There is a lot of Nelson Mandela tributes out there today as he passed away, but I want to share how he actually impacted my life. In my second year of law school, I interned at the Education Commission of the States in Denver. Right before I left for Denver, I finished his memoir, A Long Walk to Freedom. To this day, it still remains the best book I personally ever read. Already, I was deeply moved by the book and it influenced how I saw my (still very, very small) role in education policy and the larger world. Upon arriving in Denver, though, Mandela immediately changed my life. I was poor and thus lived very cheaply in the dorms at Colorado Christian University during my stay in Denver. They placed me with a German (Jürgen Westermann) and a young refugee from the Congo, José Kabeya. Jose and I started talking lots more about Africa, I was of course interested after the book, and (thanks 98% to him) we together started the first steps toward a school (and now much more) in Kinshasa, DR Congo. I remember sitting over pizza and settling on the name as if it were yesterday. It is (still) called the Morning Star Center for Social Progress: http://www.msc-africa.org/ - Thanks nearly entirely to Jose, his wife Sheri Kabeya, and the team on the ground in Kinshasa hundreds of kids have gone to school (which MSC built), hundreds more have received basic medical help (at a clinic MSC built), a whole community now has fresh drinking water (from the well MSC dug), and people are getting real jobs with the technical degrees MSC offered. Who would have thought such a thing was possible?
What Mandela taught me, and the experience with my friend Jose reinforced, is that nothing is impossible. Madiba's was the unlikeliest of stories (which you should absolutely read and appreciate). Two young men, living poorly in Colorado, starting a school/college/clinic in Kinshasa, Congo ... to me at the time, that was equally unlikely. But, both happened. Nelson Mandela changed my understanding of change. After that summer, change was not something distant or impossibly difficult ... change is now something I do daily. Everyday I wake up knowing I can change the world that day. That summer, I learned how to be resolute. I could (and I hope do) make the world a better place. Nelson Mandela taught me how. This upcoming summer, I will be in South Africa ... and I plan to pay my respects and thank him in person.