Last Thursday marked the end of a world-renowned leader’s life, but colleges and students across the country are organizing commemorative events to reflect on Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
On Thursday, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture hosted a free screening of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and following panel discussion. The event had already been planned, but Mandela’s passing gave the event added significance.
Domenic Canonico, Notre Dame sophomore and junior fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture, says seeing the story of Mandela’s sacrifice and resilience was a moving way to honor his life.
“One thing from the discussion that really struck me was the idea that Mandela’s ‘long walk to freedom’ was not just freedom from apartheid or from prison, but also a freedom from the internal prison of fear, anger and violence that had gripped him and so many other South Africans for so long,” Canonico says. “To embrace forgiveness rather than vengeance is a type of spiritual or internal freedom itself — in fact the only real freedom.”
Emmanuel Katongole, associate professor of theology and peace studies at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, served as a speaker for the discussion.
“Mandela has that combination of humility and greatness, of resilience and exuberance, of courage and graciousness,” Katongole says. “Having one without the other is a problem. I think the point of the character of a peacemaker is that they’re always in this balancing act, which points to the fragile nature of peace.”
The Coca-Cola Company, in collaboration with The Weinstein Company, has also organized free screenings of the film for college students, faculty and staff in eight U.S. cities, with 1,300 attendees in the first two days.
Rev. Dr. Forrest Pritchett, the director of Martin Luther King Scholarship Association (MLKSA) at Seton Hall University (SHU), reached out to organize what became an event attended by administration, faculty, religious community members, students and 15 student organizations on campus.
Pritchett says Tuesday’s event featured three faculty speakers addressing Mandela’s legacy and today’s students, the complexities of making change in the international arena and various laws that had been passed to help colonialism dominate the politics of many African countries, and the pan-African movement to liberate people of African descent.
Following the speakers, around 20 students and faculty members read quotes from Mandela and two students spoke about the impact of Mandela’s life on themselves and how to move forward with his legacy in mind.
For SHU sophomore and MLKSA student scholar Raul Ausa, Mandela has always been a personal hero.
“This memorial was a truly powerful event that gave us all the opportunity to pause and reflect on the teachings and work of a great freedom fighter and champion for human rights,” Ausa says. “It gave us all the opportunity to learn a little more, mourn and pray, and hear the challenge that Mandela’s legacy poses to us in our day and in our context: how will we continue the struggle?”
What stood out to Wallace Weaver, a SHU senior and MLKSA student scholar, is Mandela’s strong bond with youth and how he named them the young lions of the struggle.
“We cannot let complacency and comfort make us lazy in our activism. We cannot advance his legacy by simply recalling what he said and accomplished,” Weaver says. “We must…remember that we are the young lions of struggle. We can bring a change to our state, our country and this world — all we need is the discipline and the spirit to do so.”
Pritchett notes that SHU and many other universities are planning events to continue the discussion next semester.
“Many of us are firmly committed to seeing to it that we do a more extensive program in the spring, not just to commemorate his life but to set the groundwork for where we go from here. As one institution, what do we need to do? Where do we need to go?”
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