When speaking at the launch of The Nelson Mandela Children's fund, Mandela began his speech by saying, "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." As I reflect on his life, I recognize that Mandela exerted a powerful influence on my life through the influence he had on the amazing mentors of my formative years. My late grandfather, Clarence Bancroft, presided over our family as an omnipotent figure; a disciplinarian when necessary, as well as a living fountain of advice when needed. Throughout our relationship, my grandfather always spoke of the importance of "true leadership." He always reminded me that true leadership was not defined by the titles that one held, or the battles that an individual had won, but a leader's willingness to sacrifice everything for the beliefs they hold dear. The year before my grandfather passed away, he presented me a copy of the book Long Walk To Freedom as a reminder of the sacrifices that one must make in order to truly embody the term "leader."
Nelson Mandela swore to improve the lives of the people and culture that raised him, and subsequently changed the world. My favorite quotation from Long Walk To Freedom is Mandela's reflection on his journey toward becoming a freedom fighter stating: "I cannot pinpoint a moment when I became politicized, when I knew that I would spend my life in the liberation struggle. I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, and a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people." Mandela saw the destructive toll that apartheid was taking on his culture, and particularly the youth who would have to continue to live in these conditions if something was not done. Fighting arduously to bring an end to the abuses that kept a stranglehold over of his country, he was ultimately imprisoned, and through his imprisonment became a symbol of the struggle against apartheid. After sacrificing decades of his life in his struggle to end apartheid, Mandela was finally released from prison, allowing him to teach us an equally important lesson of forgiveness by forging a future of peace and nonviolence for all youth in his country along the road to becoming the first black President of South Africa.
Mandela's legacy has touched every continent, but it is distinctly personal for me as I see his influence in every mother and father figure I've ever had in my life. After my grandfather passed away, I remember reading a Long Walk To Freedom and pausing on one of the pages with pictures depicting Mandela's life and struggles. As I scanned over an image of Mandela, distinctly beaming with the confidence he held throughout his entire life, I was reminded of my grandfather's smile as he confidently presided over my family for so many years. In the African Diaspora, there is such a great need to instill strong leadership in the next generation through mentors who provide our community with positive messages, and Mandela embodied this necessary leadership skill more so than any leader that I have had the pleasure of studying.
Mandela's fiery passion mixed with his ability to make peace distinguished him as a leader willing to make sacrifices, a leader who improved the lives of his many South African sons and daughters, and the sons and daughters he influenced around the world. Nelson Mandela "treated his children well" and thus he will always be the grandfather of every aspiring leader in the African Diaspora. He is not only a symbol of what is possible in reforming a country, but a symbol for those who are fighting for justice whether they are from the African Diaspora, Latin@ community, LGBTQ+ community, or the many groups who continue to be oppressed around our planet. His legacy will live on in these individuals for centuries to come, and will serve as an example of what can be done when someone is ready to sacrifice their life for the soul of their society.