Over the past few days as I’ve watched people gather in Soweto, Birmingham, Bahia and Deli to sing, dance and celebrate the life of a simple man who changed us all, a flood of memory and imagination has washed over me.
My mind and heart go most often to the story of Nelson Mandela’s prison yard garden, which taught me the extraordinary power of simple things to keep us connected to our deepest roots and to our humanity, even when facing the worst brutality. Mandela shared the bounty of the garden not only with other inmates and political prisoners, but also with the prison guards who were the instruments of the system that had imprisoned him, the system of violence that had dehumanized him and his people for over 300 years. His generosity taught me that even in those who cannot see us, a spark of humanity is always there, waiting to be rekindled.
In Nelson Mandela we saw a man with unwavering commitment to his vision and an unencumbered willingness to build deep relationships with all who shared that vision — and even with those who did not, yet, share it. These qualities carried him through the most trying times and ultimately brought triumph to the movement which shaped him and of which he was a part.
As I think of what was achieved in South Africa and how the movement there seeks to finish the long walk to freedom, I see a new path being forged to overcome the present challenges. South Africa, like the rest of the world, struggles with an even greater opponent than apartheid: persistent and deepening economic inequality. We are all complicit in having strengthened this opponent, until we find the courage to create a global economy rooted in valuing human need. In this shared global struggle, I know that the relentless pursuit of a vision that binds people of different beliefs together must be the praxis and practice of all our movement building, making the most impossible change seem nearer in our every breath. As we build our vision, let us also stay rooted in our own humanity, and see the humanity in each other, even in those who do not see our own.