In Memoriam: Members of many communities remember Dr. Amadou CisseBy Laurie Davis and Steve Koppes
Since the tragic shooting of Ph.D. student Amadou Cisse on Monday, Nov. 19, members of the University community have gathered on several occasions to express their feelings, to be informed, to say goodbye and to grieve his death.
Members of the Student Government, the Muslim Students Association and the African and Caribbean Students Association organized a candlelight vigil held on the Main Quadrangle, the day after Cisse was killed. Gathering near the circle drive were friends of Cisse as well as many individuals who did not know him. They had come to reflect and to mourn.
The University also held a memorial service on Friday, Nov. 30. President Zimmer welcomed everyone who filled the pews of the Joseph Bond Chapel to memorialize Cisse. He noted that Cisse was a member of many families and many communities, from Chicago to his native Senegal. “He was a wonderful representative of Senegal to the University, as he would have been a wonderful representative of the University to Senegal,” said Zimmer.
“As a president, I mourn him as a valued member of our community whose death has left a palpable absence for all of us, and I thank the Muslim and Senegalese communities of Chicago for sharing our communities’ common grief,” said Zimmer. “As a faculty member, I mourn him as an emerging and accomplished scientist and colleague. And as a father, here today with my wife, Terese, I mourn him as all of us with children mourn in profound sympathy with his family in Senegal.”
Acknowledging Cisse’s devout Muslim faith, Mahmoud Ismail, Professor in Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, delivered a recitation from the Quran: Surah (30), Ar-Rum (The Romans) vv. 17-27.
Kimberly Goff-Crews, Vice President and Dean of Students in the University, then invited Cisse’s closest friends and colleagues to share their personal memories with those who did not know him well but grieved his death. It is a death, said Goff-Crews, which “will never really be forgotten.
“Tell us about Amadou,” she said—about the son, the student, scholar and teacher that they knew. “Paint us a picture, and we will see it with you.”
Czerny Brasuell, Director of Multicultural Affairs at Bates College, where Cisse earned his undergraduate degree, traveled to Chicago from Maine to speak about her friendship with Cisse. Just as Malcolm X had once been remembered, Brasuell said she will remember Cisse as “our shining black prince.”
Having traveled to Senegal with Cisse, Brasuell noted the strong resemblance to his mother, a woman who had instilled in him the values that he lived every day. He was a devoted brother and son, who paid for his siblings’ education and took his mother to Mecca—all paid for on his graduate teaching assistant income.
His love of Senegal was as strong as his devotion to family. “He was rooted in the history of Senegal,” said Brasuell, “and was part of its modern life. He resisted assimilation, and he always seemed to have just arrived from Senegal,” she said.
He was aware of both the poverty in his homeland and the successes of others like him across Africa, said Brasuell. Of the young man charged with his murder, she said, “He would be weeping for this child. And he would be asking, ‘How can we save this child?’”
Cisse’s friend Mohsin Ali recalled praying with Cisse during Ramadan and how Cisse was “not intent on just getting by.” He would fast, he would work and he would pray, reciting the prayers that were not required and yet were part of the Ramadan tradition.
Ali said the phrase, “May Peace Be Upon You,” is exchanged regularly between those who practice the Muslim faith, but that often the true meaning of the phrase gets lost in familiarity. “When Amadou would look at us and say it, you could sense he meant it because of his sincerity.” Ali asked that everyone honor Cisse’s life by doing some of the good that he had done. “Don’t honor it with mere words.”
Steven Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Professor in Chemistry, was Cisse’s faculty adviser. As such, he had watched as Cisse evolved from being a young, “green” scholar, to a scientist that “was as good as you get,” he said.
In closing, Sibener said goodbye to Dr. Amadou Cisse by quoting poet Henry Van Dyke from “A Parable of Immortality.”
“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, ‘There she goes!’
