A Life of No Settling
The great anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela once stated, “There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”. His words here speak to one’s ability to defy the odds and strive for greatness. Unfortunately, I was never told this growing up.
Life in Ypsilanti, a city near Detroit, was never really the greatest. Gun shots filled the air and African American deaths plastered the screens. How would a kid in my neighborhood, with my skin color, know that he has the opportunity to do more than what society has told him? The truth is, he doesn’t. Not unless he is given the opportunity and resources he needs in order to excel.
My opportunity came when I was selected to be one of six Curtis Scholars nationwide.
Our journey began with hearing the stories of men and women who are actively fighting social issues. Some of these include but are not limited to: human trafficking, HIV/Aids treatment, and accessible education. Through their stories I not only gained insight on their lives but I gained insight on mine. The fact that their skin color came with limited rights and that some of them found refuge in God, resonated with me. I am no different than the men and women across the sea—we are rather the same people, living on two separate continents.
During our time in Johannesburg, we visited a community called Kliptown which is known for its underdeveloped systems and lack of resources. There, we found houses made from scraps of metal, porta-potties shared by hundreds of people, and no electricity at all. The main purpose of our trip to Kliptown was to learn more about the Kliptown Youth Program (KYP) and how it is changing the community as whole through its many initiatives to implement quality resources and education. One of the past projects shared with us was building a computer center open for the community to use. The director, Thulani Madondo won a grant during his stay in America that allotted him the funds needed to build the computer center in Kliptown. With motivation to bring about change in his community, Madondo never gave up and never settled for less.
Throughout the entire tour, Madondo shared a great wealth of knowledge on extreme poverty and what he feels is needed in order to dissever it. He stated, “Africans are often times too dependent on other nations to provide for them. African problems need African solutions. We can do it; we are just never given the opportunity.” The words of Thulani ring true for most Africans who are universally undermined and looked at as projects rather than people.
By paradigm and culture, it is easy for one to assume that all of Africa is the same: poor and desiring water. But I tell you, that stereotype was shattered after experiencing life on the “motherland”. From the suburbs to the townships, everyone in South Africa has unique abilities and customs that can never be duplicated nor taken away. The truth is, Africa is a “gold-mine.” I’m not just talking about Johannesburg, I’m talking about the entire continent. Filled with diversity and beauty, Africa is a place of innovation and creativity.
Now that I have returned to the states, I feel as though I am prepared to take on the greatest of issues in my community. Before I begin to act upon my goals, I feel it is my duty to share with my community the experience I had in South Africa and enlighten them with the knowledge of Africa. I hope that in doing so, I can dispel some stereotypes and bring about awareness. One last thing Thulani mentioned during our tour of Kliptown was that we have the power to use our opportunities in order to help our community. The KYP is a perfect example of this. Thulani studied in the United States, worked hard, and won a grant to start a project which later became the Kliptown Youth Program. If he could bend the world to his will, I can do the same. I refuse to settle for a life that is less than the one I am capable of living.