Stanton Witherspoon: The “Okello” who brought joy to us
By Gabriel Dinda
When I met Stanton in March 2019, it took me only a few minutes to realize that I had met a good man. I had been informed that Stanton was so passionate that he couldn’t keep his passion to himself. He wanted to share his skills and passion with others through service. While teaching at Africa Digital Media Institute (ADMI), Christine Koech, Editor at Standard Media and mentor at Writers Guild-Kenya noticed Stanton among his classmates. He was unique, owing to his deep desire to learn and serve. Here was a man who only heard of ADMI through Facebook once before deciding to take the risk and fly to a foreign country to pursue a course which many people didn’t understand. Today, many people still don’t think highly of a course in Digital Media.
Stanton later approached Christine and asked to be introduced to an organization where he could volunteer his skills. Christine recommended the Writers Guild-Kenya and here we are. With this introduction, we were privileged to work with a truly great man.
On the night of 23rd August, Stanton paid us a visit and announced his departure from Kenya, albeit temporarily. He had mentioned that he was considering going back to Liberia, his home country but somehow, we didn’t think that it would be this soon.
We quickly made arrangements and after a short while, our “last supper” was ready. The conversations during the last supper went long into the night, sharing memories of the intense one year we had known each other and the prospects of growth in the future. “I will come back and settle in Kenya” Stanton said for the second time. The first time Stanton mentioned that he was considering relocating to Kenya was when he visited our family in our rural home in Homa-bay during the December holidays of 2019. He loved the area so much that he thought it wasn’t a bad idea at all to settle in Kenya. He loved the people even more; especially the simple but peaceful life that people live there. “My best moments were when I was milking the cow!” Stanton would later confess. He loved cows and Dad was willing to give one to him. He didn’t take the offer but he planted some few trees as a memento.
Everything was new to Stanton. He couldn’t communicate with mum properly, thanks to the language barrier. The best mum can do is Kiswahili here and there. English is a tall order for her. For Stanton, Kiswahili was all about “habari” and “asante”. After exhausting the two words, he would resort to sign language. Whenever my sister Faith or I was around, we would help with translations. But translating emotions is impossible. You could see that something was getting lost as the words were translated. My parents gave him the Luo name “Okello” since with his coming, he had “brought” unprecedented joy and happiness to our home. He was the highlight of 2019 festivities. “Kelo” is a Luo word meaning “bring”.
What my parents saw in Stanton that earned him the “Okello” name is the same thing that Christine had seen in class. It is the same thing that we had experienced when we were working together. When we agreed to work together with Stanton to grow writers at Writers Guild Kenya, he brought not only his energy but the skills we needed so badly at the time. He quickly changed our digital footprint. He would learn something in class, and quickly implement it in Writers Guild-Kenya. That gave us so much clout digitally that you probably got to learn of Writers Guild-Kenya through one of our online platforms. That was Stanton’s doing. He “kello-ed” so much to us that a professional couldn’t have done it better. He gave his all and anyone would see this.
And this is the greatest lesson we learn from Stanton; giving yourself fully. In Writers Guild-Kenya, we are driven by a strong desire to serve. We want to die serving. Stanton was the embodiment of such a person. Late into the night, he would work to keep his promise. Few men keep their words nowadays. Stanton is among the few. His word was his bond. If he said it, it was done. One time at the National Museums of Kenya where we held our weekly writers meeting, Stanton had promised to be available by 2pm to capture a moment when we hosted the TV personality, Janet Mbugua. As the Nairobi traffic would have it, Stanton got entangled (its original meaning) with so much that he was going to miss the moment. Since a taxi couldn’t help then boda would have to do. He went that far to keep his word. Little as it seems, Stanton did so much more to keep his word. He was so dedicated that when he left, he left us with so many raw videos that when we shared with Elizabeth Opiyo to help edit, she asked for three months to finish the backlog. You can only imagine the intensity with which he approached his work, giving all he could.
“What would you wish to achieve and how can we help you achieve your goals?” We would ask him. “My wish is to serve God through digital technology. I see a great opportunity in using technology to spread the word of God. Everyone is online, we need to take the word of God there.” Stanton responded. When it came to the word of God, Stanton would raise his voice a bit and remove his cap. Probably because he is a pastor or maybe it was because he remembers an incident where he almost lost his life in an accident when he was a young boy. When he told me this story, I thought I saw his tears. Only this once have I ever seen Stanton’s tears. He told me that he came so close to death that when he remembers the incident he feels so compelled to pray and serve God. His dedication to God is unflinching and he wants to share this message with you through your device(s). This is why he travelled all the way to study with the best in digital technology. Within the time Stanton was in Kenya, he not only made a huge impact at Writers Guild-Kenya, he made even a bigger impact in church. He served at Newlife SDA Church among other churches. Wherever he went, he left a footprint. A huge footprint for that matter.
What can we do if we gave ourselves FULLY? What can we achieve if we dust off the smoke of “what’s in it for me?” that we parade everywhere we go? What can we achieve if we look not into the boundaries of what we can do, but peg all we do only to the service of God and mankind? How is it possible that Stanton can make such a huge impact in so many lives in just a short period of time? Is it true that there are no jobs or is our attitude the problem? How come Stanton had so many job offers even before he graduated? By the time he was leaving, he had told me of two lucrative offers that he received without applying formally. All of these coming from people he had served within the short time he was here. He, however, had to go back home because he had another offer at Adventist University of West Africa.
I doubt if I ever heard Stanton complain about something. He was always giving and giving some more. And that’s why I think God remembered him. In a foreign country with only hope, Stanton found favour with so many people. The end result? He grew his networks and managed all his needs.
We are not struggling to fill the gap left by Stanton; because we can’t. We have just decided to buy into Stanton’s philosophy; serve God in all we do. We are adjusting to work with Stanton wherever he will be in the world. After that last supper, when we held hands, prayed and took a selfie, we knew that in our presence was a true gift to humanity, a role model that we should learn from. And that’s Stanton for you, the gentleman who redefined service to God and humanity. We love you. May God be with you always.
Gabriel Dinda is the founder of Writers Guild-Kenya.