More than 20 years ago, Isiaka Meite’s parents immigrated to the United States from Africa’s Ivory Coast to seek a different life.
Spurred by economic and social reasons, they believed things would be better in America. A little more than a week ago, Meite, 24, was the lone death at a graduation celebration in Southwest Philadelphia after a gunman shot randomly into the crowd, also injuring five others.
Meite is survived by his mother, Nongognon Meite, and three sisters — age 10, 17 and 21.
“Emotionally, she [said] she is completely depressed because the husband died three years ago. Isiaka was the only male in the house and also a breadwinner. For his life to end the way it has ended, she is out of words,” said Imam Muhammad Jomandy, of the Masjid Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jammah.
Jomandy interpreted responses from Nongognon, whose native language is Mandingo, throughout the family interview.
She said one reason the family left their homeland was to avoid having their daughters go through female circumcision, a controversial practice performed on young women as a way to supposedly maintain virginity.
“The cult she comes from, they had female circumcision. Her sister was affected and she did not want her girls to be affected by that as well, so she came here,” said Jomandy.
Isiaka Meiti had served as the family’s primary supporter since the death of his father, Moussa Meite. According to a cousin, Lasso Meite, Isiaka worked as a busboy at an Old City restaurant and had been promoted to a back waiter. He attended the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) but was on a break and had goals of a career in film.
Now, responsibility falls on his sister, Naminata, 21, a student at CCP who also works part-time.
“His main goal was to take care of his family. He was the only provider in the house,” she said. “Now that he is not here any more, I will be the one taking over. We’ll get through.”
Naminata said that earlier in the day of Isiaka’s death, they spent some brief time together.
“I was cooking, he was helping me in the kitchen. He handed me the pot and asked me to [save] some. I was expecting for him to come back home. He left at 7 p.m.,” she said. “It was very shocking. I still can’t believe it.”
Isiaka’s janazah, or funeral, was held on Friday after Jummah, the Muslim congregational worship and prayer, at the Masjid Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jammah.
Tahir Wyatt, who delivered the khutbah, or sermon, on Friday, expressed frustration at the city’s no snitching culture and the surge in gun violence during the Father’s Day weekend that Isiaka was killed. There were 19 shootings and six deaths.
“It’s not justice for someone to know who a murderer is, someone who takes an innocent life, and let them keep walking around. If you want to call it a snitch, so be it, but that’s about establishing justice,” Wyatt said.
“We have to change the narrative. Otherwise, we create a vigilante culture where the person totally gets away with it or we take matters in our own hands, and taking matters in your own hands doesn’t have an end,” he said.
Wyatt connected Islamic principles to the worshipers’ responsibility in the community, saying that justice is a core piece of the religion. He charged the believers to take on an active role in whatever way they could because “the command to be just is repeated in the Quran over and over again.”
“As a community, we have to say enough is enough. We can’t sit by and be bystanders to what is going on,” he said. “The entirety of our religion revolves around justice. Whatever space we occupy, we have to make it better.”
Meite’s former employer started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for Isiaka’s funeral expenses: https://www.gofundme.com/stop-violence-memorial-campaign-for-isiaka-meita.