Cheryl-Lynn Freeman, or Aunty Cheryl as she is endearingly known to the children that tune in to CCFM on Sunday mornings, is driven by a passion to do what she can wherever she finds herself. At the age of 14, Cheryl-Lynn started volunteering at Cape Community FM. She helped out with everything from reception and administration to sound engineering and presenting. Twelve years later and she can still be heard over the airwaves. In addition, she has also taken up the position as the station’s financial and administration manager.
Opting to work for a non-profit organisation instead of a renowned finance company after her BCom Honours in Accounting Science meant she had to give up on what she terms “flashy things.” The sage advice of Mr Allan Gray to love what you do, so you’d never work a day in your life helped her realise that making a difference was worth more than flashy things anyway.
Something else happened in Cheryl-Lynn’s life around the age of 14. She discovered the joys of accounting and “in Grade 9 I made the decision that I wanted to be in the business world,” she recalls. She chose all her subjects in line with this goal. Her next goal would be to gain admission to university and, after that, to secure funding for her studies. She explains, “I applied to university not having any funds saved up. I was determined to obtain my degree. I worked very hard that year to get onto the dean’s merit list so I could apply for various bursaries.” She received many bursary offers but they paled in comparison with the entrepreneurial input offered by the Allan Gray Fellowship.
She likens her time with the Foundation to a Ben Zander class where you start out with an A-grade and all you have to do is maintain it. At the Foundation she not only learned to think outside of the box; she learnt how to “completely ignore the box.” She remembers, “I was challenged in a way that I don’t think you would be in any university class, even a business studies class wouldn’t challenge you to that extent.” The mentorship that forms part of the Foundation’s Fellowship Programme also had a significant effect on her. Ann Meyers, her mentor at the time, encouraged her to be tenacious in pursuing her goals and helped her overcome the challenges she was facing at home.
Having grown up on the Cape Flats in Lavender Hill, which is synonymous with gang violence and myriad social ills, she already had the odds stacked against her. Later they moved away from there; they were now close to a taxi rank and around the corner from a shebeen. This meant that Cheryl-Lynn had to wait till the early morning hours for things to quiet down so she could study. In her second year her situation also changed from being an only child to suddenly having four siblings. A family member’s drug problem prompted Cheryl-Lynn’s parents to adopt the children now aged three, five, eleven and fifteen. As big sister she now has to watch what she says and does because these little ones have taken to imitating her every move.
In true Freeman style Cheryl-Lynn started a community initiative a year ago, a gospel singing competition through CCFM called Sing for the King. She wanted to offer people with raw singing talent a platform and a chance to win a recording contract. Through the competition she was able to touch many lives, one of them being an eleven-year-old girl from Lavender Hill who had attempted committing suicide two weeks prior to her performance. They coaxed the little girl to continue with the competition and she did. Her performance was awarded by a standing ovation and left everyone in tears.
The CCFM listenership increased by 24,000 during Sing for the King and this year the competition promises to be bigger and better. Instead of covering only four areas in Cape Town, it will now cover eight and will be broadcast on CCFM and Cape Town TV. Since its first run, Sing for the King has also developed into a business that Cheryl-Lynn approaches like a social entrepreneurship venture. Entries to the competition will still be free because she wants it to be accessible. In fact, one of her motivations for running the competition through radio was that it would reach places and people who would otherwise remain excluded.
In addition to being a member of the first graduating class of Allan Gray Fellows at the end of 2008, Cheryl-Lynn is the epitome of what the Foundation calls Achievement Excellence. She exhibits an ongoing pursuit of excellence with tangible and specific focus on setting goals and possesses the motivation to make a difference and leave a mark.
Written by Alexa Anthonie.