Philanthropist and Advocate for Children
Liberia’s civil war made headlines all over the world, yet few outside of Africa can fully understand the magnitude of the suffering that befell Liberia’s people during that turbulent time. And few could imagine what it was like to be a child – a teenage girl – in the midst of this war-ravaged country. With amazing recall, MacDella Cooper can remember everything that happened to her before and after she and her brothers were left to fend for themselves.
The year was 1990 and 13-year-old MacDella was a happy, well-adjusted high school student looking forward to making her mark on the world. But that dream would be interrupted, for that year, in early 1990, a brutal civil war started in Liberia. The nation’s economic, political and social systems were decimated. The United Nations estimates that 250,000 people were killed and one million were displaced. More than 700,000 Liberians fled to neighboring countries to avoid the war. MacDella Cooper was one of them.
Less fortunate refugees lived in camps for more than 10 years. Children have suffered the most damage; a high percentage of them were recruited as child soldiers; boys were taken to fight, and girls were captured and forced into sexual slavery. Other children were abandoned or orphaned.
MacDella managed to escape to the bordering Ivory Coast after the capture of her stepfather, who was later pronounced dead (the body was never recovered). In November 1993, she finally got clearance to come to the United States, where she was reunited with her mother and siblings. “Mackie” enjoyed a teenagehood as a “popular girl” and received a full academic scholarship to college, where she obtained a degree in Electronic Communication. After graduating, she moved to Manhattan to pursue a successful career in fashion and corporate event planning.
With her past behind her, millions of miles away on a faraway continent, she enjoyed a successful career in the rarefied world of fashion, and could easily have adopted the glamorous New York style scene as her permanent escape from the horrors she’d witnessed. But MacDella Cooper never forgot the country she left behind. She couldn’t overlook how much suffering her fellow Liberians endured. She wanted to do something to help.
MacDella envisioned a brighter future for the people of her homeland – especially its young people, who carry the promise of the future and change. She had been one of those kids herself; her hopes had not been crushed. So she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, to make that vision a reality.
She began donating money and resources to individuals, orphanages and women’s groups; those philanthropic efforts grew into the MacDella Cooper Foundation (MCF). Founded in 2004, MCF is a 501(c)(3) international charitable organization devoted to empowering Liberian youth, especially orphans and abandoned children, by providing education and the basic necessities of clothing, food, and safe shelter. The crown jewel of MacDella’s philanthropic efforts is the establishment of the MCF Academy, the first tuition-free boarding school for orphaned Liberian children.
Dubbed “Liberia’s Angel” in the media, MacDella has dedicated her life to the children of her homeland. To date, MCF has raised over one million dollars, providing scholarships, renovating orphanages, and building the MCF Academy. Many high-profile entities – corporations, individuals, and organizations – are proud to support MCF.
Today, Liberia has enjoyed five years of democratic leadership, having elected the first female president on the continent of Africa. Since her inauguration in January 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, with the help of the United Nations and the international community, has done an admirable job restoring order and peace to Liberia. President Sirleaf is working tirelessly to weed corruption out of government and create transparency. Former rebel leader Charles Taylor was tried for war crimes. Many Liberians who fled the country are now returning to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure and economic strength.
Yet despite the progress that has been made, there are still many in need who are not being reached; 85% of the population in Liberia lives well below the poverty line. And, just as they did during the war — just as MacDella herself did — the children are the ones who suffer the most. Now a mother of two herself, MacDella is on a mission to educate as many Liberian children as MCF can support, so that they can later contribute to the economic redevelopment of the country. She believes this is the only way to ensure that the tragic chapters of Liberia’s recent history are not repeated. “I believe that education is the saving grace of Liberia and Africa as a whole,” she says, “But to promote education, we must first provide the basic needs — shelter, food, clothing and security.” Dividing her time between Africa and New York City, she speaks, thinks, and takes action like a true African-American leader, and her dual citizenship enables her to proudly call both Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Barack Obama “My President.” That duality is one of the many tremendously appealing things about the extraordinary MacDella Cooper. Her palpable radiance, grace, modesty, good humor, and intense work ethic guarantee that her story will be told so as to resonate with a wide and diverse audience, in America and all over the world.
Cooper holds several leadership, advisory and board positions in the United States and Liberia, including representation with these humanitarian organizations:
- African & American Women for Peace (AAW-Peace)
- American International School of Monrovia
- American Red Cross Tiffany Circle
- Liberian Community Association of New York
- Segal Family Foundation
Cooper has also received a number of awards, including:
- Global Ambassador for IMPACT Leadership 21 (2015)
- Humanitarian Service Award, Coalition of West African Countries affected by Ebola (COWACAE) (2015)
- Philanthropist of the Year Award, Young, Gifted & Black Entrepreneurial Awards (2015)
- Trokon Clay Humanitarian Award (2015)
- American Red Cross George W. Cutting Humanitarian Award (2012)
- Applause Africa Award (2011)
- Archbishop of Michael K. Francis Achievement Award (2011)
- Spirit of Friskies Award (2011)
- College of New Jersey Humanitarian Award (2010)
- Momentum Women’s Award (2007)
- Victor E. Ward Community Service Award (2007)