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Frederick Jerome Streets Headshot

Remembering How Mandela Challenged Us

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People around f the world are mourning the loss and celebrating the life of President Nelson "Madiba" Mandela and this is what we should do. He, members of his family and the country of South Africa will be remembered during the coming week in memorial services held throughout the world. Prayers and other words will encourage us all to work for the equality of all people and peace in our home communities and around the world in honor of the life and legacy of President Mandela.

It is easier for some, like they did Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to embrace him in death than it is to remember that in his life, he challenged us all to confront our hatred of one another and to free our minds of prejudice and dismantle the social, economic and political systems of oppression that apartheid represented and which continues in other forms today in many different places around the world. The increasing gap between the rich and the poor, disparities in health care based upon income, ethnicity, sex and where one lives; and unequal education and employment opportunities are just some of the conditions which President Mandela strove to eradicate in his own country. His example along with others there in South Africa can inspire us to assume a similar responsibility for advancing social justice and change wherever we find the need to be such a voice.

My family and I were thrilled to attend the joint session of the U.S. Congress in June of 1990 and to see and hear Mr. Mandela address that body. I visited South Africa for the first time as a Fulbright Scholar in 2008. I had the opportunity during that time and on subsequent visits to spend time with his grandson and comrades who worked closely with Mr. Mandela. They all spoke of his integrity and humility that remained constant throughout his life. Many will speak with emphasis about Mandela's values and practice of love, forgiveness and reconciliation but without accepting the claim these attributes make upon all of us. This way of remembering him can sanitize our memory of him and distance ourselves from the moral imperatives upon us to make the conditions of our living together more just, equal and peaceful. Remembering Nelson Mandela is an act of gratitude and hope that as he now "belongs to the ages" we belong to one another and to this time to do whatever we can to nonviolently promote human flourishing.