I first learned about Nelson Mandela as a child. I was fortunate to have an elementary school teacher who believed it was important for kids to be well informed on social issues happening around the world (she also taught us about the Berlin Wall). I remember being amazed and inspired by his words. And also being saddened by his situation. He was still in jail at the time, but the pressure to release him and end apartheid was increasing. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to spend so many years in jail for fighting for equality.
To be honest, I still can’t.
Mandela’s passing last week has resulted in an outpouring of sentiment from around the world. Mandela’s body will lie in state for three days, followed by a funeral that is expected to be one of the largest in modern history. Political leaders (including those from countries who once deemed Mandela a “terrorist”) from around the world are making plans to attend. It is truly incredible to see how one man has touched so many lives—both directly and indirectly.
As we contemplate the loss of Nelson Mandela, let us first remember the man—a friend, father, husband, grandfather. Those who knew him will mourn the loss of the him in their life. Let us not forget that he was a person—one who his family described as “a caring family leader who made time for all and on that score we will miss him dearly.”
Let us also celebrate what he helped to achieve—an end to apartheid in South Africa. The importance of the work he did to rid the country of such a policy and to avoid civil war in the process cannot be overstated. During this time of reflection, I encourage all of us to learn more about how apartheid came to be and the work Mandela did to battle it. As the saying goes, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Many of the individuals attending the events in South Africa belong to the “born free generation”—people who have lived their lives with freedoms and opportunities that were hard won.
Finally, let us not forget to honor the legacy that Nelson Mandela left for us. Those of us who never knew Mandela and were not directly impacted by apartheid (although such inequality anywhere has ripple effects for everyone around the world), have been touched by what Mandela represented. His work as a political activist inspired others around the world to fight for their own causes. But I fear that we will allow Mandela to become a symbol—while forgetting the call he charged us to follow.
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."
We can do better.
We must do better.
The same day that Mandela died there were strikes at fast food restaurants around the USA—workers who are demanding a living wage. There is more work to be done in this world—and every one of us can play a role. But we have to be willing to take up that charge.
Fortunately, most of us will never be called upon to spend 27 years of our lives in jail for the causes we believe in. But let us not use that as an excuse to ignore the sacrifices that we can make. All of us can give a bit (or more!) of time, or energy, or patience, or money, or love to fight for a just world. To make the lives of the people around us better. To dismantle systems of oppression. Maybe that involves escorting women as they visit an abortion clinic, providing support with one’s presence. Or boycotting a company that funds anti-LGBT policies and groups. Or registering people to vote. Or writing a petition. Or challenging someone when they make a racist, sexist or homophobic joke. No one of us can change the world alone--but we can each take actions that will make a difference.
May Mandela’s spirit rest in peace. And may his legacy live on, burning brighter with the sparks of change each one of us brings.
"It always seems impossible until it is done. "
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.