Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

My Hero Died Yesterday

I can’t really think of anything that can truly reflect how I am feeling as I write this.

I spent the day yesterday embroiled in a political rollercoaster of hope and despair, discussion and vitriol, hugs and finger-pointing. I work with students at SF State where the relationship between Jewish and Palestinian students is so often strained and where many of us try desperately to lift ourselves from the accusations and blame to the listening and reaching out.

At some point in the afternoon, I mentioned to a frustrated group of students that it is possible for two peoples who have such a history of conflict to put it behind them if they truly desire peace. It has happened, I said, in South Africa, in our lifetime, under the visionary leadership of Nelson Mandela.

There was nodding, but then one student looked at me, sensing that I did not know: “He just passed away,” she said quietly, and I needed a moment to compose myself. I knew such news was to be expected, had been preparing myself for months, but it nonetheless knocked the wind out of me.

I REMEMBER as a 10 year-old, I had a sticker on my pencil-case – Free Nelson Mandela – his incarceration was the first political campaign I took on. A teacher told me that I should not have a political sticker in the classroom and then seemed to relent and told me I could keep it if I told the class what the sticker represented. I remember standing before my class, but not what I said. Still I guess it was my first political speech.

I REMEMBER when I demonstrated as a teenager in front of the South African Embassy in London (late 1970′s, early 1980′s) and was taken by police when I stood on the embassy steps.  I was half proud of myself, half fearing what my parents would say if/when they found out.

I REMEMBER crying with joy as I watched his release and heard his first speech as a free man.

I REMEMBER watching in wonder as he became the first black President of South Africa and made his inaugural speech.

Whatever else happens, in the many conflicts around the world, in the conflict I am embroiled in, when we need to open our mouths and speak up, we should all take a step back and wonder: What would Madiba say?

I REMEMBER Nelson Mandela and I pledge: I WILL NEVER FORGET his lessons.

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Finally, here is a great 13-minute video of his life with some amazing footage:

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Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of GalbriethThe First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3 – all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@elfwriter). Hang out with Alon on Google+

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One thought on “My Hero Died Yesterday

  1. Beautifully expressed, Alon. It just (suddenly) struck me that an even bigger tragedy than Mandela’s death is just what made him so very special – he and his kind are very, very rare. Why is that? Why do we have 1000 people trying to get rich for every person that fights for fairness and for our future as a species?

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