When Cierra McNeely first met Bubacarr Kora, McNeely was crying in a residence hall elevator after her family dropped her off at San Francisco State University.
Editor’s note: Berkeleyside is republishing this story with permission from The Tribune, San Luis Obispo. This story was originally published July 20.
She felt nervous to start college, she recalled, but Kora reassured her that she would make friends and enjoy her freshman year. “He just totally switched my entire view of college,” McNeely said. “He didn’t just say you’re gonna make friends and walk off the elevator. He said that and made sure to become my friend.”
Kora, who was 23, died July 4 during a vehicle pursuit on Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County. The Berkeley High alum was a generous spirit who dedicated his life to supporting others, his family, friends and neighbors said.
“He was a radiant, noble, kind-hearted, spiritual person,” his former neighbor, Erika Weissinger, said. “When you were in his presence, you felt happy, and you felt like there’s goodness in the world because he brought goodness to all of his interactions.”
Kora grew up in Gambia before moving to the United States. After graduating Berkeley High, he attended San Francisco State University, where he was majoring in Africana studies. He lived in Oakland.
He died during a high-speed chase between Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties after a Cal Fire arson investigator initiated a traffic stop, according to the California Highway Patrol. The incident remains under investigation.
Remembering Kora, friends and relatives praised his empathy, generosity and dedication to his religion.
One friend, Wesley Cox, said Kora should be remembered for the happiness he brought to people.
“He was a light,” Cox said. “He brought joy wherever he went.”
Bubacarr Kora: A scholar and a caregiver
Kora moved to the U.S. from Gambia when he was in middle school.
Weissinger said Kora used to babysit for her and made her then-2-year-old laugh every day, she said.
“He was just so tender and loving and funny,” Weissinger said. “Bubacarr was just always smiling and just had such a sunny disposition. Somebody who, when you’re around them, you feel happy because his energy is just so light and loving.”
Kora also had an appetite for learning, and would often read while walking Weissinger’s dog around the neighborhood, she said.
At Berkeley High, Kora was chosen to participate in the Academic Talent Development Program at UC Berkeley, Weissinger said.
Robael Gizachew, who met Kora when the two were students at Berkeley High, said he was proud to watch his friend become “a pillar in his community.”
“Being able to see him go from someone who was just fresh and new to a leader,” Gizachew said, “that, to me, was the definition of taking in good examples around you and then morphing yourself into being one.”
Kora took care of his family and sent money to his relatives in Gambia when he could, his uncle Njundu Sann said.
According to Sann, Kora served as a caregiver for his 9-year-old brother Yusupha, watching the boy so his parents could work.
“That shows his heart,” Sann said. “He’s all about family.”
Kora’s friends respected the way he took responsibility, they said.
“He inspired people to do better things, to be better,” Diana Freslassie said. “The way he lived for his little brother, the way he lived for his family, it made us … gravitate towards him, but also want to do better.”
Kora was a ‘staple of the community’ at San Francisco State
According to his friends, Kora dedicated his college life to supporting and uplifting the Black community at San Francisco State. He was involved with the Black Student Union, the Black Unity Center, Black Residents United in Housing and the historically Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha.
“He constantly showed up,” Cox said. “He was just a presence for other Black men in the dorms.”
Africana studies professor Serie McDougal called Kora “a staple of the community.”
Hanna Wodaje, who met Kora at San Francisco State while working at the Black Unity Center, said he excelled at building community and making people feel comfortable.
Noting that Kora had wisdom beyond his years, Wodaje called him “an old man in a young body.”
“He had the energy of an elder, but also the humility of a young person wanting to learn and soak in everything,” Wodaje said. “He was telling you to do better without being condescending. He would say it in a way that was so loving and warm, it didn’t feel abrasive, and didn’t feel like he was judging you. It was literally just out of love.”
“He was the person that would, like, jokingly tell you to live a better lifestyle,” Freslassie said. “I would be at the house, and he would look at me eating pizza for breakfast and be like, ‘No — eat your fruit!’”
Kora practiced Islam, and set up a prayer space at the Black Unity Center. He integrated his religion into his everyday life — from fasting and praying to discussing his faith with friends, Cox said.
“It was so inspiring,” Cox said. “He was so relaxed about the way he would move through it.”
Wodaje said that Kora didn’t speak often but, when he did, what he said was valuable and people listened. He always followed through on his commitments, she said.
“He was the type of person to put his money where his mouth was,” Wodaje said. “He wasn’t about that talk. He was about action. If he said, ‘I’m gonna be there,’ he was there.”
Wodaje said Kora had a grounding and uplifting presence.
“He was just always that steady rock,” Wodaje said. “He’s that person who would always be there for you.”
Kora’s roommate, Nnamdi Agu, described how he found himself in San Francisco during a holiday break with nowhere to stay. Kora invited Agu to stay at his apartment and made him a meal.
“I only knew him for like three weeks, you know? He made me food, he trusted me to come into his house with his roommates,” said Agu, who moved in with Kora during his sophomore year. “I knew, ‘OK, this is somebody I’ve gotta have in my circle.’ ”
When he graduated from San Francisco State, Kora was considering attending graduate school to study psychology and potentially becoming a professor, Cox said. Kora was also interested in finance and investing, and planned to build a home for his family in Gambia, Cox said.
San Francisco State University is in the process of awarding Kora an honorary degree, as he was only a few classes away from graduating, according to Sann.
Meanwhile, a friend created a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to support Kora’s family. As of publication time, it had raised more than $19,000 toward the $20,000 goal.
Kora’s ex-girlfriend Tierra Bent said she wants “people to remember that he was solid.”
“He was true to his friends,” Bent said. “He was the best partner that I could have asked for. He would go to war for those that he loved.”
“Don’t let his name die in vain,” Agu added of Kora. “Anything you do, just think about Bubacarr and remember that he wants you to do exactly what makes you happy.”
Berkeleyside contributed to this story.
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