We are All Mandela

by Imari Paris Jeffries

Imari Paris Jeffries is Jumpstart’s Senior Vice President of Field Management & Policy.

Yesterday the world came to a standstill upon learning about the loss of Nelson Mandela. Together, we mourn the passing of a great man, an inspiring humanitarian, and a true moral compass of our time. Through Mandela’s example, we explored what it means to live a life for justice. I remember as a high school student wearing my old school leather Africa necklace. Free Mandela, Free Mandela. Rap music of the 80s and early 90s was the theme music to the emerging consciousness that Mandela personified to me and others during that time.

Mandela represented the American Dream. As a man who spent 27 years in prison, he was able to overcome obstacles and become President of a nation. He continued to advocate for service and justice after he left office. He asked President Bill Clinton to help bring a national service program like AmeriCorps to South Africa. That service movement featured idealist, young people working in schools to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable.

It’s that call to service that drove Jumpstart’s founders, 20 years ago, to harness the power of caring adults to give every child a chance at success. It’s the same guiding light that keeps our thousands of Corps members motivated to work to change the world one child at a time, each and every day.

“There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living,” Mandela once said. Our Corps members strive to bring this spirit into neighborhoods and preschool classrooms across the country. The results of putting Mandela’s rhetoric into action are empowering. We see it in the children we serve, the communities we impact, and the college students and older adult volunteers we transform through service.

While we have lost a visionary, Mandela’s lifelong charge for justice is unending. His leadership and passion will continue to serve as a model for us all. As we honor his legacy and reflect on his life, let us remember that we are all Mandela. We all have the power to change the world. We all have the power to live by our values, and we all have the right to fight for justice, equality, and truth.

Together, we can help all children build the key language and literacy skills they need to take on the world.

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