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Child Watch® Column: "A Concrete Way to Remember and Honor Nelson Mandela"

Release Date: January 3, 2014

Marian Wright Edelman

Last month, all across the world people joined together to mourn former South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. There was a deep shared sense of loss at the passing of one of the rare human beings who truly helped change the world. He suffered extraordinary hardships, spent 27 years in prison, including 18 on Robben Island under the harshest conditions, and walked out ramrod straight, unbowed, full of a spirit of reconciliation, and offering a hand of peace and hope. He became the first Black President of his country and transformed the way we view leadership and our individual human ability to make the impossible possible.

One of his legacies we can help realize and sustain is the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, whose mission is building a child rights movement and changing the way South Africa treats children and youths. Their work includes supporting children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic, empowering children with disabilities, and promoting youth leadership: “Nelson Mandela’s last wish was to build a children’s hospital in Johannesburg to serve all children of southern Africa regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or ability to pay. The Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital (NMCH) will be Mr. Mandela’s legacy and live by his creed that ‘a society’s soul is revealed by how it treats its children.’” I hope we all support this fund and hospital campaign.   

In his acceptance speech after being awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, he said this about the promise of a new South Africa: “At the southern tip of the continent of Africa, a rich reward [is] in the making, an invaluable gift is in the preparation for those who suffered in the name of all humanity when they sacrificed everything . . . This reward will not be measured in money. Nor can it be reckoned in the collective price of the rare metals and precious stones that rest in the bowels of the African soil we tread in the footsteps of our ancestors. It will and must be measured by the happiness and welfare of the children, at once the most vulnerable citizens in any society and the greatest of our treasures. The children must, at last, play in the open veld, no longer tortured by the pangs of hunger or ravaged by disease or threatened with the scourge of ignorance, molestation and abuse.” His commitment as a leader to South Africa’s children was the extension of a principle that has governed leaders of traditional communities for generations: If the children are well, then all of us are well. 

In his Presidential inaugural address President Mandela expanded on his simple vision  for all of South Africa’s families: “Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.” President Mandela’s words echo Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize speech where Dr. King said: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits,” words now etched in stone on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C.

In September 2013, a statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled in front of the South African Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington. Close by on the same Avenue is a beautiful statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Amidst all the monuments to wars and military leaders in our nation’s capital, we now have lasting testaments to three great prophets of nonviolence and peace to guide our actions at this inflection point in our nation’s and world’s history.  

The lives of Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela show us what is possible. Let’s don’t just celebrate and mourn them. Let’s follow them.  


Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Submitted by efia at: January 8, 2014
It is imperative that the concern and appreciation expressed for Mr. Mandela be extended to include the call for the proper treatment and release of the more than 50 Mandelas held in USA prisons for the past 30+ years. Most of these imprisoned COINTELPRO/Civil Rights Era political activists have been imprisoned longer for lesser uses of force. They are largely held in solitary confinement for years. The Angola 3 has been held in solitary confinement for more than 40 years. Where is the sympathy and support for them, more where is the respect and admiration? Or was this more hipocracy? another fundraiser?

Submitted by laurielu at: January 4, 2014
I was very sad to hear about the passing of one of my greatest heros, Nelson Mandela. I see many of the same wonderful qualities in our leader, Barack Obama, and I am looking forward to observing his great contributions through out his life.

Submitted by maribeth at: January 4, 2014
And also in support of these ideals and potential for development of the children of South Africa is an organization (non=profit)called African Classroom Connection based in Minneapolis which provides funds to construct actual school buildings, classroom by classroom, in Zululand, S.A. I visited some in August with Henry Bromelkampp, founder of A.C.C. You should all learn about this wonderful outreach as well which is directly impacting many young lives in this underserved area.

Submitted by Rita at: January 4, 2014
I very much appreciate this information! I will be sending in a contribution to this very worthy fund. Thank you.

