L’Africana Night Spotlights Philanthropy

Philanthropist MacDella Cooper, Founding Chairman and President of the board of directors for the MacDella Cooper Foundation (www.macdellacooper.org) and the MCF Academy in Monrovia, Liberia hosted L’AFRICANA NIGHT at the finale of New York Spring Fashion Week.

The event honored Mr.Barry Segal with a Lifetime Achievement Award (for his philanthropic commitment to sub-Saharan Africa) Ms. Bisila Bokoko (founder of Bisila Bokoko African Literacy Project) as L’Africana Woman of the Year (for her commitment to eradicating illiteracy in Africa) and Ms. Anna Schilawski as L‘Africana Volunteer of the Year (for her commitment to the children of Liberia).

The evening, hosted by actor and activist, Isaiah Washington, kicked off on Friday, February 18, 2011 with live musical performances by Pop diva Zelma Davis, a collective designers runway show featuring African inspired garments designed exclusively for L’Africana Night by a range of designers including: Korto Momolu, Jedda Khan, Sunhee Hwang, Issa Sorogo, Taylor Forrest, Lucia Eastman, Irina Shabayeva, Tedd Ion, Farai Simoyi and Selma Berisalic Starfinger with world class models including Millen Magese, Georgette Beidel, Animata Steele, Aminat Ayinde, Ashley Harris, Danijela Lazarevic, and Melissa Arocha, to name a few. The dresses were auctioned off at the end of the show. Fifi Soumah, Miss Africa USA 2010 was also visible in the audience.

The Red Carpet reception included a scrumptious African Banquet that just kept coming out of the kitchen to the delight of attendees.

After the show, Caribbean Life caught up with MacDella, who consented to an interview by email.

CL: What made you start this organization for the children’s orphanage?

MacDella: The truth of the matter is that I was one of those children not so long ago. The MacDella Cooper that most people know today did not always live a life of luxury, and associate with high profile friends. When the Civil War started in Liberia in 1989, my mother was out of the country and had no way of getting back into the country. All of the airports were shut down. My brothers and I were left with my stepfather, who was kidnapped and killed as soon as the rebels reached my neighborhood. My brother and I were left to fend for ourselves. We became orphans with no one to care for us or protect us (I was 13 at the time). Those were the darkest days of my life. I was lucky to make my way to the bordering Ivory Coast. We found ourselves in a refugee camp. I understand too well what the children in orphanages and the children living on the streets go through. I was lucky to come to the U.S. in 1993 and was reunited with my mother. I went off to college and took a position at Ralph Lauren – but I never forgot the children. As soon as I got to the place where I could give back, I started the foundation to help the children.

CL: How long have you been doing this?

MacDella: I started the foundation in 2004. It has been about 7 years now.

CL: Is L’Africana Night a part of the New York Fashion Week and how did you become involved with this?

MacDella: It’s not officially a part of Fashion Week but we chose to launch the brand during Fashion Week because of the synergies we could gain from the fashion world being in New York at this time. L’ Africana was birthed out of my passion to do more to help the continent and also build a more sustainable source of revenue for our projects. As my partner and I traveled the continent – I discovered so much beauty – in the people, the food, the fashion, the culture. I met so many talented individuals including artists, designers, musicians, craft makers, etc. I did what I could to support them by patronizing their businesses but I knew that they deserved more. They needed exposure and a platform to be seen and heard. L’Africana is an actual brand platform we are building to help African designers, musicians, artists and craft makers to co-develop and bring their products and offerings to the world market. If I were to sum it up in one long sentence, it would be as follows: L’Africana is an open source brand that is being developed in collaboration with designers, artists, musicians, models and creative people from all over the world with one common goal: to make distinctive African-inspired products, services and experiences that bring great enjoyment while doing good in the world.

CL: Will this be an annual event?

MacDella: Yes. L’Africana Night will be an annual affair.

CL: How many people in Liberia are working with you on this project or is it solely manned from the U.S?

MacDella: We have some local folks helping us [here]. 80% of our staff in Monrovia, Liberia is Liberians. The MCF Academy is the first tuition-free boarding school dedicated to orphans and abandoned children in post-war Liberia. The Academy opened its doors on Christmas Day 2010 and will ultimately house and educate 200 children.

CL: Do you plan to branch out to other countries or will the focus be on Liberia?

MacDella: L’Africana is a continent-wide affair or project. We hope to get like-minded individuals from the various countries to get involved. So far, we have a representative from Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Jamaica, Kenya, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Sudan, Tunisia, as well as African Americans.

CL: Are your family members still there, in Liberia?

MacDella:  My mother still has family members in Liberia, but most of my immediate family members are all here in the U.S.

CL:  Are you married and noticing your pregnancy, are you expecting your first child?

MacDella: I do have 4 adopted children, one biological daughter and now I am expecting a son. We’ve been too busy to get married and I am still trying to figure out how I can turn a marriage ceremony into a fundraiser for the orphans! On a serious note, I am in a committed relationship with someone whom I adore.

CL: You appear to be someone with a lot of energy. Does motherhood slow you down or rev you up?

MacDella: Nothing except God can stop me from the mission I am on. Motherhood has allowed me to understand and know more about what children need. Motherhood has also allowed me to be more protective of the children.

CL: What’s your staff size?

MacDella: We are mostly a volunteer-run organization because I want to make sure that all of the funds go directly to the children. We have 1 paid staff member here in the US at our West 57th Street location. My partner and I along with the rest of the team do not receive compensation for our involvement with this cause.

CL: Is there one person that you can look to as an inspiration and why?

MacDella: I adore, admire and I am inspired by the young people we work with on the continent. They encourage me. Through all of the hardship, misery and pain, they stand strong. They do not complain and they never give up. They are always so positive and hopeful. I truly admire that.

During the bustle of the after party and auctioning Caribbean Life was able to corner recipient Bisila Bokoko Echols who in her acceptance speech praised her husband for his commitment to her as a husband and a loving father. And she recognized his unselfish support as the contributing factor for her success. “It meant a lot to me to receive this award because when you work you don’t realize that people are really watching what you are doing. It is really amazing that my friends recognize what I do,” said the mother of two who started her own Bisila Bokoko Literacy Project in 2010 (www.bblap.org) with much success.

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