December 6, 2013
I know you all join me in mourning the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela, one of our world’s leading lights in the causes of freedom, equality, and social justice.
As most of you know, Mr. Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned in his own country as the result of his revolutionary anti-apartheid activities, earning a life sentence as the result of his conviction on a charge of conspiracy to overthrow the government. His release from prison in 1990, during escalating racial and political strife, was in no small part the result of an international campaign urging that he be freed as a major step toward racial reconciliation and establishment of a true democracy in South Africa. Mr. Mandela went on to serve for five years as his country’s president, forming a Government of National Unity as part of the effort to ease racial tensions, and was instrumental in combating poverty and expanding health care services across the nation. After he left office, he remained vigorously involved in the fight against AIDS and HIV, among other causes.
Mr. Mandela’s political and social accomplishments are well-chronicled, but what is perhaps even more enduring is the positive, hopeful, and just spirit he conveyed in his words and actions. Despite being a political prisoner for nearly three decades, he refused to let his incarceration define him, instead choosing to keep beating the drum for justice and equality in his country and throughout the world.
I believe the following quote by Mr. Mandela effectively captures this transformative leader’s spirit, and is something of an object lesson for us all in how to handle the many setbacks life rolls our way:
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
As we mourn this great leader’s passing, and acknowledge the legacy he leaves, let us not forget to also celebrate what was his greatest gift: the spirit of optimism and hope that lived inside him, and that he passed along to generations to come.
My best to you all,