Have you ever been asked the question if you could sit down with one person from history who would it be? For a long time my answer was clear: Martin Luther King. It’s what you might expect from a bi-racial 25 year old whose family was born off the U.S. Civil Rights Struggle. A struggle that through the sacrifices and leadership of men and women like Dr. King saw blacks in America gain equal rights.
My answer has been complicated over the last few years however, as I began to learn more and more about the country of South Africa, and its infamous leader Nelson Mandela. Even more so when I moved to Durban 9 months ago. So, now if I were asked that question, I would cheat, and say both.
If that were the case I don’t see myself saying a whole lot. I can only imagine what a conversation between those two men, who fought the same battle in different wars, would be like. Would they share tears over friends lost? Smiles over victories won? Or maybe an intense conversation over violent vs. nonviolent protest?
I wonder if they knew that in 2015, 46 years after the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and 21 years after South Africa officially became a democracy, that we’d be fighting the same fight.
If I’ve learned anything over the last year or so it’s that people can’t be told how to feel. That changes in laws, while necessary and helpful do not equal changes in perception. Recent events in America have highlighted just how true that is, while South Africa’s non-white population continues to be burdened by negative perceptions, lack of opportunity and failing education systems.
Never the less, Dr. King and Mr. Mandela’s messages were both messages of hope. A hope so strong that they were willing to die for it. A hope that lives on in the communities of South Africa and America alike.
I was fortunate enough to travel back the U.S. for the holidays. Where I witnessed 60,000 people of all races marching through New York City making a loud and unified statement that black lives matter. There is still much work to do, but hope remains.
As for Durban? I see it everyday in our coaches. Our coaches who are part of the ever passionate free generation. Our coaches who work day in day out, not only to improve their own lives but to help bridge divides, develop leaders and change perceptions in their communities.
As I read through some of Dr. King’s writings last night, I couldn’t help but be struck by how his words still ring true today. How they continue to offer hope and encouragement:
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.