MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The community is rallying around the Fofana family in a big way this week.
Less than two days after Moussa Fofana was shot and killed at Underhill Field Sunday night, Fredrik Hoffmann was looking for a way to help. Although he had been a senior at Columbia High School when Moussa was a freshman, Hoffmann remembered him fondly. They had practiced soccer together, joking about their differing positions and talking trash.
“Every time I met him, it was a memorable experience,” said Hoffmann. “He just made everyone around him, you know, just light up and made their day better.” So when he did not see a GoFundMe campaign already set up to donate to on Tuesday, he started one for Moussa's family, to pay funeral expenses and the like.
The original goal was set at $5,000. Hoffmann wasn't sure even that was achievable. “I thought that was asking a lot from the community,” he said. But in a little over 24 hours, the fund has more than $144,000 in donations from more than 2,000 donors. “The fact that we even hit one hundred thousand was just — I mean, it brought me to tears.”
Hoffmann, a Maplewood resident, said he will keep the campaign open a while longer and will transfer the money to Moussa's mother, Hawa Fofana. “It's just amazing to see how the community really came together when it was necessary. And, you know, it just really gave me a sense of warmth and a sense of hope for this community.”
Hoffmann tapped CHS English as a Second Language teacher Katie Simpson to help fundraise. Simpson taught Moussa when she worked at Maplewood Middle School, and he was new to the school — and the country, and English; he had just immigrated from Liberia with his mother.
“When he came to Maplewood Middle, he had actually never been to school a day in his life and came in the middle of the in sixth grade. He started in February of 2015,” said Simpson. “He had to start at the beginning of letter identification, letter sounds, the basics of how to read, how to do math.” Later, when he was a student at Columbia and Simpson became a teacher there, they had a cordial relationship, and although he was no longer her student he would stop by her classroom just to chat.
Former Maplewood Middle social worker Beth Giladi, LCSW, donated to the fund, having spent many hours working with Moussa during his first years in the district. “He's my favorite child I have ever worked with. Oh, I am so devastated,” Giladi said.
“This child had a smile that could melt anybody's heart,” she said. She remembered him as “the most beautiful boy inside and out. He surmounted the most impossible challenge of coming not just to a new city, a new culture — but to a new world with no language, with deficits. He actually was very smart, but his deficits were due to lack of exposure” as he had never gone to a formal school before. “So he really suffered in school” at first, she noted, and he had to repeat sixth grade because his skills couldn't catch up in just one semester. “It thrills me that he found his place at Columbia and became a superstar — because that's what he always wanted.”
Giladi said she was devastated to hear the news of his death and will always remember his natural charm and intelligence fondly: “I could never beat him in a game of checkers.”
Soccer, said Simpson, was something that helped him acclimate to living and learning in a new place. He got started playing through the recreation league at the Baird, she said, when she and other teachers helped coordinate ESL student participation through a program called SoccerHood. “That's where his love of soccer began through the rec league teams.”
Through his sunny attitude and the gains he made in his education, “I feel like he taught us as much we taught him, in terms of patience and incredible resilience,” said Simpson. “You can tell by the GoFundMe how many people's lives he touched.”