Nelson Mandela would have turned 100 in July. All over the world people are reflecting on what the anti-apartheid icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner means to them, nearly five years after his death.
Meet a few and and see how Mandela’s teachings have stood the test of time.
‘Education is the most powerful weapon’
At Watkins Elementary School, a predominantly African-American public school within walking distance of the U.S. Capitol, the responsibility of educating the next generation about Nelson Mandela falls to Rashida Green, a fifth-grade literacy and social science teacher.
Green, 41, devotes two weeks of her multimedia civil rights lesson plan to Nelson Mandela’s life.
She identifies with Mandela because she was born and raised in Mississippi, a state with its own history of racial strife. She teaches students about apartheid by comparing it to the unconstitutional Jim Crow laws in the South that segregated blacks and whites in public places for decades.
Green’s students watch videos on Nelson Mandela’s life and read two books: Mandela’s “The Long Walk to Freedom,” and “Who Was Nelson Mandela?” The students then write a report about how they, too, can make a difference.
“They’re my world changers,” she said. “And I believe that they can, and so he’s a great example and an inspiration for them … to [know] that with an education, you can change the world.”
‘There’s a lot that unites us’
Each year since 2008, students from the Nelson Mandela Museum youth group in South Africa travel to Germany to learn about the Holocaust. Anka Johow helped spearhead the trip when she worked at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Germany from 2005 through 2015.
The students learn about the history at a youth camp the association runs with its partners and other YMCAs, involving young people from Israel, Belarus, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Russia, Lithuania and Germany.
Johow also wanted Europeans to understand apartheid. So in 2012, the association and the museum joined forces to organize a trip to South Africa where Europeans learned about apartheid, the law of the land in that country from 1948 until 1994. They heard testimonials from people who had been imprisoned at Robben Island — where Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year prison term.
“We just don’t only want to talk about the Second World War and the Holocaust and Europe; we also want to talk about the apartheid and what that meant,” said Johow, now 31, living in Montréal and working at Power to Change Ministries. “There’s a lot that unites us, like common hopes and common dreams … and enjoying the benefit that flows from meeting multicultural people.”
‘Beacon of hope’ for U.S. diplomat
One of Alvin Murphy’s first assignments as a television producer was covering Mandela’s 1990 visit to Washington. Mandela had long been a “beacon of hope” for him.
“Growing up in the South as a black youth in North Carolina, I, too, had experienced discrimination, prejudices and segregation where we were not allowed to drink from the same water fountains as whites, eat in certain restaurants, or even live in certain neighborhoods,” Murphy said. He also remembers picking cotton in nearby fields to earn extra money and help his family.
Murphy said he learned from Mandela “the importance of taking the high ground rather than being enticed into negative emotions or behaviors of hatred, revenge, or blame.”
Today, Murphy works at the U.S. State Department as a policy officer specializing on Africa. He meets future leaders of Africa through the State Department’s Mandela Washington Fellowship program, which provides six weeks of leadership training and professional development to hundreds of young Africans.
“I get the opportunity to impart what Mandela had given to me each year into the Mandela Washington Fellows,” Murphy said. He added that Mandela’s example “changed my life forever.”
This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.