Nelson Mandela Day — What Can South Africa Teach The U.S. About Kindness?

Today is officially celebrated in South Africa as Nelson Mandela Day, where people are asked to give 67 minutes of their time to make a difference in their communities, according to the Lonely Planet. The rest of the world is also urged to make a difference in their communities, whether they are from South Africa or any other country.

In light of the violence that has rocked the U.S. over the past few weeks, perhaps Mandela Day could help our country get back on track and heal our communities. If just one person in every town, city, or community would give their time to make a difference in their communities, perhaps the racial hatred and violence can begin to cease, but it will take commitment.

July 18 was officially designated by the United Nations as Mandela Day in 2009, and it is also Mandela’s birthday. The holiday is to recognize the former South African president’s contribution to a culture of peace and freedom in Africa, and people around the world celebrate the day by giving back to their communities and making a difference. If you can uplift your community in any way, you are urged to do so in order to spread the message of Nelson Mandela Day: love and kindness to promote peace. The reason the holiday asks people to devote at least 67 minutes of their time to this cause is because Mandela dedicated 67 years of his life to servicing humanity.

Mandela began his political career in South Africa in 1944, when he joined the African National Congress and helped form the ANC Youth League. Mandela continued to serve the ANCYL, and through the efforts of the league, the Programme of Action was adopted in 1949. This action was a pivotal turning point in the organization’s existence and in Mandela’s life. The league, led by Mandela, fought to end Apartheid in Africa. The action called on the league to take actions such as civil disobedience, strikes, boycotts, and other non-violent forms of resistance in order to end Apartheid, which was the government-sanctioned segregation of blacks and whites.

In 1952, Mandela was chosen to be the national volunteer-in-chief of the Defiance Campaign, which encouraged civil disobedience against unjust laws. That same year, Mandela began his own law firm, Mandela & Tambo, with Oliver Tambo. This was the first black law firm established in South Africa. In 1955, Mandela was arrested and tried for treason in 1956, but he was acquitted in March 1961. When he was acquitted, Mandela went underground and began planning a national strike on March 29 through March 31 in 1961. In July of 1962, after Mandela secretly left South Africa under an assumed name, he was arrested and charged with leaving the country without a permit.

Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. In May 1963, the ANC and Communist Party activists were arrested in a police raid. In October 1963, Mandela was put on trial for sabotage, along with those arrested in the police raid. While facing the death penalty during this trial, Mandela delivered his famous “Speech from the Dock” on April 20, 1964.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an idea which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an idea for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela and the other defendants were convicted on June 11, 1964, and sentenced to life in prison. Mandela’s health deteriorated in prison; he had prostate surgery in 1985 and was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1988. On February 11, 1990, after the ban on the ANC and the PAC was lifted, Mandela was released from prison. Mandela soon became involved again in his fight for equality, and four years later, he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president. After serving one term, Mandela stepped down but continued his role to uphold democracy, equality, and education in South Africa.

Mandela Day keeps his contributions to humanity going, with people performing random acts of kindness in their communities. Some things that Mandela Day has inspired in the past are food and clothing drives, blanket drives, and volunteering in communities around the world. Those things might seem small in a world with so much suffering, but violence needs to be met with kindness and compassion, rather than more violence.

The U.S. has seen more than its share of violence over the past year. It seems that violence has reared its ugly head over and over, whether at political rallies, mass shootings, protests over police brutality, or even at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The violence has been perpetrated by either extremists or mentally ill people, but most of the violence has been racially spurred. In just the past few weeks, it seems that violence against police officers has escalated, with eight policemen being killed this month in just two separate shootings about a week apart.

How can the U.S. learn from Mandela Day, a holiday that originated in South Africa? Mandela Day has a universal appeal for all people to set aside their differences with one another and make a difference in their communities. This appeal could not come at a greater time in the U.S. than now. With racial tension at its highest since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, one thing we can all do is reach out to communities of all races. Reach out to someone who has a different cultural background than you do. Donate your time to help those who are in need. While Mandela Day may not solve the world’s problems, a step in the right direction — from everyone — just might make a difference in a community that is hurting from racial indifference. Would it hurt to use compassion and understanding to try and make a difference today?

What can you do to make a difference on Mandela Day today and every day? Please share your thoughts below.

[Photo by Mark Lennihan/AP Images]