Jawo, Omar. Bronx African American History Project. By Mark Naison and Jane Edwards. Fordham University Project, October, 2008.
INTERVIEWER: Dr. Mark Naison and Dr. Jane Edwards
INTERVIEWEE: Omar Jawo
SUMMARY BY: Andrew O’Connell
Keywords: Gambia, Islam and Muslims in the Bronx, adult education, African Immigrants, Gambian Cooperative Union
Born in 1952 in the Republic of Gambia, Omar Jawo, comes from the Fulani, an ethnic group in Gambia known primarily for agriculture and the raising of livestock. Seeing as how the Fulani placed little to no emphasis on formal education, Jawo followed his uncle to a Catholic Mission, where he attended elementary and high school, to pursue scholarship. Although a Muslim by religion, Jawo claims that he felt no pressure to convert at this mission school.
Following his education on the mission, Jawo become political in his native country, helping to establish the Gambian Cooperative Union, an organization that sought to help local farmers with production and the raising of livestock. After a failed attempt in 1994 to form a political party with the hopes of ending military rule in Gambia, Jawo came to the United States and applied for political asylum, which he was granted.
Settiling in the the Bronx, Jawo obtained his first employment as a security guard while receiving academic training in computer science in his free time. Jawo then went on to work in several schools teaching children with special needs. Jawo continued his education throughout this process, applying to Fordham University, where he completed his undergraduate study, and Columbia University, where he received a Masters degree in social work.
Jawo describes in detail his experiences as a man of the Muslim faith in the trying political climate following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Although he characterizes the relationship between Black Christians and Black Muslims to be one that is rather amicable, he recounts several examples in which he received discriminatory treatment in the wake of the Towers’ collapse.
Later in the interview, Jawo also discusses the differences he has observed in child rearing techniques between parents in America and those in his native Gambia. He describes American parents as being lenient almost to the point of having no control over their children, claiming that American children as a whole seem to be lacking in a respect for their elders that is widespread in his native country.
Jawo ends his interview with the BAAHP by telling of his dreams of political and social organization among African immigrants here in the Bronx. He tells Dr. Naison and Dr. Edwards about his organizational goals, and the three exchange ideas on how such an organization might grow from the ground up in the city’s northernmost borough.