Vigil held in remembrance of former BC student

Mohamed Bafakih, Contributing Editor



Whether it was what he did for Bakersfield or what he meant to the community of Delano, the loss of 19-year-old former Bakersfield College student Ali Sakr shook the surrounding areas.

Sakr died after colliding with a semi, which set his car on fire near Seventh Standard Road and Cherry Avenue on Feb. 6, as he was returning home to Delano after refereeing a junior high basketball tournament at Liberty High School.

The success through basketball allowed him to still be involved with the game, and while refereeing gave him an extra chance to give back to the game, it was just part of his selflessness of giving back.

“He [Sakr] was a great kid, it’s a shame,” Bakersfield College head basketball coach Rich Hughes said in regard to the passing of Sakr.

Hughes briefly coached Sakr during preseason practice of the 2015 basketball season after Sakr’s stellar prep career at Robert F. Kennedy High School in Delano.

“In fact he was officiating JV games during the high school season … how many 19 year olds do that?” Hughes said. “He was mature for his age, and he was a very good player and was a very good player at Kennedy. It’s just sad to see.”

The opportunity of playing basketball collegiately didn’t present itself to Sakr due to transportation and his focus on school, but ultimately he had aspirations that were bigger than himself, but rather more about how we could impact other people’s lives.

Whether it was through motivating his seven siblings (which included six brothers), teammates, the younger kids in Delano at after-school programs, or his Herbalife clients, his heart (and smile) was full of charm.

Sakr was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., before he relocated to Delano with his family at the age of 7 and was seemingly able to adjust to the small-town lifestyle as the community has remained supportive throughout the past week and a half.

As a 6-foot combo guard and a captain of the RFK basketball team his senior year, Sakr was named to the 2013-14 South Sequoia League First Team after averaging 10.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game for the Thunderbirds. He was also on varsity as a junior where he led RFK with 18.1 points per game. His head coach then, Joey Velasquez, was as close to Sakr as one could get – playing the coach, mentor and second father roles. Velasquez kept spirits high throughout this tough time and knew that’s exactly what Sakr would want.

“Me and him were very, very close – like father, like son. He taught me to be the best coach I could be… with Ali I learned to be a mentor more than a coach as well. He was a gift from God to me,” Velasquez said.

Sakr was laid to rest on Feb. 10 at Hillcrest Memorial in Bakersfield, and a candlelight vigil was held on Feb. 12 in Delano.

The funeral brought many people of all races and religions to pay homage to Sakr.

Ali’s oldest brother, Anis, remained positive during this hardship, whether it was sharing unforgettable moments minutes after laying his brother to rest, or speaking in front of the large crowd on hand at the vigil.

“It makes me happy and sad seeing all these faces,” Anis said at the vigil. “It reminds me how many people he touched. I believe every single one of you guys made him happy; just remember the funny moments, the good moments… the moments that made Ali, Ali.”

During the candlelight vigil in front of the RFK gym where Sakr held many memories, his former teammate Ruben Hill could count on one thing: “Delano is not going to see another player like that in a long time.”

Hundreds of people attended the vigil, which poured onto the street as family, friends and those who had brief encounters with Sakr shared stories and remembered his life.

Prior to the vigil, Ali’s younger brother, 16-year-old Omar Sakr had just returned from absence and tallied 12 points and a season-high 17 rebounds on a night where during halftime, RFK athletic director Les Lucas Jr. presented Sakr’s family with framed jerseys of Ali’s No. 24 that he wore as a Thunderbird. The No. 24 jersey is now retired, and Omar couldn’t be more proud to have a brother who meant so much to the school and others.

“He meant a lot; just not only up here, but around the valley in general because people knew him everywhere he went…he was just really talented,” Omar said. “He always believed he could’ve gave more and he always pushed himself to the edge and influenced people around him.”

Herbalife was an outlet Ali used to impact and influence people’s lives.

For instance, Adrian Garay, 25, who is a resident of Delano and a Herbalife member who had known Sakr for nearly two years saw the strides he made inside and outside Herbalife along with Sakr’s importance to Delano.

“He had a lot of goals that he wanted to achieve,” Garay said. “He was very ambitious and wanted to go to the next level… knowing how we was, he was going places; he had heart and was very disciplined. His loss is felt, and that smile was contagious – he walked in and everybody could see it.

“He’s going to be missed, and he’s going to be loved forever. He brought us altogether, and if he was here he would be amazed by bringing the community together,” Garay added.

At just 19, it’s unimaginable to think that one kid can affect so many people, but that’s what Sakr did, and what his legacy will continue to do.

On what this loss means to his younger brother Ali, it gives him a different philosophy and appreciation of life.

“Life’s too short and it makes me have to take advantage of precious moments,” Ali said. “I have to be grateful for everything and for the time I spend moments with someone. I also have to be a man for my family and support like he did when he was here.”