Dr. Marcelle Mentor (50) from Macassar moved to the USA in 2005 and has been living there ever since. She is a lecturer in the English Education Department at Teachers College, Columbia University.
The journey began in 1969
Dr. Mentor was born in 1969 in the District Six Hospital. When she was 6 years old she moved with her parents to Macassar where she lived for most of her life until she moved to the USA.
Marcelle fondly remembers traveling to Blossom Street Primary in Athlone and later Salt River High. “There were no English medium schools for us close to Macassar and my mother taught at Blossom Street for 42 years”, she explains.
In 1988 she enrolled at the University of the Western Cape. Here she obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, followed by a Higher Diploma in Education. She ended her career at UWC with an Honours degree in 1992.
Marcelle is a history maker
After graduating from UWC, she started teaching at Strand Secondary. She taught there for over seven years. In 1994, the Education Department implemented the rationalization of teachers to the students. This meant the number of teachers to the number of students was changed.
The department used the “LIFO” method (Last In, First Out) to dismiss her as a senior teacher at the school. Marcelle was one of the last teachers to enter the English department at the school.
Marcelle applied for new positions at different schools and eventually received good news from two schools: Rusthof Secondary School in Strand, a predominantly Coloured school and Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch, a predominantly white school. Marcelle received a lot of judgment from the Coloured community when she chose Paul Roos Gymnasium.
In 2000, she became the first teacher of colour at Paul Roos. She saw an opportunity to implement the change that all non-whites wanted at the time.
While at Paul Roos, she managed to obtain her first Master’s degree in Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University. Marcelle also formed part of the Paul Roos Academy, which hosted a winter school in July for non-white students from underprivileged areas.
The program offered bridging courses in Science and Mathematics. These students did so well that they all achieved Bachelor Passes and could continue their studies at tertiary institutions.
When Marcelle was asked if she ever felt inferior amongst all her white colleagues, she simply answered, “my mother would never allow me to feel inferior at a school like Paul Roos because she knew the caliber of the child that she raised. I am more qualified than most of my colleagues so that alone made me more confident and self-assured”.
Education is her driving force
Life in New York didn’t work out as planned. There was a time when she had 5 jobs just to provide the basic necessities for her children. “I worked as a cleaner at one point, made an honest living, I started tutoring as well, my qualifications made that possible,” she says.
Marcelle eventually got a job as head of residence at one of the female residences at Columbia University. The university provided her and her sons with a place to stay which included food, electricity, and water. She also received a scholarship to further her studies.
While in New York she went on to obtain three additional Master’s degrees in English, Philosophy, and Education.
“no one can take your education away from you.” she says
Sisterhood became valuable while she was away from home
Marcelle has learnt the value of sisterhood while she was away from home. She believes women should lift other women up. When times are tough she turns to the women in her life, her aunt, her sisters-in-law, her friends. They are the ones that pray for her, understand her and will just sit and cry with her.
She emphasizes that women shouldn’t be in competition with each other because we are all the same. We need each other, for support, guidance, and advice.
She describes herself as a girl from Macassar, whose hair is a little “woes”, who wears a pair of jeans and flip flops. Marcelle owns a t-shirt that reads, “Black Women Are For Grown-Ups”, a reminder that she always tries to push the boundaries a little and challenge the norm.
The Ubuntu tattoo on her shoulder forms part of her teaching ethic and philosophy. She believes the concept that we are only people through the existence and interaction of and with other people.
Marcelle leaves you wanting more, she is inspirational and we cannot be blamed for wanting to keep her in Cape Town. We had to ask…
“I won’t be moving back to Cape Town any time soon. I love Cape Town and it’s food and people, this is my place but I also love New York and the freedom that it offers. Being able to do what I want, fairly safely, at any time of the day or night is priceless,” she says with a longing smile on her face.
Saloot Dr. Mentor, we gran an educated queen vannie Kaap!