In Memory of ‘A Gem’


Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woman who lived in a village called Brooklyn.  She was like non-other.  A woman viewed by all those who knew her as a woman of pose and culture, African culture.  Over the years she came to be known by different names.  Born Cheryl Taylor, she later changed her name to Iyaboda.  Finally  she came to be known as Gemi-Men Shaat.

Anu, Gemi, Margaret, Sen-Sen Maat

Gemi was a friend’s friend, a sister’s sister – a woman’s best kind of friend.  She made every person feel as if they’d finally encountered the friend they’d been waiting to meet all their lives.  She was a great listener who was resourceful and always willing to help you figure it out.  But she was also a great talker. She could weave a story that made you feel that you were right there experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of whatever she was describing.  Gemi was also a giving spirit, willing to share anything she had, including her last.  Before she took a sip or a bite of anything, she’d offer you some first.  And she had a penchant for bringing people together.  She’d also stop what she was doing and cook for you, on a dime.  And yes, she was also a fabulous cook!

Gemi was a sight to see, with dark, shimmering, flawless skin that looked like satin, almond-shaped eyes and high cheekbones.  You’d look at her and know all those stories about beautiful African princesses were true.  It’s no wonder she captivated an entire Ghanaian village when she traveled to Ghana!

Her hair was always finely coiffed.  When I met her she had impeccably groomed Locs, and this was in the late seventies, when there were no salons or professionals doing Locs.  She did her own and they were perfectly symmetrical, long and gorgeous.  Later, when she cut them, she became Khamit Kink’s best advertisement, known for the Senegalese Twists she often wore.  And Gemi was the one who designed the Pixie braid style that later became a popular wig. Everywhere she went people wanted to know where she’d gotten her hair done and where she’d bought her clothes.

Oh, her clothes!  Gemi was always dressed to the nines, usually in traditional African garb.  And those hips! Gemi was known for those curvaceous hips – and how they rolled when she walked! And she walked slowly, never one to rush. I had many a frustrating moment waiting for Gemi to arrive somewhere.  She had undoubtedly run into someone and got into a conversation about blah, blah, blah.  But I digress. Gemi wore custom-made, traditional African clothing like no one else!

I’ll never forget at her funeral her husband sharing a story about how excited he was the first time he was going away with her to San Francisco.  He knew she had never been there before and knew no one there.  So he thought he’d finally have her to himself.  But, he went on to say, Gemi proceeded to meet everyone, everywhere they went, because they wanted to know where had she come from, where did she get her outfit, who did her hair, and on and on.  He had to share her.

Gemi was just magnetic that way.  She drew people in with her unquenchable fascination with people.  She collected people the way others collect shoes, jewelry, antiques or whatever else people collect.  I remember at her funeral being stunned by the many people who got up to speak, who believed that they held the same space in her heart that I thought only I or just a select few held.  They all thought that they had been her best friend!  How did she do that?!  How did she make all these people feel so very special to her?  One way was that she put in the time with them.  She took the time and she had the time, because for a while her primary job was raising her twin boys and she did that with all seriousness.  They have grown up to be fine young men that I know she is looking over, and of whom she is doubtless very proud. Her precious daughter Merakhu, a bright and courageous spirit wise beyond her years, joined her as an ancestor a few years after Gemi’s transition.

1987 Gemi-Men (in the center) is eight months pregnant, attends the play ‘Fences’ along with me and my mom

Gemi is gone from this plane, but lives on in the hearts of so many.  Her birthday is on the 2nd of January and leading up to her birthday I couldn’t stop thinking of her.  It’s now been about 18 years since she passed, but my memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday.  Gemi was very sick for a while before she passed and we all had an opportunity to witness her strength, willpower, grace and courage.  She never gave up or gave in.  She fought the good fight and through it all, she continued to bring people together.

My life is the better for having known Gemi, experiencing her and seeing how she went about doing what she did, her special gift of gathering people.  She wasn’t without her faults, after all, she was human.  But she was also one gem of a person.  We will never forget you Gem!

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Pat on January 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Well said.
    Gemi was a beautiful courageous woman, inside and out.


  2. Posted by Zauditu on January 6, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    OMG, I was thinking about Gemi Men today! On my lunch break I was recalling how beautiful she was, how gracious, sweet and kind she was! Wow guess she is on tha collective brain!


  3. Posted by Arit on January 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Such a colorful, love sister, the memories will never fade!? Thanks Anu for that beautiful tribute to GemiMen. Thanks for the happy and heart heavy tears too ;).


    • My pleasure Arit. I feel you are one of those who knew Gemi most intimately, having been roomies for so long. So your approval means so much to me. Thank you for weighing in.


  4. Posted by rashid taylor on January 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    This was absolutely beautiful!! My eyes are wet and my palms are sweating…a deluge of memories, I’m speechless. Thank you. I love you!


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