Nelson Mandela, a hero, recently died at 95 after an iconic political career. For most of my generation, Mandela is remembered for fighting apartheid in South Africa as the United States was experiencing its own Civil Rights Movement. The loss of this human-rights champion has had a significant effect on me, as well as being inspirational for our students at Los Altos High School.
Last summer approximately 20 Los Altos High students traveled to South Africa as part of the One Dollar For Life humanitarian project that assists schools financially, teaches young students and provides aid in an area close to Mandela’s home in Johannesburg.
One Dollar For Life is a nonprofit organization whose genesis at Los Altos High has resulted in the building of schools and support for students living in the Third World. These high school students were promoting principles Mandela embraced: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
In July, I visited my son, who is working in southern Africa for a nongovernmental agency, Innovations for Poverty Action, in collaboration with local tribesmen to better manage their rangeland. During that visit, I traveled to the Robben Island Prison, where Mandela spent the majority of his 27 years as a political prisoner.
The previous day, President Barack Obama had come to pay homage to this important world leader.
I recently read Mandela’s excellent autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom” (Little, Brown, 1994), which chronicles his tortured life in prison, his release and reconciliation with white jailers, and his election as the first black president of the newly democratic South Africa.
I am pleased that our students continue to champion the ideals that Mandela espoused and learn from his words and deeds. The passing of this great hero saddens us all, but we will continue to live fuller lives because of his prodigious legacy.