Joshua Mensah landed at Eastern Mennonite University because his Nobel prize-winning mother, Leymah Gbowee, wanted him to go to a Christian college that emphasizes community and peacebuilding.
“Coming from an African culture, your parents are in charge,” says Mensah. “You may have an opinion, but they have the final say. They know what’s best for you.”
When he first saw the small quiet campus, Mensah had doubts about his mother’s choice. “I’ve always lived in cities. I envisioned a larger place. My first impression was – ‘What is this?’”
Mensah’s family is currently centered in New York City. He takes annual trips to Ghana and Liberia to reconnect with extended family and “refresh my culture.”
He readily identifies with “third culture kids” raised in multiple countries and cultural settings. “I notice things, subtle differences that others might miss. I describe myself as an introvert-extrovert. I get energy from people, but I like thinking, collecting ideas, analyzing.”
Mensah hopes to return to Africa to share what he’s learned with his generation of budding artists after completing his cross-cultural requirement at EMU’s Washington Community Scholars Center this summer.
“I want to be an entrepreneur, do business after college. I feel like I have the right ideas,” says Mensah. “I want to take this newfound love for media, visual communications, and apply it back to Liberia and Ghana.”
This spring, for example, Mensah was part of a group of student videographers who produced “To Wisconsin With Love: Offerings on Water, Land and Culture,” a documentary that linked a chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River in early 2014 to pollution feared from a proposed 4.5-mile open-pit iron mine in Wisconsin’s Penokee Hills.
Mensah says he wants to “re-teach, share what I’ve learned at EMU and not just make money off of it” by opening a photo studio and offering classes “as a way to bring young people into this line of work.”
Mensah’s artistic skills were apparent at a young age. In high school he began hand-painting designs onto white t-shirts. He now has a line of international urban clothing which he sells through www.thedublifeco.com/.
The street word “dub” is the brand name Mensah chose for his business venture. “It can mean a number of things. It could mean twenty, it could mean to win, as in ‘we got the W.’ Dub means a re-mixed Jamaican song. I think it’s a special word. I took that word and I put another meaning to it. And it still means we are winning, we are champions. We’re pushing something good.”
During his junior year in the only business class he took at EMU, Mensah parlayed his idea for an app to a second-place finish in a business plan weekend at James Madison University. He convincingly communicated the concept for his event finder and planner app, which he named “Vite-us,” to the win the “silver medal” among 24 competitors. He also won a business plan competition among students taught by EMU business professor Tony Smith.
Mensah’s multiple talents were on display in the music video he created for his senior show in early April, an original song “Beauty” to celebrate the life of a high school friend who died earlier this year in Ghana.
Combining original lyrics, collaborative music by a high school friend and a kaleidoscopic montage of double-exposure video, Mensah’s capstone project showcased his visual and musical abilities.
“What pushed me to make this project – I’d hear people say, ‘Oh, your friend was so beautiful.’ I felt like they didn’t know how beautiful she really was. They only saw the physical beauty,” says Mensah.
“You can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and your people,” is the Lupita Nyong’o quote he chose for the opening lines.
Gbowee’s advice to her son during his college years? “Work hard…and focus. Focus, that’s the one word I try to remember,” says Mensah.
Focus… and a strong dose of optimism and wonder. “Life is so crazy. God is so mysterious. He’s wonderful,” says Mensah. “When I think about how my life is unfolding, it’s motivation to keep moving forward, to think positive for the future.”