Back to Africa: Remembering Nelson Mandela


“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” – Nelson Mandela                                       

Last week, we lost one of our greatest freedom fighters, Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Mveso, Transkei, South Africa. Becoming actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s, Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1942. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of peaceful, nonviolent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies (

In 1993, Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to dismantle the country’s apartheid system. In 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president. In 2009, Mandela’s birthday (July 18) was declared “Mandela Day” to promote global peace and celebrate the South African leader’s legacy. Mandela died at his home in Johannesburg on December 5, 2013, at age 95 (

Mandela’s death led to an outpouring of support from world leaders, dignitaries and everyday individuals. As I witnessed all of the Mandela tributes on social media and seen the impact he had on millions across the globe including President Barack Obama it got me thinking on what the African stands for when I say I am African-American.

President Obama’s first public speech was made on February 18, 1981, at an anti-apartheid rally. Obama spoke earlier this year on how Mandela inspired him:

“I think at that time I didn’t necessarily imagine that Nelson Mandela might be released, but I had read his writings and his speeches, and I understood that this was somebody who believed in that basic principle I just talked about — treating people equally — and was willing to sacrifice his life for that belief,” he said.

“When I was in law school, in 1990, 1991, to see Nelson Mandela step forward after 27 years of captivity and not only help usher in democracy and majority rule, and one person, one vote in South Africa, but as importantly, for him to say, I embrace my former captors and my former oppressors, and believe in one nation and believe in judging people on the basis of their character and not their color — it gave me a sense of what is possible in the world when righteous people, when people of goodwill work together on behalf of a larger cause,” he said.

“And he’s a personal hero, but I don’t think I’m unique in that regard,” the president said. “I think he’s a hero for the world. And if and when he passes from this place, one thing I think we’ll all know is that his legacy is one that will linger on throughout the ages.”

As a student of history and political science I believe that President Obama’s generation was the last generations of African-Americans that recognized and understood the importance of being “African”, I mean they were the last generation that had some need to recognize the importance of people with African heritage and their struggles not just in America but globally. It could be because they were born at the height up the Civil Rights Movement and grew up in the era of “I’m black and I’m Proud”, but they seemed to be interconnected with individuals with African heritage globally.

My generation seems to be indifferent to the causes of people with African heritage globally, and I am not immune from such criticism. It would be unfair to say we do not care because I know many young African Americans that not only care but are active in supporting pan-Africanism and in those issues effecting people with African heritage. For the vast majority of us we are unconnected from the “Mother Land” and from those we share a heritage with which is why I believe we need a back to Africa movement.

When I say “Back to Africa” I do not mean we need to pack our bags and move back to Africa, but I think it is important for everyone with an African Heritage to go back to Africa intellectually. In the 21st Century, to go back to Africa simply means to learn more about the history and struggles of the continent, to assist in any way possible in helping the continent move forward, to recognize the struggles of individuals with African heritage not just in Africa, but in places like Brazil, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc. and recognize that we are descendants of a mighty continent.

As I read Mandela’s autobiography; Long Walk to Freedom, I am moved by his life in a new way. I am astonished by how many lives he has impacted and is proud to say that he has definitely changed my way of thinking. The light of freedom and justice that Mandela lit in South Africa will shine for all in perpetuity!


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