Amadou Cisse is not a statistic.
Amadou was shot and killed on the Hyde Park campus of the University of Chicago early Monday morning. This was just weeks after he had successfully defended his Ph.D thesis in Chemistry at the top-rated university.
Amadou started life with little advantage. He was raised in a modest home in Senegal, Africa, exacerbated all the more by his father’s early death. But Amadou invested his hopes in the most precious gift God had afforded him, his mind. He won a scholarship worlds away to a U.S high school, went onto college and earned degrees in chemistry, physics and mathematics.
The Chicago Tribune reported that “At the U. of C., Cisse was known as much for his hard work as his passion for his religion, Islam” (“U. of C. reels from hour of violence,” Page 1, Nov. 20).
During his lifetime and despite all odds, Cisse did his family proud, Africa proud and Islam proud – he was a direct product of all three.
He also did America proud – he was also a direct product of America.
Amadou was a minority three times over. He was black, Muslim and an immigrant. In a climate where each of those are often demonized, politicized, or rendered suspicious, he may have been prejudged by the ugly half of America.
But prejudice is not the world he saw in America. He saw only opportunity, just as the beautiful part of America had seen in him.
As we constantly hear the claptrap about the potential radicalization of Muslim youth, or witness the subtle vilification of Black youth or dark-skinned immigrants, we see in Amadou a more accurate representation of the real values a young Black Muslim immigrant might typically represent: intelligence, responsibility, aspiration — and vulnerability. This is equally likely whether a PhD from the U. of C. or a cab driver.
His achievements were a reminder to all of us of the value of most who come to our shores: not a threat, but an asset.
Amadou’s story is the best and worst of what we have to offer. In our top institutions, we afforded Amadou a ticket to the top. And in our unsafe inner-city streets, we afforded him his demise.
Fighting urban crime and cleaning up our streets is not just the police force’s job; it is our collective responsibility. We cannot sit idly by as our top treasure, our youth, are taken down in senseless moments made possible by a lackadaisical community approach to urban safety.
In Amadou’s honor, we call on Chicagoans to make a resolution for the year 2008 to do their part in changing that by volunteering for CAPS, the City of Chicago’s valuable Community Policing program.
Let our great city remain a beacon of hope and a place of opportunity to people around the world, but let it also be a leading city in the fight against street crime.
Our hearts go out to Amadou’s family, friends, and the University of Chicago community.