How the site of a fire in the Bronx became a refuge for Gambians

Although Mr Touray died of heart failure in 2019 at the age of 81, about 50 members of the immediate and extended family were living in the building at the time of the fire, according to one of his sons, Suleyman Touray, and Mariama Touray, who is married to one of his cousins. By the standards of his culture and religion, Mr. Touray three Muslim women who still lived in the apartment on the third floor. Two of his widows were placed in hotels; the third had been in The Gambia at the time of the fire.

Born in Sotuma Sere, a village in eastern Gambia, Mr Touray moved to the country through a ‘young democrats’ program, said his daughter Fatiah Touray, 38.

Mr Touray was widely traveled and spoke at least nine languages: English, French, Arabic, Soninke, Mandingo, Fulani, Wolof, Lingala and Sierra Leonean Creole. Upon arrival in the United States, he began a nonprofit called the Pan-African Islamic Society from its apartment and offered Islamic services to celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Cicely Tyson, according to relatives.

“He realized there was no real place where West Africans could get their proper funeral rites as Muslims, and he was really instrumental in getting that going for the Muslim community,” said Magundo Touray, 41, one of his daughters.

“When someone was arrested who didn’t speak a language, the 46th precinct would always knock on our door and say, ‘Hey, sir, we’ve got someone who’s lost. Perhaps you can help us,’.”

Gita Sankano grew up in a nearby building, but spent much of her childhood visiting or babysitting relatives there. “We all knew 3G,” she said, Mr Touray’s apartment. “When my mother came to the US, she stayed with 3G. My naming convention was in 3G. It is our own village. It’s that deep. It’s our own community. This is a tragedy for the entire Gambian community.”

At Twin Parks North West, neighbors and residents saw Mr. Touray in the courtyard handing out dollar bills to children. People went in and out of his apartment, often filled with the smell of jollof rice, plantains and okra stew. On Eid, crowds of people would crowd the building’s corridors. “They came from the mosque a block away and then straight to the house,” Magundo Touray said.

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