She’s been called “Liberia’s Angel” and “Africa’s Angel.” Both seem like really exaggerated accolades until you hear MacDella Cooper tell her story, until you learn about her life and how she came so far from tragedy and pain. And once you hear what she has done with her life since then, you have no choice but to agree that no matter which way you spin it, MacDella Cooper is definitely some kind of angel and Liberia’s forgotten children are very lucky to have her. She is a selfless giver who has dedicated her life to a cause that is a far cry from the path of success she once trailed. Afrikan Goddess is extremely proud to bring you her story. She is our April goddess.
MacDella Cooper was born in Monrovia, Liberia, a country on the Western coast of Africa best known for one of the continent’s worst civil wars. Over 250,000 people lost their lives and families to that war, including MacDella’s stepfather.
Her biological parents divorced before MacDella was born, but her mother remarried a wonderful man who helped raise her. Her early childhood and teenage years in Liberia can best be described as privileged. Her family was among Monrovia’s professional class – her stepfather, an attorney, worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and her mother, a nurse, assisted surgeons. Life included daily chauffeured rides to a private Baptist school.
All that would come to a sudden end in June 1990 when civil war broke out in Liberia. A life that was once peaceful and stable was all too soon turned into chaos overnight. MacDella recalls the day her life changed forever: “My front yard became a battlefield. They shot at each other for hours…bombs started to come in from all directions. My next door neighbor’s house was hit. His 3 year-old daughter Ellen was killed instantly,” MacDella recalls this in her journal years later. She was 13 years-old at the time.
In the days that followed the eruption of gunfire, MacDella would see her mother (who had a US passport) and her stepfather’s children leave for the United States. Her stepfather tried desperately to do the best he could to keep his family safe. To those left behind he tried to offer protection and constant assurances that things would soon die down. But they never did. Not for many years afterwards. And not before claiming the lives of a quarter of a million people, destroying the lives of many others and leaving many children homeless and introducing them to violence. MacDella’s stepfather later stepped outside in his position at UNCHR in an attempt to introduce himself to the rebels and explain the UN’s neutral role. He was never heard from or seen again.
Now MacDella and her two brothers needed to decide what they were going to do to stay alive. They joined a stream of refugees fleeing Monrovia to safety and six months later they arrived in the Ivory Coast. But a mother now safely in the United States would never forget her children. She provided for MacDella and her brothers and worked tirelessly to be reunited with them in the United States. That opportunity came in 1993 when MacDella and her brothers arrived in New Jersey. Their biological father, who at the time was a US resident, helped to secure visas for them.
MacDella describes life in Newark, New Jersey as difficult. The ghetto was dangerous.
“Nobody in my family had earned a college degree,” she says, “so despite the odds; I knew that college was my only way out.” Through hard work and determination, MacDella graduated third in a class of 1,200 students and earned a scholarship to the College of New Jersey. In December 2000, she graduated and moved to New York City where she pursued a career in fashion and modeling, working for Jones New York and Ralph Lauren and appearing in Glamour Magazine. MacDella Cooper says she has never looked back. Her life thus far seems to disagree.
While she was living the life she had dreamed would someday be possible, MacDella found it somewhat unsettling. In 2004, she says she prayed and asked God for direction. “He opened my eyes and made me realize the struggle that Africa is still going through. All I saw were the children. They were suffering, and I couldn’t ignore that.”
She immediately sprung into action. She and her friends had been sending clothing, canned goods and personal care products to Liberia long before then, but she knew she had to do more.
That’s when the idea for the MacDella Cooper Foundation (MCF) was born. In 2006, MacDella and her friends started a scholarship fund to help children pursue an education at a school of their choice. Today, MCF is the first tuition-free boarding school to house up to 200 orphans and unwanted children in Liberia. Under MCF, the children receive three nutritious meals a day, and what MacDella calls “a fantastic education, and a chance at a good life.” She visits the children regularly and offers them motherly pearls of wisdom. By all accounts, she is dedicated to the children.
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