In a world with over seven billion people, it is easy to feel insignificant, like our personal footprints could not possibly be powerful enough to leave a lasting imprint. But Nelson Mandela is one of the notable individuals whose life has shattered this notion. By fighting against injustice and advocating for human rights, freedom, and equality, Nelson Mandela proved that one person does have the power to make a significant impact on our world. And with the fifth anniversary of his death on December 5th, it is important that we not only draw inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life, but also draw inspiration from the legacy he left behind.
Over this past summer, I had the privilege of being a Youth Fellow for Represent Global, a new global foundation and social empowerment platform. Founded by Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Kweku Mandela, Represent aims to activate, educate, and inspire youth all over the world to become changemakers, leaders, and social activists through making humanitarian issues (like opioid addiction and human trafficking) relevant and accessible to my generation. The idea for Represent was conceived out of the desire to transform Nelson Mandela’s legacy into an inspiration, a catalyst for change. Kweku Mandela explains, “My Grandfather did not want his legacy to be represented by an airport, a school, or a simple physical manifestation. Instead, he wanted his actions to act as a model for the next generation to use as a means to make humanity more just and equitable for all. He believed that all it takes is one generation –one generation to end poverty, one generation to end discrimination, and one generation to push the spirit of mankind. Represent’s purpose is to make sure this is that generation.”
Based on my experience this summer, that goal seems more feasible than ever. Through helping to plan Represent’s launch event this summer, which celebrated Nelson Mandela’s centenary with events around the world that raised money and awareness for local causes, I was introduced to the social justice facet of the nonprofit world. Above all, I was astounded by the passion, drive, and talent possessed by all of the young people I was working with, each of whom saw something he or she wanted to change about the world and did something about it, rather than waiting for someone else to act. They are fighting today to make tomorrow better, and it is utterly inspiring.
That experience makes me feel hopeful that we truly do have the potential to be the “one” generation of which Kweku Mandela speaks. Just look around. My generation is overwhelmingly dedicated to social justice, committed to finding issues we care about, learning the facts, and making our voices heard. Whether it is by posting on social media, walking out of school, or marching through the streets of our nation’s capital, my generation shows up and takes a stand against injustice. We are committed to shaping the world into a better place, and I am immensely proud of that. Working with Represent this summer highlighted to me how powerful young people can be when they find a passion, create a vision, and fight to make it a reality. And now more than ever, with this experience to guide me, I feel empowered to do just that.
Even though it has been five years since Nelson Mandela’s death, his influence on our planet has not waned. We remember him as an anti-apartheid activist who stood up against inequality; we remember him as South Africa’s first black president, committed to strengthening the definition of freedom; but most importantly, we remember Nelson Mandela for what he taught us about fighting for our beliefs, and we use his life as a source of inspiration. Each day, if we can overcome apathy and find something to fight for, if we can raise our voices and make ourselves heard, if we can summon the courage to be the change, we can use Nelson Mandela’s legacy as a source of strength. Because the most important thing I took away from my experience this summer with Represent Global is the understanding that we all have the power to make a difference. And if we can transform that understanding into action, we can all live by Nelson Mandela’s legacy, and perhaps even create our own.