Dec 6, 2013

Sharing Mandela's Legacy with New Generations

When anyone has lived for 95 years, has shaped a nation, has inspired and altered the entire world trajectory, his passing should not be mourned. What can be mourned is that his spirit is no longer embodied here with us.  Yet it lives on through his words and actions, a legacy for generations to come.
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers,  1996
Now the burden falls to us to not only sustain the momentum of Mandela's courageous public life, but to find ways to transfer our awareness of his importance to future generations. These young people lack experience with apartheid and it's inhumane impact on every member of society, oppressed and oppressors.
Picture books can play a dramatic role in this process, focusing on personal stories and images that make abstract concepts come alive for readers. THE DAY GOGO WENT TO VOTE: SOUTH AFRICA, APRIL, 1994, written by Elinor Batezat Sisulu and illustrated by Sharon Wilson is just such a book.

The author served as a polling booth official on those days when, for the first time, ALL citizens of South Africa participated in a free election. This was the first time elections included people of every skin tone and ethnicity, every shade of melanin in their skins, both voters and candidates. This story is told from the point of view of a very young girl who accompanies her great grandma (Gogo) to the voting location. So many were expected to vote that the election allowed the polling places to be open for three days, with the first day devoted to the elderly and disabled. The commitment to exercise this long-denied right can be witnessed in videos such as this Peter Jennings YouTube clip.

This picture book was published while Nelson Mandela was president of the Republic of South Africa, elected during those very days. His quotation on the back of the book says it all:
"A picture book like this, which evokes the spirit of an historic occasion
 as seen through the eyes of a child, is a moving testament 
to the strength and courage of the South African people."

Does South Africa still have major problems? Yes, every society does, and the larger the nation the more complex and challenging are those problems. Does every resident of South Africa treat every other with respect, seeing themselves in others regardless of their color or station in life? Of course not. But, thanks to the efforts of Mandela, his followers, and the international support they inspired, all do have equal standing under the law now, all have legal recourse when violations are perceived or witnessed.
Harper Collins Publishers, 2013
How Mandela came to be such a leader is portrayed, in part, in Kadir Nelson's picture book, NELSON MANDELA.
"Kadir Nelson tells the story of Mandela, a global icon, in poignant verse and glorious illustrations. It is the story of a young boy's determination to change South Africa and of the struggles of a man who eventually became the president of his country by believing in equality for people of all colors. Readers will be inspired by Mandela's triumph and his lifelong quest to create a more just world." 
New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book, 2013.

These two books are perfect portals to understanding the time, place, and power of Mandela and his role in the history of South Africa and the world. Older students will find countless resources, online and in print. One place to start includes his inspiring quotations.

Wherever the discussion and readings lead, let's make sure that Mandela's greatness, his almost unimaginable accomplishments, do not overshadow the fact that his efforts affected individual human lives, or that he is treated as anything other than a human himself. These picture books reveal how very human Mandela was.

Perhaps one of the greatest humans in history.

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