COLUMN NINETY-SIX, SEPTEMBER 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
AN OBITUARY FOR SHANI
SHANI ISIS MAKEDA JONES BARAKA was born October 23,
1971 in Newark, NJ, to Artist-Activists Amina and Amiri Baraka at University
Hospital. Her gynecologist, Dr.
Ernest Garrett, was also an activist. Her pediatrician, Dr. John Alexander,
still another activist. Both
performed the same function for all of the children born to members of the
Committee for a Unified Newark. Shani
was born in the middle of that torrent of struggle that characterized the
Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements in which both her mother and her
father were national leaders.
Shani literally grew up as one of the red,
black and green diaper babies born within Newark's Committee for a Unified
Newark that were nurtured in the nursery of what had become the Congress of
Afrikan Peoples. She was educated and grew to adolescence in the African Free
School, created by her mother and the sisters, the Muminina and Malaikas, of the
Women's Division of the organization.
But even later, when CAP had changed its focus to
working in and transforming public educa'tion, young Shani was one of the five
Baraka children traveling with their parents to the countless rallies,
demonstrations, forums and conferences that characterized the Movement.
Shani finished her early education at Madison Ave.
School, and then went on to University High.
At University High Shani was one of the brightest stars on the girls'
basketball team, helping it to a 22-2 season and a chance to become state
champions. Unfortunately the other
team had two more players on the court than University, but was still allowed to
win the game by the narrowest of margins.
On the recommendation of her University High Coaches
Barnes and Hewitt, Shani received a full four-year basketball scholarship to the
well-respected and historic Black university, Johnson C. Smith, in Charlotte,
North Carolina. At Smith, Shani went
on playing her winning stylish brand of basketball as Smith's point guard. At
five-foot-one (she said she was five-foot-two), Shani patterned her aggressive
but silk-smooth game after the also short professional player, Isaiah Thomas,
but she actually had received her training from her first basketball
coaches---her four sibling hardheads that she had to play against every day in
the Baraka backyard, a quartet that included Obalaji, the eldest, who was an
all-city baseball, basketball and football star.
Shani still holds the CIAA records for steals
and assists. In 1993, she was
named CIAA Women's Co-Player of the Year, averaging 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds
and 11 assists.
Shani's coaches at Smith said she was,
"like a coach on the floor---without a doubt, the best point guard in the
Conference." Receiving Honorable Mention on the Eastman Kodak All America
Team, she was in sharp contradiction to the old clich? contending that athletes
are intellectually challenged. Shani was graduated Magna cum Laude (with
Great Honor) in 1993.
Back to Newark, Shani entered the Newark School system
as a substitute but soon became a regular at Central High even while coaching at
University High. Very soon she
became a tenured teacher at Vailsburg Middle School and became Assistant Coach
under Head Coach Joanne Watson at Malcolm X. Shabazz High School. Shani was
an important part of Shabazz High's State Championship team this past year.
In addition, Shani led Newark's entry in the
International Youth games, first as assistant coach and this year as high coach.
She guided the Newark team to a perfect score and the Gold Medal.
Shani was loved and respected by the
administrators, faculty, staff and the youth she coached. Always a thoughtful
and serious child, she instilled great discipline in and received great
admiration from the teams she coached, gaining nothing but respect from her
peers. Shani represented the
irrepressible best future of public school education and sports in the city of
The only daughter in the Baraka family, Shani is
survived by her mother and father Amina and Amiri Baraka; her four brothers,
Obalaji, Ras, Ahi and Amiri, Jr.; two half-sisters, Vera and Wanda from Mrs.
Baraka's previous marriage; and four other sisters, Kellie, Lisa, Dominique and
Maria from her father's previous marriage and relationships.
Shani was the devoted granddaughter of Ruth Richardson and the late Anna Lois Jones, the late Coyt Leroy Jones and the late Charlie Richardson Sr. She was the niece of Willie, Johnny and William Derrick West; of Sheila Johnson and Charlie Richardson Jr. She is also survived by a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives. ##
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