Remembering Mandela -- Freedom and Equality as Shared Responsibilities

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. -- Nelson Mandela

Today is an international day of remembrance in honor of Nelson Mandela, on the 96th anniversary of his birthday. When he passed last December, we saw and experienced an outpouring of love and messages of thankfulness from his followers. To reflect on that moment, I wrote this letter to our school community. Almost nine months later, these thoughts still ring true, and I hope that over the years, #MandelaDay will continue to remind us of the values Mandela championed, the struggles he brought to light, and the shared responsibilities that need our sustained attention.

December 12, 2013

In reading through Mandela's quotes and reflections, I have been thinking a lot about how Mandela's legacy speaks to our work at Blue School. In his speech at the memorial service yesterday, President Obama urged us to make Mandela’s life's work our own -- to carry on with his journey to freedom and equality for all people.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world - you can make his life's work your own. Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and it set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba's example, he makes me want to be a better man. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength - for his largeness of spirit - somewhere inside ourselves.

To me, this idea that freedom and equality are shared responsibilities is part of the public purpose of Blue School. It is both our charge and our responsibility to think beyond the everyday life of our school, and to ensure that the young people who join us at 2 years old and leave us at 10 or 11 have the foundation for a life of courage, love, resilience, and patience. While, as Obama said, we may always fall short of his example, we can nourish hope and seek to fulfill the dream that each of our children will live a life that is passionately, courageously and justly pursued. For as the families, educators and children at Blue School, we have freedoms that are unique to us, and therefore we also have unique responsibilities to sustain those freedoms and expand access to others.

We meet our responsibilities here and at home when we teach children to listen to one another, to take a deep breath when they feel big emotions, to delve into a complex idea, to try to answer a question that likely has no "right" answer, to stand up for a cause, to ask what is just, to connect ideas from one domain to another, to share. It begins when we teach love, kindness, compassion and respect. It begins when we model the confidence to pose a hard question or to forge a path that may end in failure, and when we all practice the resilience to try again, to change, to reinvent our minds as well as the things we make. It begins when we strive to model these ways of being and embody these values for our children and for the adults in our lives.

In this season of wishes and dreams, I hope that we always remember Mandela. I hope that once we catch our breath and resume our daily lives after his passing, we carry what he taught us in our hearts and minds, and bring a little more of Mandela's example into our everyday lives and actions.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended. -- Nelson Mandela
Posted on July 19, 2014 .