There are very few people whose actions effectively change the course of history. As the face of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, Nelson Mandela has devoted his life to social justice, spent 27 years imprisoned for his convictions, has served as an inspiration to political prisoners all over the world and has been a consistent crusader for democracy. After being released from Robben Island in 1990, he was elected as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994 and served until 1999. He has since traveled the world as a global statesman, speaking in opposition to the NATO intervention in Kosovo and the US-lead invasion of Iraq. In 2004, Mandela stepped away from the public spotlight to focus on spending time with family and friends.
In 2009, the United Nations named July 18th Nelson Mandela International Day to commemorate his activism on his birthday. This year, Mandela is turning 95 and his poor health has made this Mandela Day particularly significant. We encourage you to participate by dedicating 67 minutes – one for every year of Mandela’s public service – of your time to help others. Is there a community organization you’ve seen doing work that you’re interested in? See if they need an extra hand. Get to know the person sitting next to you on your commute to work – building relationships is key to coalition building. Get tested for HIV and encourage your friends, family and partners to do so also. Though creating social change often seems too “big” for one person, Mandela Day reminds us that change is sometimes greatest when everyone commits to doing something small.
by Meg Cleary