During the past week, Nelson Mandela’s death created the context for citizens of the world to appraise the life and contribution Mandela made to his homeland and mankind in spite of having spent 27 years imprisoned before being released in 1990.   A quote by Mandela, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead”.

During Black History Month 1998, seven journalists from African-American media toured South Africa as the guests of the South African Tourism Board (SATOUR).  Three were from New York City – Rene Jon-Sandy (Black Diaspora Magazine); Elinor Tatum (Amsterdam News); Aminisha Black (Daily Challenge).  Visiting Robben Island and the cell where Mandela existed and continued his mission was an enlightening event – a greater appreciation for this man who endured so much and yet practiced respect and fairness for all.  In one of the articles covering the trip I wrote, “Nelson Mandela’s Legacy: Peace with Progress”.

Next year after one-term President Nelson Mandela will turn the reins over to his successor who will carry the politics of inclusion forward.  Moving the agenda forward requires a person with a moral commitment comparable to that of Nelson Mandela.  If a Help Wanted ad were to be written, it would probably read like this:  Wanted: Someone to replace a man who committed his life for the pursuit of justice for his people; who spent 27 years in prison because of that commitment; used that time to educate others; who established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate atrocities committed during the apartheid era to allow for healing; who was able to take some difficult but principled stands; who loves people and according to Sheila Sisulu, South African Consul General, will talk to anyone if they are promoting programs for children; who had the courage to follow his conscience and fight for what he believed to be right and the strength to forgive. (Daily Challenge 4/16/98)

Mandela inspired the masses for different reasons but if followed, his example ultimately leads to a humane world that works for everyone with no one left out.   Parents, family, teachers and community we owe the children a world that nurtures their innate intelligences and allows each and everyone to contribute.   Maulana Karenga has given us the Principles of Kwanzaa.  If there’s any question or doubt that our children need change….compare some “Then and Now’s”.

When we were colored – Giving birth was “as natural as breathing air”.  Infants arrived into the loving and trusted hands of a midwife.

Now – Babies now make their entrance in sterile settings attended by impersonal hospital staff.

Then – If its biological parents couldn’t raise a child, the child would live with another family member and be nurtured by the entire clan.

Now – There are thousands of children in the foster care system.  Although some may be placed in kinship homes, the money, the intrusion of caseworkers and the bureaucracy stresses the relationships.

Then – Children grew up being taught the ABCs of survival in a racist society from caring elders who kept protective, watchful eyes over them.

Now – Children grow up isolated from adults, encountering and reacting to racism and violent attacks with each other – too often losing the battles and their lives.

Then – In segregated, separate and unequal schools committed principals and teachers, having the respect of parents, encouraged and inspired their students to excel, in spite of meager resources.

Now – Labor unions negotiate for higher salaries and education is really big business.  However, excessive budgets do not automatically yield higher academic achievement, especially for our children.

Then – Teachers, students and parents lived in the same community – extending their relationships beyond the school.

Now – Teachers are employees of school districts and residency is not considered.  After school, teachers and students depart to different worlds and “parent involvement” is a problem.

Then – Children spent much of their time working alongside elders; the boys learning to repair cars, build, cut hair and other trades; girls learning to cook, bake, sew,  among other crafts. Children belonged to communities that had a vested interest in their achieving.

Now – Adults are afraid of young people and young people often disrespect elders. There is a serious breakdown in the transmission of values to the younger generation.

Parents, grandparents and others who interact with children are invited to join a conversation for honoring the life of Nelson Mandela by applying the practices that brought change to South Africa.  Comments, questions welcomed at parentsnotebook@yahoo.com.

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