MacDella Cooper: The Angel Who Heeded the Call to Lead!

| April 19, 2012

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.

When MacDella Cooper says she can never imagine walking away from the children, you know she means it. It is in the way she says it – a mother’s fierce love for the ones under her care. This mother is only thirty-five years-old, but that has not stopped her from joining the growing trend of African women taking up the fight for Africa’s future – Africa’s children.

MacDella acknowledges that Africa’s women can (and should) do more to help bring change to the continent. However, she is quick to also acknowledge that women have long been the driving force behind most of the positive changes taking place on the continent. She points, for example, to Liberia’s peace process, and the role women played in electing the country’s first female president.  “African women are strong and are well able to lead every nation on the continent,” she believes, “but our culture norms have set major barricades up to hold women back.” She knows women can do so much more if given the resources and support.

When it comes to dealing with MCF and her own challenges, MacDella admits that things haven’t always been easy. There have been challenging times she has had to overcome. She did, and now she can speak of her children’s future with such contagious assurance that one can only believe that she is more than capable of doing more than she already has. She looks to her own two biological children as sources of inspiration. Just as she can never imagine herself giving up on them, she can never see herself giving up on the children MCF supports.

The foundation is laid when the children come to MCF, but MacDella wants to be certain that it does not end once the children leave. She hopes to see all her students enter credible colleges after they graduate from the Academy. She wants them to be happy and to live honorable and fulfilling lives. She wants them to know normalcy, and to experience love in so many ways. Most of all, she wants to see them become successful, according to God’s standards. “I will hate to see them successful (according to the world’s standard of success) but a failure in the eyes of God” she says, “I am trying to raise honorable boys and girls who will someday become honorable men and women. That is what our world needs now.”

And so in an institution far across the ocean, in a place she once called home, MacDella Cooper finally settled her spirit and laid the ghosts of her past to rest. Children once roaming the streets, no viable future in sight and no guidance within reach can now look to her for all that and so much more. It was like she flew into their lives as silently as she has lived and kept her own life. I’m not sure what you would call that, but I can’t think of a more befitting description than “an angel who heeded the call to lead.”  

To read more about MacDella Cooper and the wonderful work this goddess is doing with the MacDella Cooper Foundation, visit www.macdellacooper.org

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AFRIKAN GODDESS MAGAZINE is a subsidiary of Afrikan Goddess Media, LLC. Our content is designed with the educated, professional, classy, charming and sassy African woman in mind. We encourage women to express their creativity and ideas through writing, and also serve as a platform for meaningful discussions and exchange of ideas.

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Comments (5)

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  1. SEL says:

    Good job!!!!

  2. Vee Lu says:

    What a beautiful story of a courageous young woman who unselfishly is paying it forward as she help and encourage children. She is giving them hope. If only we as a people would follow this example we would be a much better world. God Bless this young lady as she continues to follow Him and do his work in the vineyard.

  3. femmelounge says:

    wow! this is so touching and inspiring. indeed an angel

    • N. Amma Twum-Baah, Editor Editor says:

      Thanks Femme Lounge. She is indeed an inspirational story and I am so glad that many women of African origin are increasingly rising up and tackling issues in their communities.

  4. Harriet says:

    I absolutely love your blog and find many of your post’s to be just what I’m looking for.
    Does one offer guest writers to write content available for you? I wouldn’t mind producing a post or elaborating on a few of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome blog!