Submitted by CHAPPYE at: January 4, 2014
I, WE KNOW THAT MANDELA AND MLK WERE REMARKABLE MEN ANC VISIONISTS. BUT MLK WAS ASSINATED BEFORE HIS WORK WAS FINISHED. LIKEWISE, MANDELA, WITH THE AID AND COMPLICITY OF OUR GOVERNMENT WAS IMPRISIONED UNTIL SOUTH AFRICA THOUGHT HE WOULD BE AN IMPOTENT POWER WHEN HE WAS FINALLY WAS RELEASED. THEY WERE VERY, VERY WRONG - BUT HE STILL WAS NOT ABLE TO FINISH HIS MISSION BEFORE HIS DEATH. HE JUST RAN OUT OF TIME/LIFE. SO AMERICA AND SOUTH AFRICA ARE TWO KINDRED NATIONS OF ONE KIND AND ACCORD. WHITE SOUTH AFRICAN STILL CONTROL THE GREAT, GREAT MAJORITY OF WEALTH, LAND, AND POWER --FREEING MANDELA COST THEM VERY LITTLE. IN FACT, THE WORLD IS LAVISHING THEM WITH ACCOLADES FOR THE "RESOLUTION" OF IT'S RACIAL PROBLEMS, WHEN IN REALITY THERE HAS BEEN VERY LITTLE REAL PROBLEMS FOR THE POOR, UNEDUCATED, DISENFRANCHISED BLACK BROTHERS. AND I SAY "BROTHERS", BECAUSE NOW THEY HAVE BEGUN THAT SAME, LONG, STRUGGLE THAT AMERICA HAS FOUGHT, AND IS STILL FIGHTING, FOR REAL, TRUE, PERSONAL EQUALITY, ECONOMIC FREEDOM, AND A LIFE OF EQUAL SELF-DETERMINATION. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE AT THIS TIME, IS I/WE WERE FORCEABLY UPROOTED FROM OUR LAND AND ENSLAVED, TORTURED, ABUSED, POLITICALLY FREED IN NAME ONLY, BUT STILL HATED AND POLITICALLY AND ECONOMICALLY ENSLAVED, TO THIS DAY. OUR HISTORY IS RIFE WITH RACISM, MASSACRES, AND FORCEFUL LOSS OF LIFE, LIMBS, AND SAFETY. AND WHEN WE DID MANAGE SOME SUCCESS, WE WERE BURNED OUT AND MASSACRED, TO A MAN -- AND OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS NOT MADE WHOLE IN EVEN ONE INSTANCE OVER THE YEARS. NOT EVEN A SIMPLE APOLOGY. SO, I CANNOT SAY THAT WE ARE BETTER OFF "FREE"; NOR CAN I SAY THAT THE BLACK SOUTH AFRICANS ARE BETTER OFF NOW. WHAT I CAN SAY IS: LIVING IN A CIRCUMSCRIBED TOTAL "CONTROLLED", UNFREE, ENVIROMMENT, WHERE WE, DAILY, SEE OUR FORMER CAP- TOR, LIVING AND REVELING IN TRUE FREEDOM, WHILE WE CAN ONLY WONDER "HOW LONG, LORD, HOW LONG?!!, IS ONLY MARGINALLY BETTER. WE ARE STILL THE SAME AS BEFORE -- WE JUST HAVE NEW LABELS, AND SOME OF US HAVE A CHANGE OF CLOTHES! AND, LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST, WE BLACK AMERICANS WE STOLEN, HIJACKED, SHANGHIED FROM OUR HOME LAND TO AMERICAN SLAVERY, WHILE BLACK AFRICANS ARE STILL "FREE" PRISONERS IN THEIR VERY OWN HOME LAND BY THEIR CONQUERER.

Submitted by Susie at: January 3, 2014
I made a pledge to myself to read, "Long Walk to Freedom," in honor of Nelson Mandela. I will now make a contribution to the Foundation in his name to honor his vision of a world where no child goes hungry or cannot be treated if ill. Thank you as always for urging us to be advocates for the most important cause in the universe: the welfare of all of our children.

Submitted by Anonymous at: January 3, 2014
If we are not leaving a legacy for the children of the nation/world, we have little hope and faith in the survival of a world born out of faith and trust in humanity. Children are our greatest resource for a future of hope, peace and goodwill for children. We can't teach it to our children, youth,and young adults without modeling that life. We are what we do and our children in their innocence can feel the worth of our daily walk in life. I have been a follower and admired President Marian years. She was the reason I joined PCAN many moons ago. I value and continue to get my inspiration and facts from "Child Watch"!