Q&A: Given Kachepa and Sandy Shepherd

Written by: 
Erin Cristales

Talk about your time at UNT.

Kachepa: It’s the best school I’ve ever been to. I tell everybody that UNT was a wonderful experience. What I liked about it was the diversity that I saw. When I toured here, I saw all different kinds of kids from different ethnic backgrounds. I said, ‘This is where I belong.’ On Sunday mornings, I would buy lunch and drive out to the country and just enjoy my day. I loved that. I loved the libraries. On Friday or Saturday nights, sometimes you’d be the only person there. UNT became a real home to me, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Shepherd: I attended from 1966 to 1967 and studied elementary education. I lived in the Maple Street dorm.

From left, Sandy Shepherd, Given Kachepa and Deetz Shepherd.
From left, Sandy Shepherd, Given Kachepa ('09) and Deetz Shepherd at Kachepa's dental school graduation. They hold photos of Kachepa's biological parents who passed away when he was young.

Sandy, what is one of your favorite memories of Given?

The dental school graduation was just unbelievable. It was surreal for him to even finish college. He always worked so hard — he studied day and night, it was constant for him. I remember too, his eighth-grade assembly. He was given the final award, for his impression on students and teachers, and for being so hard-working. The students gave him a standing ovation — they were yelling and screaming for him. If I could have turned that into a teaching moment, I would have asked those kids, ‘What is it about him that makes you want to cheer him on?’ It’s his kindness, his determination, he’s friends with anyone, he doesn’t care about labels, he doesn’t gossip. When he first started school here, he told me that at lunch, he would find someone else who was sitting by themselves and go sit by them.

Given, you’ve said that the journey to where you are now has oftentimes seemed long. What kept you motivated?

God above all, but also thinking of my little sister back home. I never wanted to fail her. I tried to make sure, in my own way, that she had somebody who was looking out for her and would never disappoint her. Any challenge I was going through, if I felt like giving up, I would think, ‘You cannot give up on your sister. You have to finish your journey.’ I had a picture of her in my dorm room. When I felt like sleeping, I’d look at the photo and think, ‘Are you going to give up on your family?’ And I’d get up and keep studying.

Kachepa at his high school graduation.
Kachepa at his high school graduation.

Sandy, you helped start a school in Zambia for previous members of the TTT choir who were sent home — can you talk a little bit about that?

The boys named the school Chifundo, which means “grace” in their native language. We opened it in Lusaka for grades 8-12. People contributed money to get the school going and to hire teachers. It’s been open for 22 years now, and five years ago, we turned it over to the community.

Given, what do you think are some of the biggest misperceptions about human trafficking, especially in the U.S.?

A lot of people just don’t understand modern-day slavery, and you have to get the word out through education. There are more slaves alive today than at any other time in human history. Most people assume I was trafficked in Zambia and came here as a refugee. And I’m like, ‘No, I was trafficked right here in Texas.’ A lot of people can’t believe it.

Shepherd: He has done so much speaking — at meetings, in magazines, on TV. He was the beginning of the CNN Freedom Project, which focuses on ending modern-day slavery. Given never would accept money for any of the speaking. They’d ask him to sign on the line for his honorarium, and he’d write $0. All he wanted was to help educate the public.

Given, do you ever wish you could go back and change your mind about joining TTT?

As painful as it is, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m 100% happy with my life. If there’s a lucky guy on the planet, you’re looking at him. I don’t say that to sugarcoat anything. Do I have bad days? Yes. But I have more great days. God has blessed my life. It was worth the fight and more.

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