Syracuse University Magazine

A Model Citizen's Journey

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Blessed Unami Sikhosana

The Reverend Blessed Unami Sikhosana ’11, G’12 was just 11 years old when she had to walk alone from her home in the Mzilikazi African Township to the city to buy medicine for her ailing grandmother, who was raising her and five younger siblings. It was during the days of strict apartheid in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe)—a time when black people were not permitted to ride on buses or own cars. It was a challenging journey for the young black girl—but one that would change her life.

The pharmacist’s wife took one look at Sikhosana and was so impressed by her beauty that she wondered if her daughter, who owned a modeling school, would be interested in the young girl as a fashion model. “I had no idea what she was talking about,” says Sikhosana, who earned a master’s degree in international relations and conflict resolution from the Maxwell School. “The next time I came to buy medicine her daughter was there, took pictures of me, and wrote down my address.” Sikhosana soon forgot the encounter, for her beloved grandmother died shortly afterward, leaving her to raise her brothers and sister alone. 

Nearly five years passed before the woman invited Sikhosana to attend her modeling school. “It was not an easy place for me and I was very sad,” she says. “It was difficult for the white girls to accept a black girl coming into their school. They didn’t want to share makeup and clothes with me or go into the sauna or the pool if I went in. Apartheid was at its peak at that time, and they resented me.” Despite the obstacles, Sikhosana excelled, becoming the nation’s first black fashion model and winning numerous titles, including Miss Rhodesia 1978. Her success led her to open her own modeling school in 1990, the first black woman in the country to do so. She closed the school in 1998, when she came to the United States to live with an aunt in Syracuse and further her education. 

After earning an associate’s degree in information technology and programming at Bryant and Stratton College, Sikhosana attended University College, earning a bachelor’s degree in legal studies, supporting herself by working for a local attorney. Inspired by her “prayer warrior” grandmother, whose home was a refuge for people from all over Africa seeking spiritual and physical healing, Sikhosana took theology classes from an international bible seminary and was ordained a pastor in 2004. 

Along with her ministerial duties and Maxwell studies, she is the founder and driving force of the Blessed Sikhosana Foundation, which funds sustainable developments, such as sponsoring and educating village girls, as well as clean water and medical projects in rural areas of Zimbabwe. A dedicated advocate for African refugees in Central New York, she assists them with housing, employment, and educational issues. “We have received 20 donated computers and are looking for space on Syracuse’s North Side to establish a computer center,” she says. “Our refugee children are having difficulties passing their Regents examinations, and we hope a computer center will help, especially for those who are having trouble with English.”

Although still dedicated to addressing problems in Africa, and planning to use her education to improve the lives of people there, Sikhosana became an American citizen in 2006. She is immensely proud of her adopted country. “America is so blessed and people here take it all for granted—the clean water, the abundant food, health care, education,” she says. “Americans don’t realize that their country is the best. I consider myself privileged to be an American citizen.”  —Paula Meseroll

Photo by Steve Sartori