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Top Ladies of Distinction honor local philanthropist


Photographer has interest in teaching children

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

Michael Christopher has recently visited Australia, Haiti, Cairo and Madagascar, but he wasn’t a tourist, nor was he working as a National Geographic photographer, a position he retired from in 2010. He was traveling on a mission–a mission to meet and teach disadvantaged children.

“Upon visiting Haiti, shortly after the 2010 earthquake that killed an estiamted 316,000 people, filming a documentary on the biography of former president Henry Christophe, and seeing firsthand the devastation, I felt an awakening kinship with the island and its people,” Christopher said, noting that Christophe was his great-great grandfather.

“I became determined and I knew that my however small would go far,” he said. “I felt a sense of obligation to do what I could.”

His small sense of wanting to contribute turned into the Michael J. Christopher Foundation.

Recently, Christopher and his foundation were honored at The Proud Bird by the Top Ladies of Distinction, Inc. (TLOD) City of Angels chapter. He was one of five honored for making a difference in the world.

“I think they should be celebrated,” said luncheon chair Lady Essie B. McSwine of the honorees. “Most of them aligned with our thrust and national projects.”

During the civil rights turbulence of 1964, Lady Bird Johnson invited Eartha Kitt and a lot of other African-American women, mainly educators and politicians, to the White House, including the wife of Tyler College’s president. She was one of the founders of  TLOD, named after Lady Bird.

The group mentors teens, provides scholarships and works on voter registration. The TLOD mission is to “enhance and enrich the lives of youth and adults through national and community-based programs and projects.”

“In the words of the notable anthropologist Margaret Mead, ‘Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have,’” wrote McSwine in her luncheon greeting. “We leave our footprints in the sand of the community that we serve.”

“Literacy is one of thrusts of the TLOD,” said McSwine, who recommended Christopher for an award after admiring his sincerity in his work with Haitian youth. “A lot of times people say they’re doing stuff and really they’re not. But he’s actually doing the work. He’s credible and passionate about his work.”

For nearly three years, Top Ladies sent funds to Haiti through the Christopher Foundation, along with calculators and pencils and pens.

From Haiti, Christopher went to Australia to help indigenous Aboriginal children. While there,  he met a teacher from Madagascar, a small island off the eastern coast of Africa, not often heard of, outside of the animated cartoon features.

“It’s one of the poorest countries in the world,” Christopher said. “Throughout my travels around the world I’ve found Madagascar to be one of the most unique places that I’ve visited, on account of their unique culture, rituals and animals I’ve never seen before.”

The foundation’s mission is to eradicate hunger and illiteracy among children around the world. Christopher’s former job allowed him to travel around the world, so he has no inhibitions about getting on an airplane to places where he doesn’t know anyone. He feels comfortable wherever he goes.

The foundation has begun Zoom English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar. Students range in age from 8 to 30 years old. Two teachers take turns each week, with two backup teachers in place. All students have Google email. Video clips of the program are available at

Christopher puts together a curriculum for the online program and sponsors help secure internet capabilities, the school building and color TVs. The ESL Program is one of the first interactive ESL programs in the country, as it is one of the first to introduce Zoom there. So far, there are 97 students participating — learning English pronunciation, definitions and grammar.

“It’s more than a notion, but it’s a beautiful feeling,” Christopher said. “To see students taking notes and questioning my instructors — Wow. It’s working.”

Christopher noted that most people only know of Oprah Winfrey school in Africa.

“I’m broke and she’s rich,” he said. “But I’m rich in spirit.”