On the eve of the celebration of life for Nelson Mandela, I am reminded about the “human touch” and why it plays such an important role in all that we do and all that we are. To first explain this I must rewind the tape to last Thursday, December 05, 2013. I was teaching a class and was discussing the imperative qualities of strong ethics, moral fiber, professionalism, intergrity, dignity, peaceful resolve, love and tolerance in the workplace. At the root of the discussion was situational awareness and understanding what goes on around us each day and taking time to notice the details in each opportunity.
In the discussion, the conversation turned to the American Civil Rights movement and a journey I took to Memphis in 2013, I outlined my travels to Sun Records, explaining the detailed beginnings of Sam Phillips and his work with Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston and his beloved “Rocket 88”. I went on to discuss how Sun gave way to the seeds of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis among several others. I also went on to mention the “other” recording studio across town in a lesser known part – Staxx Records, which was the birthplace of such recording greats as: Otis Reading, Booker T and the M.G.’s, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin. After discussing this at length we moved on to the site of the asassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. When describing the Lorraine Motel to my class I didn’t focus so much on the monument and the historical preservation of it which is currently underway. I chose to chronicle the presence of a protestor, Jacqueline Smith who has protested the site and it’s preservation ever since she was evicted from the site 27 years ago when she resided there with her mother at the time of Dr. King’s passing. Her protest is against the $27 million dollars being spent to upgrade and refurbish the site without the appropriate funds being allocated to the surrounding impoverished community. When I signed her guest book I was honored to do so alongside the likes of U2 frontman Bono, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and several others – social activism starts with us. . .
At the conclusion of my day I was eating my dinner in the restaurant and saw the passing of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, my heart sank thinking of the void this would create in the world. My thoughts were how can these people carry on ? What is their resolve and inspiration going forward ? It was then I opened my eyes and realized the people were not weeping but rather dancing and singing. . .as the reporter said – “Nelson Mandela is dead” he was quickly corrected – “. . .Nelson Mandela is not dead; he has transitioned”.
As I awoke the next morning I openend my hotel room door to see a familiar face looking up at me from the front page of the newspaper; the face of the man with the peaceful resolve, the soft and gentle words, the lion himself. In a black and white picture his arms folded peacefully as if to say “my work is complete”. As I looked down at my feet I had a choice to make, I could step over him and go about my day with a modest feeling of “too bad” or I could take the newspaper in my hand and carry his message on to my students.
When I arrived for the final day in the classroom, I spoke on the man and his early years as a lawyer and his protest of the massacre protesting apartheid in Sharpeville, South Africa March 21, 1960. This forever sealed his fate as a marked activist in the eyes of the South African Goverment, an enemy of the state if you will. His subsequent imprisonment and peaceful resolve as he was released under the administration of then leader F. W. De Klerk, his re-emergence into the society he so loved and his dedication to a life of peace and love rather than hatred and discrimination. Describing to my students that upon his release he encouraged his followers to not attack those responsible but rather throw their guns to the waters of the ocean. “. . .the white man must feel safe in his home and we feel safe in ours”, Mandela saw the opportunity and choice for peace to be made and love to prosper – he never looked back from that point on.
When asked by a student what this all meant, I responded that your life is a series of choices whether they be good, bad or indifferent; your choices impact the path in life you take and the choices you have made have lead you here today. The choices of Nelson Mandela over the past 95 years have collectively lead himself, ourselves as a group to this moment in time – now you can chalk that up to “coincidence” or you can believe that it was about choices and being situationally aware and understanding and listening to the message that we are given when the opportunity presents itself.
I am not a religious person I prefer to think of myself as a spiritual person. That being said I understand the value of prayer and meditation and am reminded that as we often pray for resolve and specific items we are not given those items; we are however, given the opportunity to have them within our reach.
If we pray for tolerance we are not delivered tolerance; we instead are given the opportunity to be tolerant to those among us.
Thank you for the lesson Mr. Mandela, may your work live on.
“There is no easy walk to freedom” – NM