Community gathers to remember Mandela with personal stories, tributes
One day before world leaders from across the globe gathered with South Africans to mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela, Chemistry Professor Marc Zimmer said the memorial service would be a perfect example of the power of one of history’s most influential leaders.
“There will be heads of states of countries who did not support apartheid, and heads of states of countries that did,” Zimmer said. “They will all be together. That’s really why Mandela is my hero -- because he could do things like that.”
Connecticut College students, faculty and staff gathered Dec. 9, four days after Mandela’s passing on Dec. 5, to reflect on his life and legacy.
Mandela’s biggest legacy is showing the world “how love can be used as a catalyst for justice in human rights,” said Irene Bucken ’14, a sociology major who studied abroad for a semester in South Africa and spent two months volunteering with a non-profit organization there.
Bucken said she experienced Mandela’s impact in South Africa on many occasions, but two stand out in her mind. She said she made many South African friends while studying abroad, and one, a black South African, began dating a white student who was part of her program.
"I remember he once said to me -– and I wrote it down immediately because it was that beautiful –- ‘I was 8 years old when Nelson Mandela became president. I had lived eight years of my life under apartheid. I barely saw white people, and when I saw them, I hated them. I didn’t understand them. I didn’t know why they all hated us. Now, I am in love with this beautiful white woman, and I can’t believe she loves me, too. I never thought any white person would ever care about me. Without Mandela, I would be in jail for being with her. He has opened my heart and the hearts of others to care and fight for each other.’”
Bucken said she also witnessed Mandela’s impact when she had the opportunity to participate with the non-profit she was working for in a Nelson Mandela International Day service project in Cape Town. She said she was moved by the site of the community, including dozens of elementary school students, come together to clean up and revitalize a neighborhood playground.
At the event, Anthropology Professor Anthony Graesch encouraged students and other attendees to use Mandela’s life as an inspiration.
“We must continue to challenge the narrow pillars that continue to support ideologies of racism and hate throughout the world,” he said. “We can start in our own communities.”