April 11, 2009 — Every day, thousands of people passed him on the streets near Mandela Circle. Dressed simply, most times in a traditional South Asian kurta shirt and kufi, he would keep his gaze focused as he swept the streets, moving from the Wendy's restaurant to the main intersection.
Many may have wondered who he was, but few knew. Bakimba Rogers' family say he was a man who was always ready to hand out a spare dollar to those in need, who called his children in the early morning to get up and pray, and who swept the streets or picked up litter simply to do a good deed.
Today at Mandela Circle, which Rogers hoped to turn into a tourist attraction by installing an aquarium and repainting the walls, there now sits a memorial, piled high with flowers and signs that say, "We miss you," or "Kimba has our prayers."
Rogers, just 54, died at sunset on April 1 — a time he reserved every day for prayer. His daily prayer was something he did as naturally as breathing — it didn't matter where he was, whether in the middle of a wedding or just eating dinner at Wendy's, as soon as it was time, the devoted Rogers would stop and pray, said his daughter Damali, who laughs at almost every memory she shares about her father.
Family members think he might have fallen asleep or had a seizure, causing him to fall off the porch to his death.
Damali's only tears come while she recalls her father's car accident in the late 1980s, which put Rogers in a three-month coma. When he awoke, doctors gave the family little hope and only two options: put him in a nursing home or simply pull the plug, they said. His wife Denise took him home instead.
The next few years were difficult. His kids would come home and have to roll him over on his side so he wouldn't stay in one spot. They would ask him what he wanted to eat or drink, but his inability to speak made it like a guessing game.
To teach him how to walk, his wife would take him by the arms and prop him up on her feet, like a child does with their parent when they dance. And in the afternoon, his kids would run through their school lessons with him, going through the addition and subtraction of the everyday, one by one on their fingers.
Eventually, Rogers did what doctors told him he would never be able to do again: he walked. And to strengthen his body, he came up with his own home remedy — sweeping. First in the kitchen, then moving to the front porch, and eventually to the campuses where his children went to school, Rogers got stronger, and spent as much time as he could growing up with his kids, as much a devoted father as a devoted Muslim.
When he came home in the afternoons, his children and others in their neighborhood would anxiously peek over the front wall, waiting for Rogers to challenge them in a foot race. The kids would line up, their hearts beating, knowing in the end that no matter who won, they all got to split the prizes in Rogers' pockets — usually some spare change, Chiclets or some other kind of candy.
He kept bits of thread in there too, but for another reason. A love of animals, especially pigeons, had him constantly fixing wings or broken legs. And though he never asked for money in return for keeping the streets clean, if anyone ever offered him anything, he would only ask for a glass of water or a shovel. But if asked for change, Rogers would turn over his last dime, if he had it, according to his son Dekurmar.
Rogers helped to build the first Islamic Center on St. Thomas, renovating a run-down wooden house on Goat Street with other members of the fledging Muslim community. Kimba was always in the middle of bringing others to Islam, said Brother Sulyman, president of the Masjid Nur in Sugar Estate.
"From after his accident going forward, Kimba was brought here to be a sign as far as I'm concerned," Sulyman said. The mosque is going to seem empty this year, especially around Ramadan, he said.
But even as they mourn, Rogers friends and family are still celebrating his life. After the accident, Rogers didn't live in fear of death, but said that Allah had given him a second chance, and would take him whenever the time was right.
"In my life with daddy, there were no regrets," Damali Rogers said. "Whenever we would see him, we'd say, 'We love you, daddy.' And when ever he'd see us he'd say, 'I love you too.' We were lucky. We were very lucky to have that."
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