20 years. It was 20 year ago that I came into this world. It was 20 years ago that one of the most remarkable activist was released from prison. I found out this past week that I will be in Cape Town, South Africa for three months during my 3rd year of college. Mandela, now 91, still lives in South Africa and represents one of greatest symbols of justice, ever.
So besides Nelson Mandela, why Cape Town, South Africa?
I am not the type that wants to go back to Africa to discover some lost roots that I am somehow missing. I am not pulling a “Garvey”—not this time anyway, and even if I was I’m sure it would be in West Africa, not South. The motive for this peripatetic juncture is found in furthering my education. Cape Town will be my moment to spend some time studying abroad. Outside of my general desire to leave the United States for the first time—while living in a South African summer off of the ocean, and happily being absent for a Chicago winter off the lake—
and learn about other cultures and social norms in societies outside of my experiences, I also am particularly interested in Cape Town because of previous connections and experience that I have had in my life and future endeavors I hope to accomplish. I am also very interested and passionate in learning about African Civilization—which is the class that I will be taking.
I have involved myself in quite a few non-profit organizations throughout my continuing development. A particular non-profit that I worked with in high school, called “Facing History and Ourselves” allowed me to organize a community forum about race, tolerance, and learning from the past. In this particular forum that I was honored to put together, the guest speaker that we brought in was the Chief Court Justice of South Africa Albie Sachs. This was all in my junior year of high school in Cleveland, Ohio. Former Justice Sachs was a white-abolitionist in the Apartheid. It brought tears to my eyes to learn that because he was trying to bring equality to his country and bridge the gap between race, he was blown up and almost killed. He lost an arm and eye sight in one of his eyes due this occurrence.
Since this interaction with Albie Sachs I went and learned all that I could about South Africa, and other injustices and historical events that have occurred throughout the continent of Africa. Since that first program with Albie Sachs, I volunteered my time to put together 3 other programs–Which included speakers like, Carl Wilken (the last American to stay in Rwanda during the genocides), Yinka Jegede-Ekpe (who was awarded as one of Nigeria’s most visible HIV/AIDS activist), and Don Cheadle (an actor who was speaking out against genocide in darfur).
My interest in the Cape Town is very specific, but my interest in the African Civilization program is one that turns into a more general story. As I prepare to leave the country for the first time, I can only think of it as being an appropriate moment in my educational career to learn about other cultures first hand, specially a culture that I have already invested an authentic interest in. I want to explore the connection of the oppression and marginalization of people in the apartheid era to oppression of the LGBT and Black community in America.
Similar to America in the past couple centuries, even after institutional barriers are broken, unemployment in South Africa still rises above 20%, millions of black people continue to struggle for equal education, and the oppressed still have to fight for running water electricity, electricity, and health care. I hope I have the opportunity to be on the front lines of some of these fights, it would be a waste of time if I don’t leave my nice UChicago hotel room and get into the community.