By Rodney Brown
The Sister City Committee held a reception at the Rochester City Atrium, where Tru Art Dance Company presented the ambassador with a homely welcome. The youth group wore African tribal costumes, while performing traditional African dances.
The event also marked the first visit of a Malian official to Rochester in nearly a decade, in addition to recognizing and honoring the tireless work of Dr. Walter Cooper, founder of the Bamako-Rochester Sister Cities Committee.
“The occasion is the celebration of 40 years of our committee,” Alicia Ward, chair of the committee, stated. “Forty years of humanitarian outreach, and cultural exchange, with the city of Bamako in Mali, West Africa.”
The Bamako-Rochester Sister Cities of Rochester is one of twelve sister cities affiliated with the nearly 60-year-old International Sister Cities of Rochester program. Each sister city’s relationship is based upon a wide range of activities that have been maintained by volunteer citizen diplomats from the greater Rochester region.
“As we work in Rochester to create more vibrant neighborhoods, more jobs, and better educational opportunities for our children, international connections are a vital importance,” Mayor Lovely Warren stated. “Our Bamako relationship gives our citizens the opportunity to learn about the cultures of our African heritage, and explore the things we have in common. This relationship has been a mutually-beneficial relationship. Since the sister-city bond began in 1975, ties between the two cities have resulted in numerous cultural and educational exchanges, including official visits between each city, professional and municipal affiliations, and student exchanges at the secondary and university levels. Humanitarian assistance to Mali has mainly been in the health field, and included shipments of medical supplies and equipment. In return, rich cultural exhibitions have come to Rochester in the forms of film, photography, and storytelling.”
In the spring of 1974, former Rochester Mayor Thomas Ryan requested Dr. Cooper chair an ad hoc committee to research cities in Sub-Saharan Africa for the purpose of finding an appropriate city for the sister-city relationship.
“We were informed that Cotonou, Dahomey (Benin), Enugu Nigeria and Bamako, Mali had expressed an interest in a relationship with an American city,” Cooper said in a 1974 report, titled, “Formation of the Bamako-Rochester Sister Cities.” “The committee carefully studied, and assessed, the materials and comments about the three cities. Since the Niger River traverses Bamako, much like the Genesee, which flows through Rochester, and the fact that, of the cities studied, Bamako had maintained more of its African culture and personality, it was decided to recommend Bamako as Rochester’s sixth sister city.”
Cooper submitted the recommendation to the mayor in the fall of 1974, and the relationship was legalized in August 1975 by the Rochester City Council.
“I was a young professor, teaching at R. I. T., when I got a call from Dr. Cooper in 1977,” council member Elaine Spaull stated. “He said, ‘I have a job for you. We have a young man who’s coming from our sister city program. He’s absolutely brilliant. He can speak many languages, but English is not one of them.’ We were starting a business administration program at R.I.T., so it was my job to teach him English in three months. Sometimes, you get a phone call that changes your life, and that call changed mine. Dr. Cooper helped him find his way at R.I.T. He became a surrogate parent to him, and a great friend, and also a treasure to my family and me.”
Built on the banks of the Niger River, Bamako derived its name from “Bama” and “Ko,” meaning alligator and river. The country’s population of nearly two million includes a diversity of ethnic groups, and its most popular spoken language is the Bambara language. French is the official language, but Bambara is the language spoken most commonly. The economy includes agriculture and industry, with some of its primary products deriving from cotton, fish, groundnuts, livestock, and handicrafts. About half of the city’s population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 (U.S.) a day.
“Bamako was close to my heart, because so many individuals from that community spent time in Rochester, at our institutions, and became well known in the city of Rochester,” Cooper stated. “I still keep in contact with many of my students. They became a part of my family, and a part of my heart. I hope the cities will maintain their relationship. Forty years is not enough. It takes more than 40 years to create a people, and I would like to believe, between Bamako and Rochester, we’re trying to create a people.”
Contact Bamako-Rochester City Committee Chairperson Alicia Ward at email@example.com, or 585 820-7672, for additional information regarding the program.