Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Lyla called to invite me to my old elementary school because it was being renamed after Nelson Mandela and Nelson Mandela himself would be there! I had to go! As a model student, it seemed like the most fitting thing for me to do. I had one more year left at that elementary school being renamed after Madiba but I moved so was at another school. Despite this, there was no question I would be allowed to attend because I was such a model student and kept in touch with others. Still, I had my reservations. I had to study for an upcoming test. But it was on the weekend, reasoned Lyla. Still, we went to Skydome a few years ago with the same school and saw him there and I thought he was just an ordinary guy in a very cozy looking sweater. What was the big deal about this guy I considered to be very ordinary?
Still, to this day, as a grown woman understanding the depth of evil and darkness this world is capable of, l still consider him an ordinary person. The only difference is I realize how extraordinary it is to remain ordinary under the circumstances he was in. He never broke. I returned to that neighborhood working in a radio station when I reunited with a classmate and she confessed she actually read his entire, gargantuan autobiography. She was also one of the students who cried in his presence, which she explained later was because she could see the depth of pain he endured in his lifetime, as if on a soul level there was that recognition. Still, it would take some time for me to realize through certain experiences in my life the profound impact of his legacy. Nelson Mandela was truly a gift to all of humanity, throughout space and time.
After that work contract at the radio station expired, I decided it was time to apply to graduate school. I was initially accepted to Carleton University in Ottawa, and spent the summer on vacation in New York City. There for the first time, I was in a rundown neighborhood and saw the effects of slavery on Black Americans to this day, so denigrated and dismissed from this monstrous system. I thought it was a curious and unfortunate fact of American Life, but when I returned and moved to our country's capital Ottawa, it was the start of an election season and a scandal broke of our own political leader in Blackface and Brownface. Having lived in the city, I knew that racism was also here, home of the Underground Railroad. We're just better at keeping it underground.
When I heard news one of my good friends from highschool passed away unexpectedly who was a young Black man, I knew it was time to return to Toronto and leave the program. It was only months later a pandemic hit and the death of George Floyd mobilized the world as it was awakened to what I began to realize months before. Revisiting these childhood memories, I decided to read "Long Walk to Freedom" and I was so touched by this man's legacy. It was the simple joys he held so earnestly, the fond memories of riding bulls, stealing corn and roasting it to eat in his childhood countryside home, that gave me profound perspective. That in my modernized life full of complaints, I was so humbled by his simple pleasures and realized I had so much more to be thankful for. In large part, because of people like him who fought for a greater future for generations to come like mine.
This book chronicles his political rise and how he came to be a formidable voice in the struggle, how he maintained his strength and dignity in prison, and how he was simply a small part of a tidal wave of change as there was very little he could do in the outside world while in prison. But arguably, he made the most important change which was within himself, that created a ripple effect into the world. Such is the power of the human spirit, that only one that aligns completely with the greater good of the world, will change it irretrievably for the better- and nothing can ever undo that. Nothing.
Reading this book and its context within my life and the next steps felt like the missing piece of the puzzle for my life. My whole life, I've felt I have a purpose as I believe everyone does. But throughout my journey I just saw snippets of what that was. Only with the inspiration of Madiba and knowing that everything in my life brought me to that moment of awareness of racial equity necessary in this world, I realized his long walk continues. For what he had achieved, there was still more to be done and I am certain it is possible to come to heal that wound once and for all because he had achieved a great part of it. I know after the George Floyd protests, the next step on this long walk required global allies, and I understood I could make a significantly positive change in that.
This book, more than anything, is a manual of how to move forward for generations to come- that was always his intention for setting out a book in the world as he was a humble man and never intended his book as a means to brag of his accomplishments. The insidious evil that is racism is so overarching in its influence that he knew it would require more than his lifetime to combat it. But because Apartheid was dismantled in the heart of humanity, South Africa, I think we have a real fighting chance to heal that wound once and for all. This book gave me this new wellspring of hope and inspiration to continue on in my own life, living aligned with the integrity of my spirit, something we all struggle with because of the challenges of living here on earth. More than anything, reading this book gave me the inner strength to finally be ready to completely face the challenges of my life.
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