Bakari had charisma, talent
- Published: July 10, 2008
Iddi Bakari was a sportsman with unparalleled fashion savvy. He was a charismatic jokester who could talk his way out of a tight spot. He prayed a lot and loved his family. And, say his friends from Yellow Springs, he could have been anything he wanted had his talents as a showman not taken him down a path that ultimately led to his death almost two weeks ago.
“He was a jack of all things,” said Martin Tomas, a 2001 Yellow Springs High School graduate and one of Bakari’s closest friends. “I’m disappointed because he could have been a star.”
If there was a troubled side to Iddi Bakari, his Yellow Springs friends didn’t know it. Bakari was the type of guy who didn’t like to show emotion, and always appeared to be happy, said Michael Walker, a childhood friend. “If anything were going wrong with him, you would never know it,” he said.
Tony Wishart, another long-time friend said that he and others suspected Bakari was into distributing drugs, but they thought it was small-time stuff, and that he would soon work his way into the mainstream.
Born in the Philippines, Bakari came to Yellow Springs with his family around 1991, in time to attend third grade at Mills Lawn and forge bonds with a group of lifelong friends. Beginning that year, Tomas, who was two years younger but who lived down the street from the Bakaris, would pick up Bakari and their friends Walker and Terry Lawson on their way to Bryan Center to spend their day playing basketball and ping pong before heading to the Gaunt Park pool for the rest of the day.
The boys loved to play sports, Tomas said, and when they got to Yellow Springs High School they joined the basketball and football teams together. On the court, Bakari made up for what he lacked in height with determination and willingness to go anywhere to play, former YSHS basketball coach Mike Gaines said. His patent move was to dribble to the right, come between the legs twice and try to go to the bucket, which was only sometimes successful, Gaines said. But he was nevertheless known for his “mean crossover dribble,” according to YSHS basketball coach Brad Newsome.
On the football field Bakari played both wide receiver and defensive back and was the first YSHS athlete to be given the Golden Hand award. Though he often got mad after games if he didn’t get enough playing time, according to Walker, Bakari was always fighting from the sidelines for his team.
According to his friends, Bakari was also a family man, and he never forgot his role as an older brother. He used to show his brother Martin how to shoot hoops, Walker said, and he talked all the time about how smart his baby sister Zyna was and what a great performer Martin was.
“Iddi was always telling us, ‘My brother’s smart, he can sing, he’s gonna do lots of things when he grows up,’” Walker said.
John Pamplin remembered Bakari coaching him and Martin in flag football when they were younger, and said he always came to Martin’s baseball and soccer games and asked the boys how they were doing.
In school Bakari was a good student, with an engaging smile and a quick wit, though his verbosity often got him in trouble for clowning around in class, long-time McKinney School teacher Pam Conine said this week. There are three types of reactions students who get into trouble exhibit, according to Conine, including belligerant denial, guilty acceptance, and the third and most unique, negotiation. Bakari, she said smiling, definitely fell into the third category.
“Iddi belonged to a select group of kids who know you’ve got them and admit they were wrong but still try to negotiate with ‘But I can explain, let me explain,’” she said.
After he graduated, Bakari would return to the high school to say hello, and he would always have something to say about what he planned to be doing in the near future, “as if to say I don’t want you to worry about me,” Conine said. “He was a man with a plan.”
In his senior statement to the Yellow Springs News in 1999, Bakari laid out his plans to study law and in 10 years own his own firm. And characteristic of his desire to help others succeed, he ended with, “When I get to where I need to be, then I want to help young brothers like myself and continue the cycle.”
Bakari was both ambitious and competitive, according to Wishart. “Moj,” as Wishart called him, short for his first name Umoja, “never ran into anything he didn’t think he could do, and it was never a question of if but how,” Wishart said. “He had a belief in himself that you couldn’t rattle for anything.”
That confidence, along with his ever-present smile, was mesmerizing, Wishart said. “He was a magnetic dude, on the cutting edge, a leader with style, music, basketball, whatever it was, he wanted to be the first guy at it,” he said.
Always up on the latest fashions to look the part, Bakari liked to wear the hippest sports jersey and the New Era hat to match, or when the throwback jerseys came out he had one of Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas and one of Barry Sanders, who played for the Detroit Lions. To make money Bakari worked at a jewelry store in the mall and then had a very short stint washing dishes at the Antioch College cafeteria, which he didn’t stick with for more than “a second,” Tomas said.
“He was kind of a pretty guy, so he didn’t like to get dirty doing that stuff,” he said.
But his longer term ambition after graduating YSHS in 1999, was to do well enough at Clark State to enter Ohio State University on a full scholarship in 2001, which he did, Tomas said. Bakari was very entrepreneurial, Walker said, and often talked of owning his own business. And according to Tomas, Bakari also secretly aspired to be a rap star.
“He rapped, and he was actually good enough that I always thought he might do that,” Tomas said. When Bakari was picked as the co-host of a top ten music countdown show that was broadcast before a huge live audience on Buckeye TV, Bakari showed he could hang with the best. During an interview on the show, one of the musicians asked Bakari where he got the Gucci suit and matching hat he was wearing, and Bakari answered off the cuff, “My mom made it.”
None of those interviewed had any idea that Bakari would in April 2008 be indicted for operating a drug enterprise out of Columbus that may have had connections to the murder of YSHS student Tim Lopez by classmate Michael Rittenhouse in 2002. Bakari became the object of a national manhunt until his capture and apparent suicide in the DeKalb County Jail in Atlanta on June 27. The incident came as another hard blow to a community that has already dealt with so much, said area resident Pat Johnson, who lived in Yellow Springs for over 30 years and is friends with the Bakaris.
Like others, Johnson wishes the local police or the community at large had been able to do more to intervene before things got “out of control,” she said this week.
Looking back, Bakari’s friends tried to come up with answers related to his confidence and need to prove he could do anything. “He never saw something he couldn’t maximize and completely control,” Wishart said. “It was his greatest strength, and it also could have led to his downfall.”
According to Tomas, maybe Bakari became something that even he wasn’t aware of. Because for Tomas, in order to fit the portrait the Greene County prosecutor has created, “He almost would have had to force himself to be something he wasn’t. For the glamour, or the spotlight or to be the center of attention. But that wasn’t really him,” Tomas said. “He was always just a kid who liked to have fun.”
In some ways, Bakari seemed to know exactly who he was. He was proud of his Filipino and Tanzanian heritage. He wore a rosary around his neck and wrist and often prayed for help for his friends and family, a friend from Columbus, Leshia Adams said. He taught his friends to step back at each precipice and appreciate the moment, Tomas said. He regularly called his mother, Maria Bakari, who would always end their conversations with, “Love you, Nani,” her name for him, according to close friend Maggie Morrison.
Bakari also appreciated having his father, Iddi Sr., close by, and made it a priority to always be there for his 4-year-old son, Elias, friends said. They went to the parks together, the Columbus city libraries, and for his fourth birthday they went to hear Chris Brown, Elias’ favorite musician.
Every now and then Tomas and Bakari would run down their top five most important things in life together, Tomas said. Both of their lists typically included education, money, girls and clothes, but at the top of Bakari’s list was always family.
“He knew what was important,” Tomas said.