Nice to Meet You Forever: The unlikely story of a cross-cultural, cross-generational friendship

Best friends Shaka Mali Tafari and Gail share the story of their unique relationship in “Nice to Meet You Forever.” Photo courtesy of Shaka Tafari. Photo courtesy of Shaka Tafari.

Nice to Meet You Forever is the story of Shaka Mali Tafari and his best friend Gail, a 78-year-old Jewish woman who grew up attending theatre and opera on the Northside of Chicago. He grew up Black, poor, and sometimes homeless on the westside of LA. Over 30 years, they have changed each other's lives. Through trauma and difficult circumstances, they were there for each other. Their relationship has been defined by moments of inspiration. 

Gail came to Venice Beach from Chicago in 1973. After seven years of marriage and two children, her husband wanted a divorce. Traumatized from the separation, she began using alcohol and drugs. In pain, Gail decided to run away to California. After years of intense substance abuse, she got clean in 1976, but the loss of her family left her with a sense of emptiness. 

In 1992, walking down the street feeling sad and lonely, Gail asked the universe to provide a place to put her love. That's when she met a 5-year-old Tafari on the Venice Beach boardwalk, and quickly got to know him, his brother, and his Jamaican immigrant mother. 

“My mother did not have an immigrant success story,” Tafari says. “She could not afford to do fun things with me and my brother. Gail stepped up. She was like a second parent who provided the additional love my brother and I needed. It was also a relief to mom.” 


A young Shaka with his mother, brother Jaja Ajah, and Gail in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of Shaka Tafari. 

The relationship worked both ways, giving Gail the chance to get a piece of motherhood back. In befriending Tafari’s family, she stabilized a single-parent home, and, as Tafari recounts, Gail used her privilege and access to enhance the young boys’ lives. 

When their mother was arrested by ICE in 2004, the then-16-year-old Tafari didn’t think much of it. She had been arrested several times while he was growing up, and assumed she would be home in a few days. This time it was different: She never came back. Overnight, Tafari became responsible for his own survival. 


Shaka and Gail remain best friends today. Photo courtesy of Shaka Tafari. 

Despite the commotion and uncertainty in his life, he and Gail remained close. In her daily reading of the LA Times, Gail came across an article about The Posse Foundation, a merit-based leadership scholarship for students from diverse backgrounds. The only problem was that Tafari had no intention of going to college, let alone competing with 1500 exceptionally talented students for 50 slots. He won the scholarship, and graduated from Dickinson in 2009. Gail was there to see it.

“This is a story about a friendship that transcends social norms,” says Tafari, who documented the evolution of their unique relationship during the pandemic. “Because of our friendship, I helped Gail heal, and she helped me grow.”


Shaka Tafari is an audio producer from Los Angeles, CA. As a first-generation Jamaican American, his stories celebrate culture and advocate for diversity. His work is inspired by many lived experiences and the lessons learned along the way. You can also find him on twitter.



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Credits

Producer:

Shaka Tafari