Related: Civil & Human Rights

Nelson Mandela: Icon for Justice


Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
(photo credit)

“Out of an experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud…We pledge ourselves to liberate all of our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination… The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.”  (Nelson Mandela, May 10, 1994 at his inauguration as President of South Africa)  Watch the video of Mandela’s Inaugural Address

Throughout the next week I will be writing on this blog about Nelson Mandela and his impact on our global village.  What are your reflections on his great legacy?  Please share them by clicking on the “comments” link below or email me at and I will post your comments.

From Dr. Cynthia Greer, Associate Professor, School of Education:

“Nelson Mandela is one of my heroes, and I am relieved that he has been able to transition and finally rest in peace. However, I am also sad for the world that we have lost a person who symbolized integrity, love and forgiveness. When I visited South Africa a few years ago, I had the opportunity to take an emotional journey to Robbin Island, and I saw Mandela’s jail cell and the quarry where he was sentenced to hard labor and as a result lost some of his eye sight. The fact that he survived his imprisonment and subsequently became President, and at the same time embraced the people, who called him a terrorist and a traitor, is a miracle and speaks to the power of the human spirit. I hope that in these next few days that all of us pause and reflect about the many issues that continue to divide us as human beings. When Mandela became president, one of the first things he did was to commission the writing of a new constitution. The current constitution speaks to his dream and hope that South Africa would become a multicultural society inclusive of all people, regardless of skin color, first language, religion, sexual orientation and gender. There are many lessons to be learned from Nelson Mandela’s life and I hope that especially young people take the time to educate themselves about this wonderful human being.”

From Dr. Konia Kollehlon, Associate Professor of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences:

“Although some what expected, given the significant deterioration in his health since July of this year, the death of South Africa’s first democratically elected black president, Nelson Mandela, is still a very sad event. As a teenager in Liberia, West Africa, back in the mid-1960s, I remember reading about (in the local newspapers) and occasionally hearing about (on the BBC radio News) the Rivonia Trial in South Africa. As it is common knowledge now, Nelson Mandela and others were found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of that trial.

“Perhaps what I remember most about the life of Madiba is the three hour long speech that has come to be known as the Rivonia Speech. Many of the issues that concerned Madiba at that time as reflected in his speech are issues that interested me as a student of sociology and still interest me today. Issues of social inequality —- racial/ethnic, gender, class, etc. — and family disorganization are still among the critical concerns of sociology today and for the foreseeable future.

“After all these years, I can still remember some of the poignant statements from the Rivonia Speech [taken from Nelson Mandela Death: Excerpts from the Rivonia Speech, BBC News Africa, 7th December, 2013]. With respect to marriage and the family, Madiba noted in the Rivonia Speech that white people in South Africa back then did

‘…not look upon them [black people] as people with families of their own; they do not realize that they have emotions – that they fall in love like white people do; that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what “house-boy” or “garden-boy” or labourer can ever hope to do this?’

“With respect to the impact of the draconian pass laws of the Apartheid South African era, Madiba noted that

‘…hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life….African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men’s hostels. African women want to be with their men folk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves.’

“Madiba further reminded us that ‘…political division, based on colour, is entirely artificially and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another.’

“In the long struggle against racism Madiba told us: ‘During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’

“As the last of the big three stalwarts of the African National Congress [the other two being Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu] to make the transition to the great beyond, you have fought a good fight and made South Africa a better and more equitable society: you helped to calm the anger of the blacks, Asians, and Coloureds and the fear of the whites; pass laws no longer exist in South Africa today; the schools and other public institutions are desegregated, and South Africa today is a democratic and free society for all of its citizens. And while challenges still remain, the efforts of you and many other South Africans — dead and alive — : former South African president Frederik W. de Klerk, Steve Biko, Winnie Madikizela- Mandela, Sir Albert Luthuli, retired Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, to name a few , have provided a roadmap of courage, tolerance, sacrifice, kindness, forgiveness, and reconcilation for future generations of South Africans to build upon the work that you started. While we mourn your transition, we also celebrate your great life and legacy. In short, the world is a much better place because you passed through here. Rest in perfect peace, Madiba.”

