Marvin Debose, 26, resident director of Temple University
In early November, three days after the presidential election, I traveled to South Africa. I always thought I was well-versed, that I knew Africa wasn’t like what they showed on TV, but I still kind of expected what I saw on TV.
When I got off the plane, it looked like South Africa, but it didn’t feel like I was in Africa. But then I saw that 90 percent of the people looked like me. I felt at home because everyone treated me like family. I felt like a long-lost cousin.
We were doing a tour to one of the poorest districts of Johannesburg, called Alexandria. We met an elderly lady who was a family member of one of our tour guides. She was a wearing a plastic smock because she was washing clothes, gray-haired, probably 5-foot-2, and she had a warm smile. She reminded me of my grandma. She saw me and said “You remind me of my son!” She hugged me. I just felt home. That’s something that would happen at a family reunion. I remember going to the mall in Johannesburg, going to one of the stores run by black guys and talking to them about culture and music. It felt like I was talking to someone in my neighborhood.
This was the first time that I ever took a vacation and felt such a kinship with strangers.
I got to pet lion cubs and hiked through the countryside of Johannesburg, but visiting the Apartheid Museum was one of the most eye-opening experiences. I saw a lot of parallels between Johannesburg and the U.S. One of the main things that replayed in my mind was the phrase, "The struggle is global."
When I was thinking of the Johannesburg issues, I still thought about Philly. I was always thinking about how the struggle is all connected. The first step is to work within your own community.