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The legacy of Nelson Mandela: A Portland State perspective
Author: Jilma Meneses, Chief Diversity Officer
Posted: December 6, 2013

When a man sacrifices himself for the good of mankind, equity, and justice, he is not only a hero but an inspiration for all humanity and future generations. When Nelson Mandela rose up against a social system whose essence was war, violence, oppression, racism, poverty, and the eradication of entire societies, he did it instinctively for the preservation of human dignity and the survival of the human race. He did not request, or desire, glory. Mr. Mandela took his place alongside Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama, voicing his passion for racial equality and change in the social system through peace. He repudiated claims that war was democracy. He repudiated claims that some people were less human than others based on the color of their skin. He challenged those who opposed human freedoms. His oppressors reacted with fear, so they captured him and sentenced him to life imprisonment; they locked him up for 27 years, but his voice only grew more powerful with time. That’s a hero.

Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mr. Mandela told reporters, “We remain committed to peace.”  In April 1994, South Africa held its first multiracial election and the world watched as South Africa elected its first black president just four years after his release from prison. Mr. Mandela said, “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.” He also said, “Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice.” He spoke about the world, not just South Africa. Furthermore, as he accepted the 1993 Nobel Peace Price, he reminded us about the essence of morality and equality, and how it is led by humility and forgiveness. It was clear he had forgiven his captors despite decades of imprisonment. His action was inspiration for every vulnerable child and adult around the world who has witnessed or has been wounded in this extraordinary human disaster, inhumane system, and unjust inequality. 

Mr. Mandela was the representative of people across the globe who dared to speak up because “injury to one was injury to all.” Our hero and inspiration, now rests in peace, but his legacy will produce everlasting change. Thank you, Mr. Mandela, for empowering us to oppose an inhumane system and for encouraging us to rise for justice. Thank you for exposing your humility, your courage, and your forgiveness. 

Jilma Meneses, Chief Diversity Officer, Portland State University