Gone where? Gone from my sight ... that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says, ‘There she goes!’ there are other eyes watching her coming and their voices ready to take up the glad shouts, ‘Here she comes!’”
In addition to community gatherings, the University has coordinated a collection of donations for the Amadou Cisse Family Support Fund. Contributions to the fund will be deposited in a local bank and then given to the Cisse family to use at their discretion. More information is available at: http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/07/071129.fund.shtml.
When it came to helping others, Amadou Cisse pulled many times his own weight. Cisse once helped International House Director William McCartney unload 1,000 pounds of weights for the I-House exercise room.
“He was very well-liked by residents and someone who was always quick to help others,” McCartney said.
Cisse, who had lived for more than five years at I-House, spent the evening of Sunday, Nov. 18 visiting with his friends there, before walking home to his apartment on South Ellis Avenue, where he was killed early the following morning.
“He was an extremely gentle person, a very caring person,” said Brasuell, Director of Multicultural Affairs at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Cisse worked closely with Brasuell during his four years as a student at Bates College. Cisse graduated from Bates College in 2001 with a B.S. degree in chemistry, physics and mathematics.
“He was very concerned with injustice, especially injustices regarding children,” Brasuell said. “He was committed to doing good in this world, particularly as it related to his country and the continent of Africa. I am horrified at the senseless nature of this act that has removed from the world someone who would have done so much good.”
Cisse, 29, had successfully defended his doctoral dissertation on Nov. 1. The University will award him the Ph.D. posthumously at graduation on Dec. 7.
“He was a diligent researcher and very committed to his science and colleagues,” said Sibener, Cisse’s faculty adviser. “He was incredibly happy last week. He smiled ear-to-ear and just sat back and enjoyed his accomplishment.”
For his Ph.D. research, Cisse studied how molecules diffuse and migrate through films made of large molecules called polymers. “He gave us a new way of measuring diffusion in thin films. That’s quite an accomplishment,” Sibener said.
Cisse and Sibener were interested in the purely scientific aspects of the process. This is also an important problem in the technological world, where thin films act as protective layers for materials and food.
As a teaching assistant for general chemistry, Cisse impressed fellow graduate student Miriam Freedman with his concern for his students. “I think working with students was one of the things he most enjoyed,” Freedman said. “He was always talking about how to improve his students’ understanding of the material and rooting for their success.”
Fellow students also recalled Cisse’s habit of quietly singing or humming as he went about his work. “Amadou loved Senegalese music so much that he recorded it onto tapes from Senegalese radio online,” said Nataliya Yufa, graduate student in physics. “That’s why he still had a Walkman. He was planning to get an iPod after graduation. His whole life was on hold ’til after graduation.”
Lieve Teugels, a graduate student in chemistry, recalled Cisse’s gentle smile, with graduation now in his sight. “I remember how happy he was right after his thesis defense a couple of weeks ago, talking about how he hadn’t told his family he was defending so they wouldn’t worry.”
The Chicago Police Department arrested two individuals, Eric Walker, 16, and Demetrius Warren, 17, in connection with the Cisse murder and other incidents that occurred Monday, Nov. 19. Walker was charged with first-degree murder and one count of attempted armed robbery with a firearm in connection with Cisse’s death. He also was charged with two counts of armed robbery with a firearm in connection with the robbery of two women. A third incident, for which he was charged with one count of armed robbery with a firearm, occurred in connection with the robbery of a man in the 5300 block of South Greenwood Avenue about 1 a.m. that day. Police arrested Warren, who was charged with two counts of armed robbery for the robbery of the two women on 57th Street and one count of armed robbery in connection with the robbery of the man on South Greenwood Avenue. Additionally, Warren was charged with aggravated discharge of a weapon in connection with a fourth incident that morning at 12:33 a.m. at 6045 Woodlawn Ave.
In the aftermath of the shooting and the arrests (http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/07/071129.charges.update.shtml), the University community continues to reflect on this loss.