Tag Archives: Liberia

LIBERIA’S ANGEL – PART DEUX

 

Humanitarian MacDella Cooper

Sunday I introduced you to a person who Maya Angelou would call a “Phenomenal Woman.” MacDella Cooper is a philanthropist, activist, humanitarian, fashionista and proud Liberian.  Fortunately, she carved a few minutes out of her hectic schedule to speak with me about her life and life’s mission. In case you missed Part I of the interview I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version.

MacDella Cooper was born in Monrovia, Liberia in the late ‘70s. War erupted when she was 12; her father was killed, her family’s home was bombed and she had to flee the country.  Moved to the States, became successful in the fashion industry. Left an exciting job in the fashion industry in ‘04 to start a non-profit organization, the MacDella Cooper Foundation, aimed to educate orphaned Liberian children.  Six years later the first students were accepted to the MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy in Charlesville, Liberia.  MacDella and friends are hosting a benefit next Friday, L’Africana Night, to showcase African artists, designers and musicians.  The event will definitely be Page Six & The Socialite Design news, so you should get your ticket today! All proceeds will benefit the MCF Academy. And now for Part Deux…

After experiencing such strife and escaping a harrowing situation, many people try desperately to forget their past.  Why is it so important for you to remember?

Because my past made me everything I am and where I’m going. So trying to get away from my past would be

Liberia Ravaged by Civil War

tragic. My past created MacDella Cooper.  There is no MacDella Cooper without the civil war, without the African, being born in Africa. I have no power in me to create something that’s fake and phony, to create another character, another MacDella Cooper.  So I’ve accepted everything that’s happened from the war, to losing my father, to losing all the riches we had, to living in the projects in Newark, New Jersey. That’s all part of the structure of who MacDella Cooper is. And I’m sorry to keep talking about myself in third person. But I can try to create this MacDella Cooper who’s this glamore queen, who’s this fashion person and now is doing good and leave the past out, but it just doesn’t make sense.  I can only sell that but for so long and eventually it would get old and boring.  But accepting my past, accepting what happened and knowing that there were things that shouldn’t have happened, it helps me grow.

When I talk to these young children that I talk to today and the ones we have in the school, the knowledge that I have to share with them, I only have that knowledge because of the experiences I’ve had.  So I can tell them today war is not a solution, war hurts people, war destroys families…if I didn’t have those experiences or the past that I had there would be nothing I could tell them about that topic.

I know the Academy is a big part of your Foundation.  How did it come to fruition?

They, Too, Can Be President!

We were in Liberia for so long helping children, helping people rebuild their lives, we just knew this country couldn’t go further or this country couldn’t advance without education.  And we have the first female president [Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf] on the entire continent of Africa and she’s struggling to find good people to run her government.  Because you have a small country of 3 million people, 85% maybe below the poverty line, the illiteracy is sort of high.  I thought she’s having a hard time today.  Imagine 85% of 3 million people unemployed; they cannot afford to send their children to school.  That’s going to be a huge issue tomorrow, it’s going to be worse.

If you have uneducated people running your government, it just doesn’t work…across the board it just doesn’t work.  So the fear of knowing that the next generation didn’t have a chance or that there will be a lost generation really inspired us to focus on education and just educating children. So maybe not my generation in Liberia now, but the one after will have at least a handful of people who can help the country, help the government. They can have enough people in government who are educated enough to say “This is the right way for things. War is not the solution.”  It’s tiring, old; everyone wants to use war and violence as a solution for everything.  And when you’re educated you don’t go down that route.

Can't Learn on an Empty Stomach!

When you came up with the idea to build the Academy how long did it take from inception to finished product?

It took a year.  Just a year. We were determined.  That’s usually [the case] with me; when I set my mind on doing something, it has to be done.  [Note: MCF raised over a million dollars in one year to build MCF Academy.]

What would you like for people to know about your country and the children you tirelessly advocate for?

The children are different there. All they want is an opportunity. They never ask us for the latest Jordans or Nikes.  When you meet them they are so gracious; they are so appreciative.  If you ask them, “What do you want?”  They would just say, “I want to go to school. I want to learn something. I want to be somebody.”  And those are words that usually don’t come out of children’s mouths. The kids that we work with are just so grateful.

What has been the global response to your efforts?

Looking Up To Destiny

It has been great.  People are very excited, that’s why they come on board. I have some amazing friends. That’s why when people talk about the MacDella Cooper Foundation it’s more than MacDella Cooper, because without my amazing friends this work would not have been where it is.  For example this fashion week event [L’Africana Night] we’re doing, I just met some new friends who just came on board and took over

Liberia's Future!

the project as if it was theirs.

You just really realize the power of people and this is what the work has really shown me that there are great people.  That when you establish something great, it draws great people. People ask how much I need to run the project and they just write a check for X, Y, Z.  That’s how we were able to build a school in one year.  It’s almost impossible.  People just keep asking me, “How in the world did you build a school in one year?!”  And I say “Oh well, I was determined and I had great friends who wrote checks and great friends who traveled to Liberia when I couldn’t go.”   So it’s really just more than me. And I strongly believe that the cause will continue to go on with or without my presence because there are so many people who believe in helping these kids just like I do.

What has been the most gratifying thing in this entire process for you?

Seeing one of our first students graduate from college with the highest level degree in his University. A kid whose

I Am Liberia

mother makes $60 a month – she has four kids and is raising them on $60 a month – going to the equivalent of Harvard in Liberia. Seeing him coming to us in 2006 just asking for help saying, “I just want to go to college.”  We paid his tuition, which is $3,000 US a year and he did it in 3 years. I was just so proud and thought if we could get more of that kind [of success] we’re definitely going in the right direction.  That to me was exciting.

It sounds like everything has been great, but surely there have been obstacles?

There are always obstacles.  But just knowing that the work is going to continue beyond MacDella Cooper puts me at ease knowing that these kids are going to have the opportunity to be heard.  So when obstacles come up, for example we recently had our website hacked into, someone was trying to destroy the website. And one person started a rumor that we were trafficking children, that we were building the Academy to take kids and sell them to another country. People just say crazy things. But those things are just so below me really because I have my focus, I have my purpose and I know my purpose is going to be accomplished. [Negative] things I know are not going to hinder anything I do, so I don’t even pay attention to it.  In everything good you do, there will be obstacles, there will be problems, there will be negative people coming around but I’m not bothered by any of those things really.

Talk about L’Africana Night and how the event was born.

Ford Model Millen Magese

Just as much as we are all about helping kids and giving them a hand to pull them out of the gutter and point them in the right direction, when I travel to the continent of Africa I see so many great artists and musicians. And when I go to a shop, I’ll have a woman make me a dress.  When I come back to the U.S. sometimes I wear these dresses on the Red Carpet to an event and my friends…just went crazy over these little dresses. And I said, “Wow if my friends in New York who are so accustomed to couture fashion are so interested in this dress that this woman made, this woman deserves a platform.”

If I can have her bring light to what she does, she can in turn take care of her own kids so MCF does not have to do that.  So the creation of L’Africana is that very thing; giving artists, designers, craft-makers a platform to show their work to an audience they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

How significant has your family’s move to the U.S. been in your journey?

This country is so great. I couldn’t have been what I’ve become in any other country other than this country.  I don’t know where I could have gone to accomplish the level of success.  Not saying that I’m successful in any way.

Model Brianna Michelle

♥♥♥

Of course, she’s successful!  But humility is sewn into the fabric of MacDella Cooper.   It’s a quality that was handed down from her strong Mother and spiritually rooted Grandmother. We need more MacDella Coopers in the world and maybe just maybe it would be a better place.

If you’re in New York City and would love to attend the spectacular L’Africana Night, you can purchase tickets here.  Or if you’re elsewhere on planet earth and would like to sponsor a ticket purchase for another person, drop me a line below .

Lastly, if you feel inspired by MacDella Cooper’s story, go ahead and do something great for someone today. Then tell me about it, so I can share your kindness with the world!

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LIBERIA’S ANGEL

 

Humanitarian MacDella Cooper

In a society that’s saturated with people who are self-absorbed, self-serving and obsessively materialistic, it’s rare to find a person who would leave an exciting  & lucrative job to help complete strangers.  But that’s exactly what MacDella Cooper did when she vacated her Marketing and Events Coordinator position at Jones Apparel Group to start a non-profit organization, which endeavors to educate orphaned and abandoned children in her homeland of Liberia.  Sounds crazy, huh? Wait, before you raise eyebrows and say, “Why on earth would she do that?!” You must hear the whole story or at least enough of the story to give you an idea of exactly what kind of woman we’re dealing with.