Listen to Trinity Alumna Amy Costello ’92 give a report on Mandela’s life for NPR

Reflections from the Trinity community:

“As I write, I cry not for his loss, but out of joy for his choosing to be of good courage, to exercise his intelligence and wisdom, and most of all, execute humility.   Countless times, I heard, read, and seen footage about Mr. Mandela’s journey and the three decades of imprisonment of which he lived. Sometimes, my silent responses would entail anger and frustration and an eagerness to curse his captors but as I matured, I was reminded of Paul the Apostle and his letter about joy, hope, and love that he wrote while in prison. Mr. Mandela emulated Paul and he symbolized God’s glory in the most profound manner.   I will forever be convicted to forgive and to love despite whatever obstacles I face and I pray, that many others will live Mr. Mandela’s legacy as well.”  (Kyndra Fuller, Class 2015, Human Relations, School of Professional Studies)

“I remember in the 9th grade I did a summer reading assignment on Nelson Mandela’s wife. While reading that book I learned so much about his life through her story. Nelson Mandela was a very powerful man. He preached acceptance and understanding of each other as a whole regardless of color, social status, and religion. He truly wanted all people treated equally and with respect. His legacy of greatness and being humble will live on forever. He will truly be missed by this world!”  (Shade’ Coleman, Class of 2015, SPS, MSA in Human Resource Management, Allied Barton Site Supervisor)

“I had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela on a trip to South Africa with President Bill Clinton. Staff was given the opportunity to meet with Mandela and pose for pictures with him. For me, it was the highlight of the trip. I would describe him as “grace walking the planet.” He was so tall and his smile lit up his face like sunshine. Being in the same room with him was one of those moments when you know you are in the presence of greatness and I was blessed to be able to shake his hand.” (Dr. Peggy Lewis, Class of 1977, Assistant Professor and Director of Media Studies, SPS)

“Yesterday we lost a remarkable leader. Nelson Mandela was a beautiful example of a life filled with humility, compassion and grace. He taught us to be kind to one another and to find the good in every situation no matter how difficult. His words inspire me and resonate in my daily life … ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’.”  (Dr. Karen L. Gerlach, Vice President for Student Affairs)

“In 1986 or ’87 (I’d have to dig out the arrest warrant to be sure) I made a fast and perhaps rash decision to participate in civil disobedience in protest of apartheid, which led to my one serious encounter with our justice system – if justice is the right word. For many in my generation, Mandela was a true hero – a leader who inspired direct action in the worldwide struggle for justice and peace. He was our Martin Luther King – we who were still small when MLK was killed and who could not yet have fully appreciated those times and struggles. Agitating for Nelson Mandela’s freedom, and the end of apartheid, became an important focal point in the justice and peace consciousness of so many movements of the 1980’s and 1990’s when we, young activists, came into our own. The global importance of his sacrifices and his suffering cannot be overemphasized – we had such a clear sense of right and wrong about his actions, the actions of the South African powers, and the actions of our own government.

“So motivated and inspired, we headed to the protest that day planning to raise our fists and our placards and sing a few protest songs – “Free Nelson Mandela” and “We Shall Overcome”. Quickly, the climate changed: we faced an army of police officers deployed to contain our right of free assembly. Seasoned activists began on-the-spot training for those willing to be arrested in mass civil disobedience action. We did not take this lightly – an arrest is, after all, an arrest, and we were scared of what might happen once loaded onto the police trucks. But Nelson Mandela was in prison! Surely the best way to show solidarity was to follow directly in his footsteps? Would we really risk that action? My friends and I made a split second decision, took the quick training (mostly how not to get hurt while being handcuffed), and stepped out into the street to take our tiny place in history. Hundreds were arrested that day.

“In the end, the incredible happened: Mandela released, the apartheid system dismantled, his Presidency – the Presidency of our own Barack Obama. It takes a village to change the world, and the total impact of each tiny individual contribution is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. Great individuals like Mandela – Gandhi, MLK – inspire these contributions; each one of us, acting righteously, can truly change our world. Though I never met Mandela, I feel personally connected to him for the positive impact he had in my own formative development and the betterment of the world we will also someday leave behind.”  (Dr. Carlota Ocampo,  Associate Dean, CAS, and Associate Professor of Psychology)

