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December 09, 2013 - Takiyah Cunningham, Diversity Specialist

We must continue to concern ourselves with the needs of others

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 - Nelson Mandela

As I sit here watching news coverage of Nelson Mandela’s passing, I can’t help but reflect on my childhood and when I learned who Nelson Mandela were and just what he meant to this nation.  It is a bit surreal that the very freedom, equality and respect Nelson Mandela spent his life fighting for was denied during my lifetime. You see, I am still what people consider a “young professional,” and I have born witness to “live” news coverage of the inequalities and unadulterated bigotry in South Africa.

Nelson “Rolihlahla” Mandela was born into a world of prejudice and knew at an early age that he wanted to change the treatment of black South Africans by ending apartheid.  Mandela was accused of many crimes in his lifetime such as treason, conspiracy to overthrow the government and communism, which ultimately would land Mandela a life prison term.  I was not born when all of this took place, but I was alive to witness his release from prison.  I can recollect the battle cries from celebrities like, “We ain’t gonna play Sun City!” (a vacation resort that was located in the racially charged and impoverished rural South Africa) and “Free Mandela!”.  I also witnessed Mandela’s portrayal of forgiveness by working alongside those who imprisoned him and ultimately becoming president of the country that once wanted him dead. The irony in all of this is the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that took place right here on American soil was still being fought as recent as the 1980s on the continent of Africa.

In his book, A Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela is quoted as saying, “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.” Mandela’s fervor to educate mankind on the basic principles for achieving the best life possible has left an undeniable charge for us. We are charged to not only care about what goes on in other parts of the world, but in our own backyards. We are charged with ensuring our youth are educated, charged with making sure heads of households are prepared for the workforce and have access to health care.  At United Way, this is the crux of our work and we will continue our efforts as long as there are people in need.

As we remember Nelson Mandela, I ask you to reflect through a lens of gratitude and hope.  I implore you to think about the sacrifices made by Mandela, those before him and those who are sacrificing today, as there is still work to do.  We must continue to concern ourselves with the needs of others.  Nelson Mandela once said, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity – it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” These noble acts, large or small, will allow Mandela’s legacy to live on. Do not allow the years in a cold prison and suppression to go unrecognized and unappreciated. Nelson "Rolihlahla" Mandela, a hero to many, was the epitome of “the struggle.”

Thank you, Madiba!

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Photo SourcE: ListCrux