Photos of McDonald Jean-Louis were featured in the pages of ‘Essence Magazine’ last month as the magazine’s top pick for its “Man Crush Monday” (MCM).
Founded in 1968, ‘Essence’ prizes itself in being first in news, entertainment and motivation for black women. Its pages also feature some of the most attractive black men from around the world.
But McDonald isn’t just any black man – he’s an Abaco man.
Born to Acephie Toussaint on September 4, 1993 in Marsh Harbour, McDonald’s life was far from glamourous growing up in the Haitian communities of Pigeon Pea and The Mudd. His father and mother had migrated from Haiti to The Bahamas a short time before his mother gave birth to him. By the time he was three months old, his father had already left his mother to fend for herself.
“Fighting for her life and the life of her son, we moved from house to house in our little shanty town community. Sleeping with roaches and rats was inevitable for my mom and I,” he shared in an excerpt from his book called “Faith, Purpose, Love.”
“When it rained, it rained on us. My mom used every bucket and pot that she could find to capture the rain water that leaked from our roof each time it rained. She cried every night because it was very tough on her.”
Challenged with growing up “in a neighborhood that was built on drugs, sex, violence and extreme poverty,” McDonald said that dysfunction was all he knew, and he began to accept the lie that his circumstances were normal including the discrimination he faced as a “little Haitian boy.”
As a student, McDonald went to school hungry many days, and with limited notebooks to write in, he would go back and erase old lessons so he could have blank pages to write new lessons on.
“I was waking up and going to sleep in poverty every single day, but had no realization that we were in poverty because everyone around me had also accepted this form of normal. Poorly built wooden houses with no proper water sewage system made up my neighborhood. Gas lamps and gas stoves was found in most households. Ramen noodles, sardines and rice was our five-course meals,” he recalled.
“A jug of marbles was my most prized possession.”
Looking to better their circumstances, McDonald started packing bags at a local store at the age of 10 to assist his mother, and would also go to various resorts on the island to assist tourists with their luggage in exchange for tips.
“From a very young age I knew in my heart that there was a better life somewhere out there, but I had no clue of how this better looked. I would constantly tell my mother that I would buy her a better home one day, and that she would never have to work.”
It was this belief that fueled McDonald throughout his life. In school, he was always among the top students in his classes, but it was his introduction to basketball through the Youth In Action Basketball Program that began to change the course of his life.
“Throughout all the struggle, I was a happy, ambitious and optimistic kid, uncharacteristic of my handicapped environment. I started playing basketball at the age of 12, and my basketball team would travel to the more developed islands to play in tournaments,” he said. “These trips started to spark my optimism even more because I was seeing new environments, new people and new things. It is through these trips that my inner belief was confirmed – there was actually a better way of living.”
However, McDonald’s life would change forever when he was 13. One of McDonald’s friends invited him to church, and he made the decision to dedicate his life to Christ. In a journey like no other, this resilient young man’s unwavering faith in God grew daily as he studied his Bible and received revelation that his environment did not have to be his reality forever.
“I started believing that nothing is too big for God, and that once I put my faith in Him, He’ll take care of my family and I. Through the eyes of faith, I began to see a brighter future for myself,” he said enthusiastically.
With this incredible faith as his foundation, McDonald received a scholarship to Sunland Baptist Academy in Grand Bahama when he was 15. He worked hard to improve himself as an athlete and a student and excelled academically and athletically allowing him to obtain a scholarship to play college basketball in the United States.
“Receiving a college scholarship is something that was not supposed to happen for a kid like me considering the environment I came from,” he acknowledged.
McDonald first enrolled in studies at St. Thomas University in Miami and transferred a year later to Webber International University where he is in his final year majoring in marketing with a minor in Business Management. With a 3.55 GPA, McDonald is on the Dean’s List.
As an accomplished basketball player, McDonald has qualified as a three-time Academic-All American and is a shooting guard on his team. Earlier in the season, he scored a career high of 29 points and eight three-pointers to become the team’s second leading scorer and to lead the team in the most three pointers made.
This 23-year-old is also an author, speaker, model and actor. His modelling career took off when a friend from Vietnam asked to take photos of him to improve his photography experience. The photos were then posted online and gained recognition from an American photographer who McDonald later landed a test shoot with and the photos were noticed by ‘Essence Magazine.’
“I was in shock when I saw my photos plastered on the Essence site,” he expressed. “I’ve always had a passion for modeling, so I’m not camera shy…but most of the reactions I’ve been getting is pretty positive and inspiring. People all over are telling me that I inspire them, so I’m happy I can do that!”
Most recently, McDonald landed a part in Adam Sandler’s Netflix movie, “The Week Of,” starring Chris Rock.
“Well that opportunity came from my modeling pictures. They saw the pictures and offered the opportunity for me to play a small background role in the film,” McDonald disclosed. “I actually flew to New York to do it already; it was a pretty dope experience!”
Once he completes college, McDonald said his plans include being in an NBA jersey next year; making it to the big screen as an actor, so that his family and friends can watch him in theaters; and also building his brand – McSpiration.
“My vision is that McSpiration will be a global brand where people can find hope and inspiration through my books, speech and apparel,” he explained. “Last but not least, I want to build the first Boys and Girls Club in Abaco! We must look out for our children a lot more in The Bahamas. I’m not happy with the little we invest into our kids.”
As a follower of Christ, McDonald says his philosophies are straight from the Bible: he believes that there’s a perfect plan for his life because he was created by a perfect God; he believes that nothing that comes against him is greater than the force that is within him; he is more than a conqueror; and he believes that he was put on this universe on purpose.
“What has kept me focused is the fear of dying without completing my purpose. Like I really want to die empty and impact lives in a positive way, so purpose keeps me focused,” he expounded. “Jesus is my greatest inspiration [because] He was a great example of being focused and completing the mission. He was the true definition of manhood. Secondly, my mom inspires me. The work she put in each day to take care of our family is the reason I can’t rest and become a lazy man.”
Despite all that he has accomplished, though, McDonald believes that he is “just scratching the surface” and that there is a lot more that he can do.
“My most important goal right now is to move my family from the shanty towns of The Mudd and Pigeon Pea. So far, I’ve achieved a few of my goals but there a lot more goals that I’m working towards. I still haven’t bought my mama that house!”
Still, McDonald has learned to give thanks in all things.
“First, shout out to God – the favour on my life is crazy! I laugh when people think it’s them doing for me cause I’m like, ‘if you don’t do it for me, someone else will!’ Next, I want to say thank you to my hardworking mother Acephie Toussaint and my entire family! To all of my friends, which are too much to name. To my Church of God of Prophecy family, I love y’all, and I miss you Pastor Mildred Ferguson. To all the teachers that impacted me in any way! To my former coaches: Ishmael ‘Stretch’ Morley, Vogel Williams, Kevin “Super K” Rolle, and Mr. Geoffrey Victor! To my Freeport family and Sunland Baptist Academy, and last but not least to my second mom, Bonnie Basden, and the House of Hoops and Dreams!”