In 1977 MacDella Cooper was born into a prominent family in Monrovia, Liberia.  No doubt she entered the world with all of the promise and dreams of a newborn babe. But 12 years later, Cooper found herself in the throes of a vicious civil war that would take the life of her father, strip her of her home and force her to flee her native land.   She and her family first sought refuge in a neighboring country before eventually settling in the United States.  That was in 1993. Now 18 years later MacDella is tirelessly and selflessly working on behalf of children in Liberia who explicably remind her of herself.

The MacDella Cooper Foundation was formed in 2004 with a solid purpose – to feed and educate Liberia’s forgotten children. For the past seven years the organization has done that very thing by paying the tuition for, feeding and clothing countless African youth. In 2010, the manifestation of the MCF mission became even more profound when MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy opened its doors in Charlesville, Liberia.

MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy - Charlesville, Liberia

Because of her dogged humanitarian efforts, Cooper has deservedly earned the title “Liberia’s Angel.”    Next Friday this Angel, along with her stellar MCF team and many celebrity friends, is hosting L’Africana Night, an event established to honor and promote African fashion, art, music, culture and cuisine.  All proceeds will benefit the MCF Academy. I can’ wait!

MacDella took a break from event preparation to have a phone chat with me.  Rather than give you a word-of-mouth version of her story, I thought it best that she deliver it herself.  This is the first of a two-part series, because someone this phenomenal has earned it.

What was life like growing up in Liberia?

From 1980-89 we lived a normal life, we went to private school. My father ran a division of the United Nations, the Refugees Division. And we were around an international crowd…they came from the Middle East and all parts of Africa.  Life was normal, we had great friends; we had a great home.  I’m one amongst 5 brothers, so everything seemed normal until 1989 when rumors of war started floating around.

The National Patriotic Force of Liberia (NPFL) — the rebel forces in the country's brutal civil war — left their mark on news organization buildings they destroyed. Photo by Gregory Stemn.

There had been several attempts for civil war but nothing came to pass. Everybody thought there was just another rumor that was circulating.  But by 1990 the war really got in full gear, my stepfather was killed, we had to leave the country, my mother was on vacation in the U.S. Life changed forever.  Our home was taken away, it was actually burned; a bomb fell on our home. It was just one thing after another.  We escaped to a bordering country and spent 2 1/2 years there, came to the U.S. and really tried to live a normal life.

How did you adjust to life living in the United States?

Of course when you live in Africa you have a different notion of America.  You think that everyone has a big white house with a picket fence. So when we came here…we came to a totally different world, because we ended up living in the projects in New Jersey and I thought, “Where is the big white house? What is this thing called the ghetto? This is not the America I signed up for.  Can I go back to Africa?”

You had to keep going.  You didn’t have time to turn around or look back or regret.  You just had to keep going, so

Housing Project - Newark, NJ

we made the adjustment.   My Mom is a very strong woman; she just constantly encouraged us, “You gotta do your best, gotta do your best, gotta do your best. This country has everything. If you want to become successful everything that will help you become successful is available to you; you just have to seek after it.”  And so we did.  There were 8 of us living in a 2-bedroom apartment. My Mom worked crazy hours, but you had to make do.  That reality really inspired all of us, my siblings and I to really focus on school and education and so that’s what we did.

I got a full scholarship to the College of New Jersey.  It was great. It was four years. That was a major culture shock to me because there were these normal kids who were living normal lives with two parents.  And I sort of have a little regret of what had just happened to me.  The situation of the war started facing me and I felt, “Wow, why did all these bad things happen?”  But it was my first time realizing that what had happened in the war was not normal.  But thank God my Grandmother instilled a strong belief of Jesus Christ in me at an early age of my life. I just always had faith knowing God will take care of the rest and He has a purpose for everything.

How did you get into modeling?

