This has been a tough week for Americans, losing two icons of the Civil Rights movement—CT Vivian and Representative John Lewis—in a single day.
With the retrospectives playing on television, social media and the like, I was saddened not only because of the deaths of these moral giants but because their last days have been spent in the most vitriolic political arena we’ve seen in my lifetime. For that, I grieve.
Cordy Tindell (CT) Vivian, an American minister, was an author, activist and lieutenant of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther Kind, Jr. John Lewis spent his entire adult life advancing civil rights, first through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and as part of Dr. King’s inner circle, ultimately serving the public in Congress. Both recipients of the President’s Medal of Freedom.
A small bit of salve was placed on my wound when I woke up yesterday to find out that it was “Mandela Day,” around the world. Today is the anniversary of the birth date of the Founding Father of post-apartheid South Africa. Mandela Day, like the January holiday honoring the great Dr. King has become a day of service. The holiday, established more than a decade ago by the UN General Assembly, is an opportunity to not only honor Mandela, but a catalyst to encourage young people to serve their community (local and global).
I think that I am particularly drawn to this holiday following a formative trip to South Africa almost twenty years ago. In the midst of a challenging divorce, I took a trip to South Africa with a small nonprofit group. I cannot emphasize enough how transformative that experience was. We basked in the physical beauty of Cape Horn and Cape Town, as well as the extraordinary wildlife in Kruger National Park—but were challenged by the continuing abject poverty that remains in the Townships like Soweto, where over a million South Africans are forced to live. The trip to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades with other leaders of the African National Congress—one of the groups working to dismantle the apartheid regime.
Those who know and love Mandela affectionately call him by his Xhosa name “Madiba.” The idea of Madiba welcoming Lewis and Vivian into the heavenly realm this week, warmed my heart. May it warm yours, too.