Views expressed are my own and do not represent the Mandela Washington Fellowship program


The Young African Leaders Initiative was founded in 2014 and a couple of people that I knew and admired had been a part of it. I was inspired. So when the applications opened, I sat down to apply. I’m a writer naturally but I am not a fan of essay questions in these kind of applications. I had limited access to the internet, so I copied and pasted the questions to a Word document so that I could work on them at home and not feel so pressured. I’d just come in next time to copy and paste them onto the online application later. No problem.

I poured out everything into that application and after endless revisions, I submitted it.

And I waited.

The email came, they had received my application.


Months later the response came and it wasn’t a congratulations.

I was crushed. The inadequacy began to set in and I started questioning the work that I do. Like I wasn’t working hard enough or that the initiatives that I was involved weren’t worthy. It hit hard. Everything I was doing felt stupid and not game-changing enough. It took all of me to come back from this hit. But I did.

Kept receiving emails about the Young African Leaders Initiative and I resented it to be honest. It became a reminder of a dark time that I wasn’t very proud of. I unsubscribed from them and continued with my life. Year after year, I’d see the apply for YALI adverts and people sharing the links and I decided I’d never put myself through that mess again. I was happy.

Then I got a WhatsApp message from my mentor, “Hi, YALI applications are open, here’s the link. Please apply.” I respect my mentor. I love her. Her opinion of me is important. I usually do what she says without question but the moment had come for me to disagree with her, two years into our mentorship partnership. She asked, I refused. She kept asking and I refused more times than Peter denied Jesus.

I calmly explained to her why I’d rather not apply. She understood and insisted that I re-apply. I really didn’t want to.

Two days before applications closed, I caved and started the application process. I sent her drafts of my responses and man did she have all the comments. If you know me, you know I hate to be edited. Turns out I hate comments even more because that means I have to make the edits myself. I sat down and reworked the responses to the essay questions. I suffered and sent.

She didn’t like the whole response, I had to rework it.

I don’t have time for this, I have a day job and things I actually wanna do. Not this gruesome application process that’s more trouble than it’s worth. I sent the amended version.

She still didn’t like it and today was the closing date for applications.

I was tired. I reworked the essay responses and there was no time to have her review them. It was now or never. I chose now. I copied and pasted the responses and submitted the application.

Sent. At least now she’ll get off my back about it and she’ll see what I meant.

I had forgotten about the application when the response came months later. “Congratulations! You have been selected for the Mandela Washington Fellowship interview stage in the Leadership in Civic Engagement Track.”

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