to Guinea and noticed the children there had no schools. In response to that, he wrote a booklet saying that when he was president, he wanted to make sure the students had a school.
After his death, Mohamed’s family used a portion of the more than $1 million settlement with the city to build a clinic in the school to honor his wish. The projects are in progress.
The school would fill a need in the country. Kerr noted there is effectively no school right now for children in the rural area where the school would be built. To go to class, children there must walk a couple of miles into the city, sometimes in near-triple digit temperatures, to a school only operational one to two hours a day.
He said the clinic would provide the only X-ray technology in the country. Currently, residents must make a difficult journey through the desert to reach X-ray services in Mali.
Organizers must raise $150,000 to finish the projects. Kerr hopes to make a dent in that and will donate all book sale proceeds to the projects. “Mohamed’s Dream” is available for $17.99 on Amazon.
Kerr hopes the book transcends cultures and shows that there are positive things happening, despite the current divided state of the country on topics such as immigration.
During the course of writing the book, Kerr traveled with Mohamed’s father, Lancier, to Seguri, Guinea.
“I was really honored to go with him back to Seguri to see the school and to see the family connections and to see where he came from,” he said. “Ironically, it’s a major gold mining center.”
Kerr has an extensive journalism background, having worked for United Press International, freelanced for a local community publication and worked at weekly and monthly publications. His last position was as editor at the Prescott Journal.
He has published two books, one a biography on former Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith and the other a historical fiction book based on Mark Twain’s travels across Nicaragua.
To Kerr, the book’s message and subject make it an important read.
“It was such a huge event for a lot of people, so I would hope that people would be interested in that and getting the true historical record of what happened,” he said. “As a second reason, I would hope people would be, in these times particularly, it’s hopefully a really positive message about how people can work together, different faiths, different backgrounds, to try to do something good for the world and make something really positive out of it.”