12/22/2013 09:29 am ET Updated Feb 21, 2014

A Hero's Legacy

Earlier this month, we lost one of the greatest champions of the movement to end poverty -- Nelson Mandela. Today he's someone we all revere, a hero unwavering in his dedication to ending some of the most persistent injustices of our time. But he wasn't always seen that way.

Once he was considered a disturber of the peace, even a criminal. He served 27 years behind bars for his efforts to overthrow a corrupt government and heal the wounds created through decades, even centuries, of oppression. The magnitude of the sacrifice he made is hard to grasp, but it reminds me of how important it is to work towards a better world.

Let's imagine -- what could the world look like if we aligned our actions more closely with our values? I'd argue that it would look quite different. We value each child having enough food to eat, a warm place to sleep, medicine when they're sick. Nevertheless, millions of children go without these on any given night. We value the idea that hard work should pay off, nevertheless millions are stuck in minimum wage jobs, working but unable to pay the bills. In America today, the reality is that if you're poor, you can't afford to imagine -- you're just hoping you can keep food on the table.

At Heartland Alliance, the Midwest's leading anti-poverty organization, where I work, these are the faces of those we serve, and this holiday season was no different. We see the single mother who's desperate to keep her rent paid, we see the man who lost his brother to neighborhood violence and his job to layoffs. We see the face of poverty, of the oppressed, and as the news would have you know, they are many. But to hear it told like that, it's as if this was the end of the story, a simple fact, but it doesn't have to be. We can be part of the story and we can change its narrative -- just as Mandela once did.

The fight against the injustices of poverty, violence and racism wasn't one thrust upon him -- he could have lived relatively insulated from brewing social tensions. But the suffering of so many was too much for him to turn a blind eye towards and he made it his mission to bring people a means to escape poverty, danger and fear and realize their true potential. This is his legacy. Let's make it our legacy too by rededicating ourselves to providing help, hope and support to those who live in poverty.

Please consider offering your support by donating your time or sharing your financial resources with organizations that support families in need as we move into the new year. As Mandela 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 generation. Let your greatness blossom."