"Mandela's Way"

During 2018, I was the chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Centenary Committee in Duluth. Our group organized numerous public presentations that included an illustrated lecture, book reading, exhibit and more throughout the city that emphasized Mandela's example of resistance to oppression and commitment to  freedom. I presented the following message at the Closing Ceremony of the Mandela Centenary on December 3, 2018 at St. Mark AME Church in Duluth– Gerri Williams

Richard Stengel is an American  journalist who worked with Mandela on his autobiography for three years. He wrote in his own book, Mandela's Way:
“When I imagine Mandela’s legacy to my sons, I recall that heartbreaking exchange Mandela had with his first son, who once asked his father why he could never spend the night with the family. Because there were millions of other children who needed him, Mandela answered. As difficult and even harsh as that might sound, it was the simple and yet terrible calculation that Mandela had made.

One of the things Mandela sought through his own sacrifice was that someday other fathers and mothers would not have to say those same words to their sons and daughters; that his son might inherit a free nation where he would not have to fight for the freedom that should have been his birthright. In a larger way, Mandela wanted there to be a thread between his life, his values, his achievements ---and everyone who came after him. As unique as he might be, he would tell you that he was part of a long chain...a continuum of those who came before us and those will succeed us, a great and powerful chain of those fighting to enlarge human freedom.” 

Throughout his political life, Mandela always indicated that he had no patience for, nor desire to be the object of, mere hero worship. He repeatedly argued that he  considered himself to be the symbol and servant of the people, and that it was the power of millions of unsung South Africans whose resistance outside his prison walls sustained him and which swept him into public office in 1994.

Mandela wrote: “I have become convinced  that the real makers of historyare the ordinary citizens of our country. Their participation inevery decision aboutthe  futureis the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom.” 

And  this is why Mandela's resistance to the evil of apartheid remains so powerfully relevant to thistime, to thiscountry, and to ourchallenges. Because the conditions that vast masses of our people face ----of injustice, of poverty, --can only be challenged by us a citizens. Our challenges might have a different name, present a different face perhaps, but it’s the same system of oppression. And the forces of resistance can onlycome from We the People.

So, in honoring Mandela this day, this year, and as we move forward, let us remember the motto of the Centenary: Be The Legacy. Let us continue that long walk to freedom with the sacrifice, discipline and commitment that characterized his life. 

Less than an hour after walking out of Victor Verster prison in 1990, Mandela addressed throngs of South Africans who had gathered. A whole generation had grown up without seeing his face or hearing his voice – both had been banned by the apartheid regime -- and yet the crowd responded immediately and instinctively to the first word he uttered to them:

Amandla,” which means POWER in the Xhosa and Zulu languages. 

And they responded with “Awethu” “IS OURS” -- “Power is ours!”


A luta continua. (The struggle goes on).