As a high school student, I was made aware of the conditions in South Africa upon reading “All Things Fall Apart” written by Chinua Achebe’s. It was the first time I heard the word apartheid but it would be a few years later before I truly understood what apartheid meant. While attending the University of Illinois at Chicago then known as Circle Campus, I joined the Black Student Union. Having gone through my post-secondary education in primarily African American populated schools, I had to get use to such a diverse ethnic population in college. It was as a member of the BSU that I learned more about apartheid and the unjustly incarceration of Nelson Mandela.
During a time when I was just becoming actively involved in social and civic justice, there was no social media in addition it would be a decade before the Internet was a standard in homes. I wasn’t even knowledgeable about letter to the editor campaigns or how to get earned press for rallies or protest demonstrations. There were poorly attended meetings and even less attended protest rallies. Eventually, I moved on to other organizations but still prayed for the freedom of Nelson Mandela.
In 1990 the same year I earned my undergraduate degree there was serious talk of Nelson Mandela being set free. My wardrobe included t-shirts with Keith Haring artwork such as the one pictured here that had “Free South Africa”. The black and white t-shirts with splashes of red were simple but still made a bold statement. T-shirts from 1960 through the 80’s were the equivalent of social media sites today. You often could tell a persons social stance by the slogan on their t-shirt or the buttons they wore. One day in class bored with doodling, I started scribbling some poetry verses. One of my oldest and favorite poems was born “African Dancer”, inspired by Nelson Mandela.
I was born right in the middle of the 1960’s, I was a toddler during the assassinations of Rev. Dr. King and Sen. Robert Kennedy and a pre-schooler when astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I wasn’t aware of the protest of the Vietnam War or what it meant but I was old enough to understand the importance of Watergate and the resignation of President Nixon. I recall my fascination with a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia becoming President even though it would be later I learned he was also a brilliant Nuclear Engineer. I also had the opportunity to cast my vote for a Democratic ticket with the first female Vice Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro as well as for the first black man elected mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. All of these things happened prior to February 11, 1990, the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. Still to this day, I consider the release of Nelson Mandela as one of the most important moments in my lifetime. The only thing that compares to it is November 4, 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.
My reflections come as I realize the closest, I will ever come to meeting one of my all time heroes is by two degrees of separation from First Lady Michelle Obama. I am a proud supporter of the First Lady but one of the few times I felt envy was during her trip a little while ago to South Africa, where she met with Nelson Mandela in his home. As of the posting of this blog the former South African President is hospitalized in the intensive care unit, he is reported to be in serous but stable condition. I fear, I will not meet him in this lifetime but I pray that some way he reads this post or it is read to him. If I had one thing to say to him it would be thank you for showing what true forgiveness means. You are not my hero because of surviving in the prison but for bringing peace upon your release.
Drums beating in the wild.
His feet moving pounding.
Dust is rising
but the dancer doesn’t care.
The feel of the drum beat
is all that matters.
Can you feel it?
Can you understand the speech?
Life of the African dancer
he and his feet
only these have meaning.
Sleeping, eating only get in the way.
He breathes to dance everyday.
His movements are all that matter.
The sun has come and gone.
The moon has come and gone.
But the dancer still dances
for the freedom of his people.
by: Joyce M. Rose (c) 1990
*Photo Credits: Public domain photos.
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