MacDella Cooper

I was so skinny.  I used to joke that I was refugee thin when I came from Africa just from having one meal a day everyday for a couple of years.  Photographers [said], “Oh wow, you have the look that we’re looking for.”  And I thought, “What are you talking about?”  I never considered myself to ever be a model. I did a lot of print work and I was constantly asked to do things here or there and it was fun.

The crazy part is they were willing to pay me for those jobs but I would have done that for free. For a young gal like me it was just a thrill to see how much you could do in this country. I was just so excited about that. If you’re really determined to make something of yourself like my Mother said everything was available to you and I really took advantage of that.

How did you transition from modeling to being in a different capacity in the industry?

I never wanted to be a model. I never considered myself to be one. I work with models now and these girls are

Africa's First Elected Female Prez, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

amazing. They’re everything a model should be and I never considered myself that.  But my interest was always to be more on the production side of things and the corporate side of things.  So I went for an interview at Ralph Lauren and I got the job.  And I just like PR and I like events and production.  That’s why I transferred.

The people at Ralph were great. We got along very well, so I took the job and it was exactly what I wanted to do.  But then something else stole my interest.  As soon as Liberia elected a first female president [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf], since the country was safe to go back to I went there and visited and saw the need. And so we started an organization to help children, to help people in Liberia.  And that’s how MacDella Cooper Foundation was birthed.

Was the decision to leave a job that you obviously enjoyed a tough decision?

No.  It wasn’t a tough decision for me because I had spent a lot of time in the [fashion] industry.  I did what I wanted to do, I saw enough. I saw…how can I put it?  My industry is not so great sometimes.  I saw a need for me to do more. I saw my people struggling and I was living a fabulous life in New York City, a jet-setting life, traveling the world and being fabulous. But there was something in my heart that, ok these kids are you, you were them, you could have been any of those kids and here they are suffering.  So it wasn’t a hard decision at all because I knew [what was] involved in the fashion world, so I didn’t have any fear.  But I knew I needed to help the people in Liberia. I knew I needed to help the children.  I couldn’t help the entire country, but I definitely could help.

Some people would say you’re crazy for leaving an exciting  job to start a non-profit.  What would you say to those people?

I always believed my life had a purpose or a reason. And as much as I loved the fashion world and it was everything I wanted to do and I was so excited about it, I knew that the fashion world would not satisfy that purpose that I felt was my life calling.  And I tell you today I look back and I would do it again.  Everyone is different.  I never thought of myself as being the director of a fashion company or the CEO of a fashion company, but I knew that I had been blessed.  I had been extremely blessed to have gotten out of the civil war. There are a lot of young girls my age who were raped, who were murdered or who just came out of the war with a major scar.  I came out of the war with nothing.

I managed to come to this country, to this great nation and was given so much.  I knew at the end of the road there was a fork and

MCF Academy Pupil

there were two directions I could have gone into – to serve myself or to serve others.  And I’m more of a serve others sort of person. So the fashion world I felt like I had served myself enough. And although when I started the not-for-profit it was in a time when it wasn’t the cool thing to do.

So what would I say to a person with a question of why would you start a not-for-profit?  I cannot explain the joy I have gotten out of changing the lives or direction of young children.   When I came out of the civil war I needed help and there were so many people who helped me to get me to where I am. And I felt it was my time to go back and help others just as I was helped.  So the satisfaction I get from the work I do, there is nothing about the fashion world that can replace that.

Earlier you spoke about your life’s purpose. What exactly is it?

My purpose is to serve others using the talents and resourses that God has blessed me with, with the hope of one day raising up African leaders with servants hearts.

♥♥♥

L'Africana Night Featuring Supermodel Georgie Badiel

MacDella Cooper is indeed living out that purpose.  Please check back tomorrow for part two of this compelling interview.  In the meantime, take a virtual trip to MCF to learn more about the exciting L’Africana Night New York Fashion Week Finale Party. Actor and activist Isaiah Washington is set to host the event. He’ll be joined by Matt Dillon, singer Zelma Davis, Project Runway Runner-Up Korto Momolu (She was robbed!), current catwalk divas and many significant luminaries. Tickets are still available. Believe me, you don’t want to be left out! But if for some strange reason you happen to miss this magnificent affair, you know I’ll be here to tell you all about it.  🙂

 

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