News of Nelson Mandela’s passing yesterday saddened the world. Images of prominent peace leaders…Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Mikhail Gorbachev, Martin Luther King, Jr., currently, Malala Yousafzai…and certainly Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s fearless anti-apartheid leader, are amongst the first to come to mind. Mandela fought for calm in his homeland. Even after 27 years in prison, Mandela was elected the country’s first black president. He lived and modeled peace right up until his death at 95 years of age.
The United States could learn a lot from Mandela’s lead. It has been home to other similar-minded peace leaders. Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, is remembered today by adults and school children alike. With a holiday dedicated in his memory and lessons taught annually, focusing on positive citizenship and leadership skills, some adults remember his passing as clearly as they do President Kennedy’s.
More locally, Missouri has a long history of tense race relations. During the Civil War, Missouri was a border state. Many inhabitants consider Missouri a Midwestern state, but it clearly borders on the south. Indeed, there are even two ways to pronounce the state’s name, depending on whether you grew up in state or south of here. Even though a desegregation plan began in the 1950s and 60s, many communities today remain racially segregated.
In St. Louis, where the city school district has suffered for decades, students are offered busing to attend county school districts. Rather than building up the poorly-accredited districts or those that have lost accreditation, money is spent to transport students to better schools. The failing districts thus dip further into financial strain. Morale is low and teachers don’t stay long enough to build up their schools. Struggling schools continue to spiral downward.
Ferguson-Florissant School District is a recent example of how poor race relations can interfere with quality education. There, the Board of Education is made up of white and Latino community members. However, over 50% of the student population is black. They currently have an African American superintendent who has been put on paid leave and they are looking to potentially replace him. He is doing what he feels is in the best interest of the district. Many parents agree with him and have fought the School Board’s stand. Once again, differences of opinion in so far as race relations are rumored to be at least part of the consideration.
We Americans have a tough road ahead of us. Our schools are not producing the lifelong learners we will need to lead us further into the 21st century. We still have racially-based altercations nearly 150 years following the end of our Civil War. Our economy is in constant fluctuation. It is getting increasingly difficult to get a job doing anything we are content doing and that provides for financial stability. Societal pressures are pulling our children away from us. Technology is taking the place of authentic relationships.
Join me today and every day in remembering the legacy of peace Nelson Mandela brought to South Africa. We can hope that the American population learns to put aside our own selfish needs, to forge relationships where they are not, and to come together as one united nation, in support of our leaders who have the courage to take on such a trying responsibility. To find success and happiness, we will need to encounter new challenges with an open mind and a strong sense of cooperation.
Mr. Mandela, you will be missed!