It is hard to hear of the passing of Nelson Mandela today. He was one of the major political figures of my youth, a living icon to look up to as a man of unprecedented strength of spirit, yet a man of passive resistance. Icons of a former day, Gandhi or Martin Luther King, were historical figures by the time I came of age, but Mandela was still in prison, fighting for an end to Apartheid.
When I was a student at Knox College, a group of us got involved in the anti-Apartheid movement, arguing for divestiture from companies with holdings in South Africa. I can’t claim to have been a major part of that movement on our campus. My good friend Adam Bruns was one of the main organizers, though, and I remember hanging out at the shanty we built on campus to raise awareness. I say that we built it, though I don’t recall how involved I was in the actual construction. I remember hanging out there many days and talking politics and social issues (and I’m sure other more local and personal issues as well).
Later, I would follow Mandela’s successful battle to be released from prison after 27 years and then watch as he helped guide a nation through reconciliation and rebuilding. Those years were not without challenges, yet Nelson Mandela always seemed the epitome of honor and nobility. His influence in the country, the continent, and indeed the world. He was a leader who helped make the world a much better place in the 21st century. Without him and those he inspired, our world would be a much darker place.