Yaye Aminata Ciré Talla Your Legacy Lives On
I was born in the Kinshasa, Zaire. My mother is from Rwanda and my father from Sénégal. My father’s cousin, my aunt Yaye Aminata Ciré Talla, raised me in Sénégal from the age of 10. This is a thank you letter to Yaye for everything she poured into me despite having very little for herself. Yaye is no longer with us, but I look at my life in America today and see her in every part of it.
My dear mother Aminata Ciré Talla,
You passed away six years ago this month on Wednesday, March 16, 2011, but you never left me. You are my namesake, you were my aunt who raised me, then you became my mother. I had planned to come to Dakar and visit you in the summer of 2011, but you left this world before I could do so. When the news of your passing reached me, I was devastated. I had waited 11 years to see you, just to learn that it will never happen. I would never experience your presence again. I would never listen to your wise words again. It took me weeks to believe in mind that you passed away. It took me years to accept in my heart that you passed away.
Aminata Sy reading her open letter to Yaye Aminata Ciré Talla to African Community Learning Program students on Monday, March 5, 2018.
When I visited you at your grave in July 2011, I could not process that when we separated I would be speaking with you again in a graveyard. I was with my eight-year-old son Amadou and my seven-year-old daughter Aissata and was expecting a third child. We went with your two sons and one of your grandsons. My children and I kneeled by your grave and traced with our fingers in its sand, “We love you, Yaye.” I added, “I miss you, Yaye. Thank you.” I could not control my rolling tears that day. My heart beat fast and ached with piercing pain. My face was hot, my head was dizzy, my whole body was disoriented. When I returned home that day, I laid the entire afternoon and barely spoke to anyone.
Yaye the world doesn’t know your name and the impact you made in it, but I do. You lived an entire life of scrapping by, yet you helped hundreds of people along the way. You raised me the best way you knew how with what you had. To this day, I am amazed by your profound level of generosity. From you, I learned that we should give based on how big our hearts are, not how much we have. From you, I learned that struggle doesn’t equal the loss of dignity. From you, I learned that building and safeguarding relationships are where a person’s legacy lies. From you, I learned that knowledge and wisdom doesn't simply come from sitting in classrooms but mainly from engaging with the world around us. From you, I learned that money doesn’t determine how much impact someone can have on her community. From you, I learned that bringing people together regardless of their issues must be a priority. From you, I learned that a life of service is one worth living and sacrificing for.
Display of Yaye Aminata Ciré Talla's photo at African Community Learning Program.
Yaye, you are present in my life every single day. You never left me. I feel your presence in every room I walk into, in every conversation I have with family and others, in every decision that I’ve been making in my life. Your legacy lives on.You never sat a day in your life in a classroom. Yet in me, you raised someone who is now attending one of the best universities in the world. Your legacy lives on. In me, you raised someone who serves her community and beyond with every opportunity available. Your legacy lives on. You could not have dreamed of making headlines or starting an organization. Yet in me, you raised someone who has done both and continues to blaze a trail. Your legacy lives on.
Yaye Aminata Ciré Talla, thank you for taking care of me, for sharing with me everything you had, for teaching me about life, for raising me as your own. Your legacy lives on. Yaye Aminata Ciré Talla, yen dji de jam.
Your daughter Aminata Sy
Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a journalist, and a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English.
African Community Learning Program educates, connects, empowers, and supports people of African background in West Philadelphia.
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