“If only we each can genuinely and actively love–even on a small scale–our neighbors and countrymen as Mr. Mandela, we’d all have such peace and beauty within and around us. He had such compassion, courage, intelligence, strength, and patience. I am asking God to help me to care more deeply and more often through my speech and deeds to exhibit that kind of love. I do thank him for how he lived and thank his family for sharing him with the world.” (Anonymous)

“I feel honored to be invited to share sentiments about Nelson Madiba Mandela because I come from the Southern Region of Africa (Zambia).  My country served as a safe haven for members of the African National Congress (ANC), a political party that Mandela helped to found. As such Zambia and South Africa share very close relations. Although I’m saddened by the loss of such a great hero like Mandela, it is comforting that we all as human beings can always look up to his legacy and draw some very valuable life’s lessons.  Sleep, sleep in Eternal Peace Papa Mandela, for you have run the race and you have fought the good fight. Nkosi Sikelela (God Bless)!”  (Charity Mambwe, School of Professional Studies, MSA program (Community & Public Health), Class of 2014)

“May he Rest In Peace. …His ability to survive incarceration and come out more determined and compelled to fulfill his purpose of ensuring freedom for his people is truly an inspiration to me.”  (Lashonia Etheridge-Bey, SPS, Human Relations Major)

“The morning that Mandela was released from prison in 1990, the release was broadcast on TV. It was early in the morning here in the States, but I got my two daughters out of bed (they were 7 and 5 at the time) to watch it with me. It was one of those parenting challenges to try to explain to them who Mandela was and why this moment was so important in terms that would mean something to them (and why I was crying – what it means to shed tears of joy). They still remember that morning.” (Dr. Janet Stocks, Dean of the School of Education)

“A ‘Terrorist.’

“That’s what he was called. Not just by the Apartheid regime in South Africa, who imprisoned and terrorized him for nearly 3 decades (with an important assist by the US CIA who infiltrated the ANC and passed information to the South African police leading to his arrest), but also by revered political icons like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who both called Mandela’s African National Congress “a typical terrorist organization.” In 1987, Reagan even vetoed a non-binding resolution by the Congress asking South Africa to release Mandela.

“In an interview with Larry King in 2000, Mandela said, ‘I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists. I tell them that I was also a terrorist yesterday, but, today, I am admired by the very people who said I was one.’ Neither he nor King noted this irony: Despite his Noble Peace Prize and his election as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa; he remained on the US terrorist watch list until 2008, so the US still considered him a ‘terrorist’ at the time of the interview.

“One would hope that, upon Mandela’s death, those who so easily label as ‘terrorists’ anyone who opposes injustice and seeks freedom and basic human rights might reflect upon how this peaceful and courageous man was tarred with that label for 60 years. Or will they simply ignore the history and issue banal platitudes without reflection on which of today’s ‘terrorists’ will turn out to be the next Mandela?” (Mr. Thomas Mostowy, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, SPS)

“What can I say about a leader of such great caliber. My first thought is to compare Mr. Mandela with a modern day Moses. We know the story of how Moses led his people out of Egypt to freedom from the ruling Pharaoh. I feel that Nelson Mandel was given a vision and took it upon himself to carry out a movement to free his people and himself from Apartheid oppression.  I give many accolades to Mr. Mandela who accomplished such a monumental change to society in his life time. He helped to change minds on racial inequality throughout the world. He was willing to suffer the ultimate sacrifice, even if it meant giving up his life. He saw injustice in society and fought to correct it. Mr. Mandela was committed to change what others thought was impossible.” (Ms. Vivian Y. Wilds, Career Services, SPS ’01)

“Nelson Mandela was such an example of grace and living one’s life to serve others. This is how we all , universally, change the world one social justice issue at a time. My favorite quote: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.’ ~ Mandela”  (Ms. Shae Agee, Director of the Trinity Center)

“Mandela’s work and speech has made me understand that peace does not not have to be established with war, but can be established by using communication. He also believed in forgiveness, which is a very hard asset to acquire and practice. Nelson Mandela has also given me the faith that education is one of the most powerful that can be used to change how the world is. this words of wisdom show me that I do not have to be rich or famous in order to change the world. I am already getting an education here at Trinity University which is already providing a change in my community.” (Linda F. Moktoi, Class of 2014)

Listen and Watch Maya Angelou Read Her Poem of Tribute “His Day is Done” for Nelson Mandela:


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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: