June 23, 2021

In Memoriam of TGR Learning Lab Student Elmu Sadalah

As any educator knows, students invariably leave a mark. Whether your orbits pass quickly, or they line up for months or years, your time with a student – the shared learning experiences, the bits of laughter or frustration, the feeling one gets during moments of reflection – is lasting. For some, it might be the slightest bout of recognition (“That’s right, you sat in the back corner of my class!”); for others, for one reason or another, no amount of time can completely wash away a set of memories. Elmu Sadalah was one of those students who left an indelible mark.

I first met Elmu in 2010 when, as a 9th grader, he became a member of the TGR Learning Lab in Washington, D.C. He joined one of our very first after-school courses where he learned about video production and animation. From that point until he graduated Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy, he was a consistent presence at the Learning Lab. More often than not, if one were to stop by, they could find Elmu behind a video camera – he called the camera his “baby” – directing a scene for one video project or another. After high school, he enrolled at George Mason University, where he was studying Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He spent his time assisting non-profits, tutoring students and – no surprise here – working on various film and TV productions in the Washington, D.C. area.

On June 5, 2021 Elmu, at age 26, was killed in a senseless act of violence. He is survived by his mother, Eleanor Sadalah, and two brothers, Amara and Amin. TGR Foundation, along with Elmu’s family and friends, mourns this tragic loss.

Elmu and his family emigrated from Sierra Leone to the United States when he was seven. Incredibly bright and personable, with a penchant for making friends with just about everyone, Elmu seemed to have a unique ability to capture others into his orbit. He had many passions in addition to film and video production: advocacy, international relations and public policy to name a few. Elmu was involved in too many causes and programs to list, but it’s safe to say he was a leader among his peers. He cared about others. He was invested in his community. He gave back. He was compassionate, thoughtful and positive. In short, Elmu embodied the qualities we hope to instill in all students.

Elmu was also an integral part of our TGR Foundation family. If we needed a volunteer – to host an exhibitor table at the USA Science & Engineering Festival, represent TGR Foundation at local events, participate on a student panel to talk about life in college, you name it – Elmu was the first on the list. For the four years of his high school career and beyond, Elmu created a space at the TGR Learning Lab where other students felt welcomed and valued, often speaking to the younger students. He touched many in our organization, even those who did not interact with him daily.

I recently downloaded a new messaging app to my phone and was notified that Elmu, one of my contacts, was also on the app. I made a note to send him a message and ask how things were going. Admittedly, it had been a couple years since we last spoke.  Like many relationships, contact can peter out over time, especially if the proximity is no longer there. (I had moved away from Washington, D.C.). But that does not diminish the relationship’s impact. On the contrary, you cherish the time you were able to spend, learn and grow together. Elmu, like a lot of students, had an impact on me – on us – in a way one can only hope to have on others. We mourn, not so much because we will never be able to speak to him again – as heartbreaking as that is – but because of those who will never get the opportunity to meet him.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have known Elmu over the years. I hope the time he spent at the TGR Learning Lab brought him joy and purpose and propelled him to even greater heights.

I never sent that message to Elmu. His passing reminds us to not take our time with students for granted and to double down on our work.

Elmu was a force for good in the world and we should honor his memory by bearing that torch. He will be deeply missed.


Building student success for 25 years.

Throughout his 13 years at TGR Foundation, Eric Moore, Director of Digital Programs, has taught and mentored countless TGR Learning Lab students from TGR Learning Lab locations in Anaheim, California and Washington D.C. Elmu Sadalah a  student who lit up his classroom and left an indelible mark on him.