Former Vice-Mayor of Richmond, CA, Demnlus Johnson III, shares a light moment during a self-funded trip to Kenya organized by the MLIFE Foundation as a Goldman School of Public Policy cohort member from the University of California Berkeley.
MLIFE Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization, plans a life-changing, fully-funded 10-day trip for California’s Black, brown, and other underserved youths beginning June this year to learn about Africa’s cultural heritage and connect with their peers in Nairobi, Kenya.
Modeled after Birthright Israel and Birthright Africa, MLIFE’s Healing Circle Program (HCP), together with the Rugged Elegance Foundation, will take fifteen under-resourced Californians between the ages of 13-24 years. Rugged Elegance is sponsoring the first three of the fifteen youths chosen for the trip to Kenya, a country in the Eastern part of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The partnership with Rugged Elegance ties to its current “Africa Rising Initiative,” where social entrepreneurs and philanthropists Jennifer Carolyn King and Timothy Charles Fredel amplify the impact of African leaders living in America and Americans willing to become change-makers in Africa. “Few Americans know that Africa is the only continent which will grow significantly between now and 2100,” says Rugged Elegance Foundation board member Timothy Fredel. “According to recent Pew Research,” Fredel says, “the population of the African continent will more than triple to 4.3 billion from 1.3 billion in 2020. This means that understanding Africa will be of primary importance for everyone, and especially for the African diaspora.”
The itinerary will include a visit to Kenya’s largest city and capital, Nairobi, followed by a 3-day, 2-night visit to the renowned Maasai Mara, named among the “Seven Wonders of the World” due to the great migration of over 1 million wildebeests migration from Serengeti in search of water.
Before returning to the US, students will also have an opportunity to visit important historical sites in Mombasa, Kenya’s coastline city, to learn about Kenya’s colonial history and the Arabic and Portuguese influence while visiting Kenya’s scenic beaches. The trip will also include opportunities to meet local leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators.
MLIFE Foundation’s board which consists of five individuals, two women, one of Kenyan origin, and an African-American with three other Kenyans, each earning less than $60,000 annually, is currently fundraising for the $75,000 trip. “You do not have to be super wealthy to change a young person’s life,” says MLIFE’s board secretary, Rebeka Etuku, who contributes ten percent of her income annually as a member of the foundation’s board.
MLIFE’s president, Mwangi Mukami, says the trip aims to inform, inspire, and empower the next generation of leaders to learn more about Africa beyond the commonplace stereotypes of Africa as a continent strife with hunger, ethnic strife, and unemployment. “Africa’s story is not always about epic tragedies; it is also about Africa’s beauty, potential, and the global opportunity in Africa’s marketplace,” Mukami adds.
Mukami, who came to the US in 2009 as a political refugee, says George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests across the country in the summer of 2020 inspired him and the foundation to begin this program for Black, brown, and other interested young people. “After the protests, our foundation co-hosted with Jennifer King a “Day to Breathe” at The Retreat: SF where MLIFE and Retreat: SF invited each month for three months, ten Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, women entrepreneurs, and LGBTQ+ leaders to focus on their higher purpose,” says Mukami. Each curated “Day to Breathe” in Sea Cliff, San Francisco, gives leaders the necessary pause for a crystalized sense of purpose. Through MLIFE’s upcoming trip to Africa, Mukami hopes to provide a curated “Moment to Breathe” for young leaders as he crafted with King in San Francisco. The trip aims to inspire these youths as tomorrow’s policymakers, innovators, and scientists to create a new Black Renaissance and support Africa’s ascent as an essential contributor to global affairs.
Social philanthropists and entrepreneurs Jennifer Carolyn King and Timothy Charles Fredel outside Retreat: SF in Sea Cliff, San Francisco. Rugged Elegance Foundation is sponsoring three of the fifteen Californian youths departing for Kenya this June.
In the past, MLIFE has coordinated self-funded trips to Kenya for policymakers and middle-and high-income earners in the tech and entertainment industry passionate about Africa by mixing their tourism with volunteering at MLIFE-funded programs. “Our Healing Circle Program builds upon this model and is designed specifically for young leaders who want to connect with their roots but lack the resources and contacts in Africa to make that happen,” says HCP’s Program Director, Kamaria J. Ventura.
Kamaria, a descendant of enslaved persons, believes that such trips enable young people of African descent in America to explore their roots and forge lifelong relationships with the diaspora to secure an equitable future for themselves and the continent. “When I first traveled to Africa, I also believed I was traveling to a dark continent needing my help and bewildered when I saw highways, skylines across cities, and wealth I had not imagined were present,” Kamaria added.
Although there are many sponsored travel opportunities for African youth leaders to travel to the United States, very little funding exists in California to support Black, Brown, and other under-resourced youth to visit Africa. Through this trip, the foundation hopes to give young people a unique opportunity to learn about African culture, history, and contemporary issues through the eyes of Africans by immersing them in local communities and allowing them to participate in various cultural activities.
About MLIFE Foundation
MLIFE Foundation is a 501(c)3 faith-based organization that supports children experiencing learning poverty to read and write, elevates young adults to lead and thrive, and aids families living on the margins to meet their basic needs.
Founded and led by survivors of persecution and poverty, the foundation gathers historically excluded groups in an inclusive space of spirituality, develops and equips NextGen potential change-makers, and bridges the disadvantage gap with the education, tools, and resources needed to rise from poverty.
About Rugged Elegance Foundation
The mission of Rugged Elegance is to inspire healthy, adventuresome, soulful living and philanthropic giving. Created by Jennifer Carolyn King, Timothy Fredel, and their three children Jessica, Nik, and Hayley King Fredel, the foundation invests in people, non-profit organizations, and for-profit companies that inspire “”h.a.s. magic”” living – healthy, adventuresome, and soulful living combined. Rugged Elegance is the creator of RE … the soulful network, a private, invitation-only community of historically marginalized impact leaders determined to address the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Rugged Elegance is primarily focused on rising to meet the climate challenge, promoting racial and gender equity, and inspiring physical and mental health. Rugged Elegance believes that this will reduce suffering, increase joy, and create greater harmony in the world.