By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Stephen Young
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
At first, they settled in with friends in Maryland, struggling to find fast food or home health care jobs within walking distance of their apartments. Nat-George says they hadn't made any plans for Social Security or green cards, hadn't even heard of those before. Edwin and Nat-George received political asylum, but Bongo never applied, choosing instead to keep extending his visitor's visa as long as he could.
Just like he was never fully able to commit to citizenship, he was never able to commit to his life here, floating between jobs and relationships, lacking any real direction, acting as if nothing could compete with the adoration he once knew in Sierra Leone but then taking no steps on his own to regain it.
As the group focused on survival, plans to record new Professionals material and line up performances were put on hold. "We tried to get people to promote us, but nothing. Our community is very, very weak here," Edwin says. "When I came here, those that I thought would help, they just disappointed me."
After a year in Maryland, Bongo came to Nat-George and told him a singer from Freetown had agreed to give him a ride to Atlanta where he had a line on a home health care job. He asked Nat-George if he wanted to come, but he stayed behind with the others. Edwin was shocked when Bongo left—he still thought they'd continue their Professionals act, maybe even help draw American attention to the crisis in Sierra Leone. "We should have done a whole lot of things to help those that we left behind," he says. "It was our aim to do all these things—but we split up."
Bongo drifted, in a way that Edwin and Nat-George didn't, down to Atlanta for a few months, before ending up in Dallas in early 1994. He'd found a job as a prep cook at an Applebee's at Coit and Belt Line Road, and again invited Nat-George to join him. Out of work, Nat-George took a two-day Greyhound ride to Dallas and got hired to wash dishes for $4.50 an hour. They stayed in an apartment together, walked to the same restaurant for work each day, and found new friends who'd also emigrated from Sierra Leone. But the similarities didn't last long.
While Nat-George was ambitious enough to get higher-paying jobs, Bongo seemed happy to hang around at home or head to nightclubs with friends, and things grew tense as their paths diverged. Nat-George became active in the local chapter of the All People's Congress, one of a handful of local Sierra Leonean groups in the United States, and got a student loan to study management at DeVry University. He says he'd come home to a loud apartment, full of Bongo's friends, with the music blaring. "Instead of coming home and having a beer, I'd lock myself in the bathroom to study," Nat-George says. "I came home from work one day and my stuff was all outside the apartment."
After the split, Nat-George says he and Bongo lost touch—until recently when Bongo's depression was at its peak. Bongo had called him once in 2004, after three years of silence, reluctantly telling Nat-George that his mother had died. He needed money for her burial. Nat-George says the other Professionals had heard even less from Bongo and would be in no mood to help after he'd scuttled their plans to continue their act. "I called them all, let them know they were doing it for the old lady, not for him. We put some money together, sent it directly to his sister."
Shortly after Nat-George came to Dallas, Bongo met Claudia, a nursing student who'd only recently arrived from Sierra Leone. In a macabre twist, Claudia's brother had been killed along with one of Nat-George's cousins in a double-murder in Maryland in the mid-1990s. Visiting the U.S. for her brother's funeral, with the civil war still raging back home, Claudia decided to remain here. In March 1994, just after arriving, she married a man named Leon Haggerty, with whom she lived for less than a year. The two remained married, though, until she filed for divorce in 2008.
In 1995, Bongo and Haggerty had a son, whom Bongo once again named Godfrey Jr. Edwin recalls this was right around the time he heard that Bongo's old girlfriend in Sierra Leone, the mother of the first Godfrey Jr., had found a new man to help raise Bongo's son back home. Though Bongo and Haggerty never married, the two lived together, on and off for 15 years, raising Godfrey Jr. and a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 2003. They nicknamed her Baby Love, after Bongo's sister back home.
In the late 1990s, Bongo landed a customer service job at Cingular Wireless, where he met Cheryl Anderson, who also worked in his department. "He was my boyfriend for many years," Anderson says. "No matter what, I always knew that Godfrey was like my protector." Her children were close enough to him that they'd often call Bongo for help before they'd call her. She says her relationship was no secret, and that she'd occasionally call Haggerty, a registered nurse, for medical advice. "It was always an understanding," Anderson says.