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JCCC Stories

Ripples From Apartheid

February 19, 2016

Mpho Kekana grew up in a township in South Africa but graduated from JCCC. That story goes back to a researcher he met as a toddler.

Mpho Kekana grew up in a township in South Africa amidst the fall of apartheid and the freeing of Nelson Mandela. Like ripples from a rock thrown into a pond, the effects of that political upheaval led to his graduation from Johnson County Community College.

Kekana was just a toddler, and still subject to the laws of apartheid, when he met Hannah Britton for the first time. 

Strength and resilience

Britton was working on her doctorate, researching how the political changes were affecting the women of South Africa. She became friends with Kekana's mother, and by extension, with Mpho.

Britton introduced Mpho to Skittles and M&Ms. Mpho introduced Britton to the proper way to protect herself from tear gas. 

"It was the first time I had been tear-gassed, but it was not Mpho's first time. Mpho was a very, very young toddler then but ran into the house and told us about the tear gas and police. He knew just how to protect himself, and I followed his lead to block the gas from the house and our faces," she said.

"This was a time of intense injustice and violence in the country, and to see such resilience and strength in such a tiny child was amazing."

Between lives

By 2012, Mpho had grown up. His life, full of political turmoil, was his to live; he just didn't know what to do with it. Britton and her husband had a suggestion.

"I was stuck in a rut, between lives," he said. "They offered to bring me out here to allow me to clear my head, get my life in order."

Britton, now a professor of political science at the University of Kansas, knew Mpho needed to go to school, but she ruled out KU because of the cost. (International students are not eligible for federal student aid, so all costs would have been out of pocket.)

"Hannah is an incredibly detailed person, always checking things out, and she investigated all these schools around Kansas," Kekana said. "She landed here (at JCCC) at the international student office, and she was just blown away by how well they ran the office. She said, 'This is definitely the place.'"

Visit leads to graduation

He came to JCCC in July of 2012, living with Britton and her husband in Lawrence. The initial plan was for Mpho to stay six months.

As an international student, he landed a job in the JCCC food court for a year and then was hired on as a student activities ambassador.

He also completed the Cavalier Leadership Development Program and developed a strong network of friends and associates.

Kekana graduated from JCCC in May 2015, and has amended his visa so he may work in the U.S. for one year.