She was your companion, my sister, your sister, friend, and Comrade. Let’s shout her name globally, from Zimbabwe to Quanzou, Yoff to Fort Huachuca, New York to Los Angeles, Bandiangara, Kerala to Khartoum, London, Osogbo, Paris, Havana, Accra and every small or big corner of our world and that of our ancestors.
Jayne Cortez is our Keme Bourema, that the Jali of Mande immortalized in their songs for his deeds, Deeds that even his big brother, Almamy Samory Toure, envied. Jali Sory Kandia Kouyate, with the Ballet Africain, sang Keme Bourema’s name into immortality.
Let’s sing Jayne Cortez’s name into immortality, for her deeds. She was the force behind the Institute of African American Affairs at nyu. She, together with the Organization of women writers of Africa (owwa), conceived and organized international conferences, Yari Yari Pamberi and Slave Routes, which put The Institute of African American Aff airs (iaaa) and New York University on the map of the transnational, transcontinental, and trans-archipelagic worlds of the African Diaspora. She connected us, from Zimbabwe to Quanzou, Yoff to Fort Huachuca, New York to Los Angeles, Bandiangara, Kerala to Khartoum, London, Osogbo, Paris, Havana, Accra and every small or big corner of our world and that of our ancestors.
As the song goes, one day, Almamy Samory Toure’s wife asked for Baobab leaves from the court of the royal castle of Sikasso, knowing that the Almamy’s whole army had been stationed at the gates of Sikasso for 18 years, unable to penetrate it and defeat this last bastion of Senufo resistance to his brand of political Islam. Jali Kandia Kouyate’s song says that Almamy Samory Toure then called on Keme Bourema, his younger brother, to tell him about his wife’s request for Baobab leaves, for the evening couscous sauce.
In 1991, when I came to nyu to head the iaaa and create the first Africana Studies at nyu, the last bastion of resistance to Black Studies in America, I called on Jayne Cortez, for help.
Jayne Cortez is our Keme Bourema,
Jayne was one of the main advisors for iaaa, with Walter Mosley, Danny Glover and Clyde Taylor. She was a mentor to our students, well past their degrees at nyu. In a word, Jayne was a full faculty member at nyu, without a paycheck and a title. She did more than many of us in giving credibility to this Institution in Greenwich Village, without making any noise and without demanding anything in return.
Jali Kandia Kouyate’s song describes Keme Bourema’s simple and dignified appearance, followed by his prophetically possessed deeds, that day. He carried no weapon, nor had anyu armies with him; he tied his waist tight with a scarf; mounted his horse and crossed valleys, mountains, rivers and forests, amid bullets, arrows, and spears thrown at him by the enemy. He reached the fortress of Sikasso; passed through the king’s last army, until he was in the royal court. Keme Bourema returned with the Baobab leaves and laid them at the door of Samori’s wife.
Jayne Cortez is our Keme Bourema.
She brought recognition and fame to nyu’s Africana and to the iaaa. She connected us to the worlds of the living and the ancestors, the world of Africa, America, Europe, Asia and the Islands, from Zimbabwe to Quanzou, Yoff to Fort Huachuca, New York to Los Angeles, Bandiangara, Kerala to Khartoum, London, Osogbo, Paris, Havana, Accra and every small or big corner.
Jali Kandia Kouyate then brings his song to a climax: Why did Keme Bourema do what he did? He did not do it for money; he did not do it to show off ; and he did not do it for the love of one woman. He did it for the exemplarity of deeds; and such actions immortalized his name. For death takes away a life and the earth eats away the body, but nothing can kill or eat away a person’s name. That was the example that Keme Bourema left us with.
Jayne Cortez is our Keme Bourema.
She did not come to nyu for the big check, or for vanity. She adopted us at the iaaa to makes the world a better place, more free, democratic and more just. Jayne was a connector of people. She connected me, not only with the Black world in the Americas and Europe; but, and who would have guessed, with Africa, too. From Yene, Senegal, to New York, usa, and back.
They say that Jayne had passed. But as another poet, Birago Diop said, “She is here with us; she will always be with us.” She will always be with me. I will hear her voice everywhere I go.
Let’s unite our hearts and minds in an intercontinental shout for Jayne Cortez.