Literary Zone

Kadiatou Diallo’s legacy in fostering racial dialogue

26 June 2006 at 06:26 | 586 views

By Roland Bankole Marke

Kadiatou Diallo is an indigenous Foulah descendant of West African Kings and healers. Born in 1959, she was traditionally raised in turbulent Republic of Guinea during the long dictatorship era of late President Ahmed Sekou Toure. Guinea is situated on Africa’s West coast, flanked by Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Its population is 8,800,000 and ruled by Iron-fisted leaders since independence from France in 1958. After independence, it severed relations with France and turned to the then Soviet Union. Its mineral resources potentially places Guinea among one of Africa’s richest nations, though its people are among the poorest in West Africa, plagued by a culture of dictatorship, a controlled economy and rampant corruption in the society.

Kadiatou got married by age 13 and conceived her first child at 16, followed by three other children. However, 23 years after the birth of her first born child Amadou who became the victim of a controversial Police brutality and racial injustice in New York, where Amadou had immigrated. She was Managing Director of a mining company in Guinea, before the “stunning and heart breaking” news reached her that her dear son had been gunned down by New York City Police (NYPD). She emerged the epitome of womanhood, a beacon of hope and a dynamic ambassador of Black women with a passion and a selfless mission.

Amadou Diallo, a young African immigrant born in Liberia, immigrated to the United States to pursue his burning educational goals. He desired a sound education that could land him a good paying job and eventually become the family’s bread winner. He told his mother, “You have worked so hard and struggled to take care of the family, I must become a success so I can take over and you may rest.” He traded daily on the sidewalk of Bronx, NY. His trade helped to raise funds for college and support his family back home. He was extremely passionate about becoming a computer technology guru. The Foulahs are historically migrant traders living in several countries in Africa and abroad. Their children are taught at an early age the rudiments and importance of owning one’s own business. But his gigantic dream was shattered February 4, 1999, when the vivacious 23 year -old young man without any criminal record, was gunned down by four White under cover Policemen; riddling his body with 41 bullets along his Bronx apartment. The officers claimed they were looking for a rapist and mistakenly shot him while clutching his wallet which they thought was a loaded gun. This incident created both national and international firestorm, showcasing police brutality and racial profiling. In Bronx, NY, Blacks are five times more likely to be profiled or gunned down as criminals than their White counterparts. Early 90’s, crime was endemic and mugging, rape or gun violence were routine occurrences. Before Amadou came to the US, he had lived in Liberia, Togo Thailand, France, Asia and Japan. His exposure paid off when he landed in New York the City that never sleeps, and with 51% immigrant population. Amadou the acclaimed polyglot, spoke French, Spanish, English and Thai.

The tragic news of Amadou’s death including the clouded circumstances that surrounded it devastated Kadiatou. She flew to New York to dig up the truth about the dubious circumstances surrounding her son’s death. On arrival in NY, she met with Civil Rights advocates including Reverend Al Sharpton, who had formed an action group to put pressure on NYPD for answers to the killing of innocent Amadou. Kadiatou appeared on several TV Network channels wearing her traditional costume with a head-tie. She touched America’s conscience while seeking justice, employing dignity and self respect. She became the Black ambassador not only for Africans but all minorities as well. Her irresistible beauty and charm mesmerized the world together with her immaculate grace and humility, even during grief or adversity. Her “faith climbed the stairwell that love crafted and looked through the windows that hope has opened.” These ingredients humanized her mission, and transformed her personal tragedy into a national crusade to heal Police-Community relations. After filing a lawsuit and winning, she received a sizeable settlement of $ 3, 000,000. She spent the proceeds to setup Amadou Diallo Foundation Inc. To help promote racial healing through educational programs in schools and to condemn prejudice and racial conflicts to foster Police- Community relations. The foundation comprises former New York City Mayor David Dinkins - Chairman, Kadiatou Diallo - President, Alma Rangel Secretary and Norman Seigel - Treasurer. She addressed community residents and others who worked with African people - social workers, lawyers, health workers, educators and African women, 30 of them were students from Bronx International High School. She said, “lack of education and lack of healthcare are what holds African women back.” The students came from Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Togo and Sierra Leone.

Kadiatou has spiritedly setup the Amadou Diallo Memorial Scholarship Fund and the Scholarship and Mentors’ Program to begin healing America’s racial divide that lurks in our society. She has appeared on Schools and Universities’ campuses delivering talks about practical ways to address the issues between the Black populace and Police. She emerged the pioneer of commendable projects that created awareness and helped to solve Police- Community frictions. She also co-authored a book “My Heart Will Cross This Ocean,” in 2004 with Craig Wolff a famous journalist and NY professor. The book is a “grappling, moving story about the roots of her son’s story in Africa and in a mother’s heart.” It is widely used in institutions of learning as a text on Race Relations and Police Community Relations. Her voice is pivotal in the lifeblood of America that nurses unsavory and hushed race relationship. The Rodney King saga in Los Angeles still lingers on memory lane. “To educate a man is educating an individual, while educating a woman is to assemble a nation.” Although Amadou did not accomplish his dream, the foundation’s objectives ensure that his dream will be realized by other young people mostly minorities, most of whom do not have the same level playing field as their White counterparts. She is an astute woman of resilience and tenacity. And her achievement deserves a special place in the history book of Black American History, because of her crucial role in bridging the gap between Police and Community-Race relationship. A caring person need not be a psychiatrist to be therapeutic. Society gravitates towards the notion of how much people care than how much they practically know.

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Roland Bankole Marke is the freelance writer, poet and songwriter, living in Jacksonville Florida. He is a native of Sierra Leone, West Africa. His work has appeared in several journals and magazines, including the World Press, Florida Times Union and Jacksonville Advocate. He is the author of Teardrops Keep Falling, Silver Rain and Blizzard and Harvest of Hate. Also has recorded 3 CDs, The Gift of Life, Jesus Dwells in My Soul and Love and Happy New Year. He can be reached at: bankole@mindspring.com

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