How do you pay tribute to a man who bent the arc of history towards justice as much as Nelson Mandela?
We could recite Mandela’s words, because few have spoken with more eloquence.
We could recount Mandela’s deeds, because few have done more to break down the machinery of apartheid -- and build up the foundations of equality.
We could revere Mandela’s legacy, because the principles he championed continue to inspire the nation he brought together, as they will for generations to come.
In honoring him, we should do all of these things. But Mandela’s words, deeds, and legacy must also be a cause for self-reflection, and a call to action.
In a Pretoria courtroom, Mandela challenged a system that deprived people of their basic dignity and told the world he was prepared to die for his ideals. In how many countries around the world do laws like this still stand, and enable abuses to this day? The answer is far too many.
In a Robben Island prison, Mandela endured 18 years of forced labor breaking rocks and mining limestone, and was only allowed a single visitor a year. How many political prisoners today suffer similar or even worse conditions? The answer is far too many.
In his first address as President, Mandela inspired his people to choose justice and unity over resentment and division. How many leaders among us are courageous and loving enough to lead by the principles of reconciliation when facing the strong headwinds of conflict and hatred? The answer is not nearly enough.
In that speech to his nation, Mandela told his people, “The time to build is upon us.” It still is, for all of us.
So, as we come together to celebrate the ideals that Mandela bravely declared he was willing to die for, we must forever ask whether we are living them. There is no greater way we can pay tribute to his life.
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