Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944. The United Nations held its first Nelson Mandela Day in 2010 on Mandela’s birthday, July 18. In that time, the man had devoted 67 years of his life to public service. That is longer than I’ve been alive. I looked it up – more than 92% of the Earth’s population, 6.5 billion people, have not been alive that long. Talk about a lifetime of service.
Nelson Mandela Day is a movement to involve people everywhere in action for their communities. On July 18, in honor of the 67 years that Mandela dedicated to the South African people, we are all asked to perform 67 minutes of community service. Participating is your opportunity to promote a global culture of solidarity and compassion, and it is a chance for you to carry on and magnify Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
Several years ago, Mandela began publicly acknowledging that he would not be around forever, expressing his plan to entrust his ideals to people everywhere to carry onward. This year, with Madiba facing severe illness, the world is keenly aware of the limitations that time and health are placing on his ability to personally contribute to his legacy. More than ever, it is up to those of us who treasure his battles for the disenfranchised, upholding dignity and securing opportunities for better lives, to become responsible for the spread of his humane, inspiring influence across the globe.
If you don’t know as much as you would like about Nelson Mandela’s life, I can only recommend that you set aside time to learn more…right away. See a fiery Mandela in his first television interview while an outlaw in South Africa. Watch part of the speech he gave after being released from prison, which was preceded by one of the most astounding ovations in human history. Learn the meanings of his names at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The more you learn about this man, the less possible it is for you to be unmoved by his calls to action.
Mandela led the liberation and reconciliation of a country. No one expects you to do that in 67 minutes. Instead, do what you can, no matter how seemingly small, knowing you are contributing to a movement on a global scale. And you don’t have to only act on the 18th. Activities in the days and weeks around Nelson Mandela Day range from organizations holding major fundraising campaigns for development projects to individuals reading stories to students at their local primary schools. Africare will of course be implementing projects in 18 African countries, but our headquarters staff will also be working later in the month with an organization from their neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
Mandela once wrote, “A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” On Nelson Mandela Day this year, let’s go out ahead and take action to support our neighbors, and while doing so let’s be mindful of whose legacy still directs us.