Thando Dlomo: Resilient and Captain of Her Own Faith
Pool water dripping from her face and sunlight beating against her glowing skin, a sense of contentment had come over her. “I was a bit skeptical, but nonetheless I was like ‘I don't know, but I’m going to sign up just in case’ and there began the journey”. Thando Dlomo, 25, recollects the moment her journalism journey really took off as she was vacationing in Hawaii.
In 2007, Thando was one of 6,000 applicants and one of 72 accepted students from Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy of Girls (OWLA). “I wanted it really badly and my primary reason was my grandmother”.
Thando knew she was destined for greatness because it was instilled in her not to ever give up and settle for less. She learned this especially from her grandmother, “...my biggest determination is to live the life that I dreamed. I want nothing less of that”.
Thando was predominantly raised by her grandmother in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her grandmother was a domestic worker in a small town called Benoni. They lived in a compact space that was located in the backyard of her employer's house.
“My grandmother wanted to ensure that I got a decent education because she didn’t have that for herself.” Seeing her grandmother’s struggle and endless effort to foster a better lifestyle for her, Thando didn’t want to be more of a financial burden for her grandmother when it came to applying and enrolling in primary school. Just as she was proceeding to apply for Benoni High— which was much more expensive than the other schools in consideration— Thando’s principal told her about Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLA), “It was never my plan to go to a boarding school, or an all girls school, but I didn’t care because I couldn’t believe that there was a chance for me to go to a school where my grandmother wouldn’t have to pay a single cent.”
Thando says that the application process was a rigorous one. After a series of essays, interviews and tests, there was a final step: to express to Oprah, herself, how much this opportunity would mean to them, “I walk in [the room] and all I see are lights. I see bright lights and cameras everywhere.” She recollects, “I turned and I see Oprah Winfrey herself. I stood there and I was like ‘bruh’”. Needless to say, Thando charmed Oprah’s heart and earned her acceptance into the academy. Since then, her relationship with Oprah has grown and turned into a cherished bond. Till this day, Thando still holds onto the nugget of wisdom from Oprah which is to stay grounded and always remember that her success is Oprah’s reward.
After graduating from OWLA, Thando wanted a more dynamic black experience. She then applied for John C. Smith in Charlotte, NC.
Thando experiences at John C. Smith University, was “eye opening”. She initially felt like the “other”, but was determined to meet and connect with her classmates. She wanted to prove that there are more similarities between the African diaspora as opposed to differences. “This was a good experience not because I came into it and thinking we’ll all be so similar and be perfect, but because we were different enough that it was perfect.” Thando was also aware of the disparities that black Americans face in this country, “HBCUs have gone from the cream of the crop Black schools to not having enough money, they can’t fund themselves as easily as they used to do historically.” But to keep on the same track of amplifying unity amongst black people via black experiences, Thando’s thesis in undergrad was surrounded around encompassed “Protest Theater”.
South Africa has a history of using theater to show their lives through the hard and uplifting times. Thando says that it is a lost art, now, because the reason to do it shifted and younger generations prefer a more instant form of entertainment on demand. “Young people, now, are not getting it. They’re not experiencing it in the same way that I used to,” she adds, “There was a lot that the method of protest did for our country. Because people would see stories of them loving each other, or complete black families, or raising each other, or being in poverty.” Protest theater affirmed people that their struggles aren’t isolated. They’re a part of a community that shares their same experience.
Thando hopes to go back to South Africa, fund the protest theaters, and help encourage the youth to participate, watch, and be encouraged to continue the protest.
After earning her bachelor's degree in Communications from JCSU, Thando wanted a more in depth experience in that field in order to have a well versed experience in all that it might entail. With this in mind, she applied and attended University of Southern California for graduate school. USC is where Thando solidified her purpose with using journalism. Reflecting, she said that she “also realized that my question when it came to living my dreams was how I can serve others more than I can serve myself; and I think journalism was the answer to that. Because I grew up in South Africa, I saw the power of the media. How you can be in a place and know absolutely nothing? Because of censorship.” With her awareness of South African media, she wanted to provide quality work for all people, so that everyone is fairly and accurately represented.
While at USC, Thando had pitched a story to her professor to interview Ava Duvernay and discuss representation in film.Thando went after an Ava interview and although it was hard get, nothing could stop her. After seeing her determination, Ava insisted on having that interview with Thando. Since then, their relationship bloomed.
Thando’s ambition and determination is unmatched. She created a movement called “Hashtag Culture/ After the Hashtag” to highlight protestors who are actually doing the footwork to provide justice for marginalized people, she also wants to bridge the gap between those who participate in protests online and those who protest in the streets. One of the important things she noticed was that a lot of the protesters who do show up are mainly women.
Ultimately, Thando wants to make sure she focuses on humanity with her work. She says that she wants to highlight the authenticity of her people in media, “My main goal is to allow people see themselves in media. To see themselves reflected back to themselves. In movies and TV series. We want the benefits to see ourselves in a tv character”
“I couldn’t have done half the things I’ve done with fear in my heart”, Thando firmly stated. From the beginning, she’s always had will. From her beginning, she knew where she wanted to end up and trusted the process. But the process was not easy, nor did her success occur overnight. “I will be bigger than I am. A bigger influence that I have now, and grow to be a bigger personality”, she affirmed. Thando wants to accomplish more and believes she will with faith.
As we ended our conversation, the words that truly stuck with me were, “I’m the master of my soul and the captain of my faith.” That statement perfectly encapsulates her perspective of her journey. I am genuinely excited to see what the future holds, because speaking with her briefly, her passion for her work was inspiring in itself.
Follow Thando on Instagram to stay up to date with her amazing work!
By Chinazo Enigwe
Photos used were taken from Thando’s Instagram page.