To many of us, the notion of inequality is only a figment of our imagination. Most of us have never truly experienced segregation - not being able to go to school, vote, or live where we want because of our skin color or race.
Because of this, we often forget the times when all was different and leaders had to fight for the rights that we have now. This week, we mourn one such leader - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South African revolutionary and champion of equal rights.
Mr. Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95. South Africa has planned a week-long commemoration to honor the great man including a memorial service on Tuesday at the football stadium in Johannesburg where Mandela made his last public appearance.
Nelson Mandela was born in July of 1918, and given the clan name of Madiba. His father died when he was just nine, and Madiba was raised by the Chief of the Thembu tribe. Listening to tales of wars fought by his ancestors to free their homeland, and watching the Chief dispense justice to settle conflicts among tribe members, young Mandela was inspired.
Mandela decided to join the African National Congress (ANC), which fought for equal rights for Blacks and opposed the Afrikaans or Apartheid (segregationist) government. By then, he was practicing lawyer, providing free legal representation for blacks. Mandela led the militant wing of the ANC that protested against the policies of the Apartheid government.
Eventually, these protests led Mandela to be imprisoned for attempted sabotage and treason. He spent 27 years in prison, from 1964 to 1990. While in prison, Mandela wrote a memoir titled Long Walk to Freedom, where he described his quest for social justice.
Mandela was freed after South Africa faced worldwide pressure and outcries for his release. Three years after regaining his freedom, Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize and became the President of South Africa the following year.
A Glorious Legacy
After serving only one term, Mandela stepped down and since then has spoken out for equality and for AIDS, an immune system disorder that is very common among African people. Even after his retirement, Mandela was constantly in the spotlight, willing to meet government leaders, performing artists and anyone else who sought his advice.
Mandela's life is a lesson for us all. He overcame many obstacles and emerged as a man with courage and integrity. He forgave the Apartheid government, realizing that the only way for South African society to live in harmony was to have a government that included everyone.
As we remember former President Mandela and his legacy, we must use his spirit and his words and apply them to our lives. Take the legacy of Mandela, and go forward with what you hope to achieve. As Madiba once said: "It always seems impossible until it's done."