Mandela's long walk: A road map for young black men
Nelson Mandela (Denis Farrell)

It's my view that Nelson Mandela is the alchemy of ambition that transmutes the lead of ordinary existence into the gold of immortal legacy, a currency recognised by the treasury of generations yet to draw breath.

The sons of Mandela's legacy continue to fight for a worthy cause, honouring the time Mandela spent in prison, away from the world as he knew it. This, however, never once broke his soul; in fact, it made him a giant in the human rights fight.

A new generation of young black males in their 20s from Africa, the African Diaspora, and the Americas is illuminated by the sun setting on Mandela's unwavering legacy. These men have become well-known leaders and human rights advocates because of Mandela's unwavering quest for justice and equality.

When I first heard about Mandela's death in 2013, I was just coming to the end of the first school term in my high school journey, and it was a significant experience for me. This was all set against the backdrop of my mother's friend's house, a place where conversations about the complex web of Jamaican social mores frequently centred on women's struggles and the confusing question of fatherhood.

My mother and her friend were deep in conversation when the background hiss of their exchanges suddenly focused on the breaking news of Mandela's death on TV. Although I was not personally acquainted with Mandela, I could sense the great influence of his legacy from the lavish praise my mother and her friend bestowed upon him.

It wasn't until later, through Ian Boyne's TV show Profile, that I was able gain a more nuanced understanding of Mandela's profound influence on Jamaica and the global stage. Introduced to Mandela's biological daughter, I began to appreciate the enormity of his contributions and legacy. Mandela emerged not just as a political giant but as a symbol of resilience and hope, leaving an indelible mark on the collective consciousness of Jamaica and the world at large.

My initial encounter with Mandela's passing was a mere ripple, but as the waves of knowledge unfolded, I found myself captivated by the far-reaching implications of his life and legacy.

Respecting Diverse Opinions

In a world full of strife and discord, Mandela's enduring message of respect for differing opinions echoes as a beacon of guidance for young black men of today. Mandela, the embodiment of peace and reconciliation, understood that true progress can only be achieved through dialogue and understanding. As we navigate the complexities of a globalised society, it is imperative for these young leaders to heed Mandela's counsel on fostering a culture of open discourse.

Mandela's emphasis on dialogue was not mere platitude but a cornerstone of his leadership. Young black men of today stand at the crossroads of a world in which opinions clash at all corners of our daily lives — from social media to face-to-face confrontation — and Mandela's legacy beckons them to engage in conversations that bridge gaps rather than widen divides. By embracing diverse perspectives, these leaders cultivate an environment in which the richness of collective thought becomes a catalyst for positive change.

Legacy of Influence

We have seen the sons of Mandela's legacy, such as Tylik M McMillan, an internationally recognised social justice leader and movement strategist from Washington, DC, work in activism to bring attention to the struggles of young black men, garnering features on major news outlets such as CNN, The Washington Post, British Broadcasting Corporation, The New York Times, and MSNBC, just to name a few.

Even a young black male writer like myself who writes to challenge the status quo and highlight what he deems to be missing from the columns of newspaper pages here in Jamaica — the empowerment of the young black man's gaze; the black man's struggle in life, from battling the pressures of being a present father in our sons' lives to being loyal husbands to our wives; the battle of owning one's true sexuality, whatever it may be; and the black man's life in the ghetto — strengthening my craft to one day be as strong as Toni Morrison, has been influenced by this man.

Service to Humanity

Mandela's journey from a young lawyer to a global symbol of resistance against oppression provides a profound template for the emerging leaders of today. His service to humanity, particularly as a human rights lawyer, illuminates the path these young men can tread in their pursuit of justice and equality. Mandela's commitment to defending the rights of all individuals, regardless of race or background, serves as a model for contemporary human rights activism.

In emulating Mandela's example, these young leaders recognise the importance of legal frameworks in safeguarding human dignity.

Mandela's legal acumen was not only a tool for advocacy but a strategic means to dismantle the oppressive system of apartheid. The young black men of today, equipped with a masterful understanding of legal intricacies, are positioned to navigate the complex tapestry of human rights with the same vigour and determination.

Jamaica's human rights issues

Within the idyllic landscape of Jamaica, often praised for its vibrant culture and breathtaking scenery, lies a persistent undercurrent of human rights issues that demands our attention and collective resolve.

Contrary to popular belief, this Caribbean nation has long grappled with severe human rights challenges, with a broken justice system deeply woven into the very fabric of the island's history.

The plight of the Rastafarian community in Jamaica serves as a poignant example of the systemic issues embedded in our society. Bob Marley's profound words echo through time, underscoring the urgency of dismantling any philosophy that perpetuates racial superiority. "Until the colour of a man's skin is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes, mi say war," Marley declared, urging a shift towards a society in which all citizens are entitled to equal protection under the law.

Regrettably, the Jamaican constitution has yet to fully acknowledge and protect the rights of the Rastafarian community. Even within the confines of educational institutions, students are frowned upon simply because of their Rastafarian hairstyle and in the not-too-distant past were denied access to classrooms. This blatant disregard for individual liberties underscores the pressing need for constitutional reform that aligns with the principles of equality and justice.

The injustices faced by the Rastafarian community are not isolated incidents. The LGBTQ community in Jamaica shares a similar narrative of discrimination and persecution. Many have been forced to flee the country in fear of losing their lives, mirroring a distressing pattern that extends beyond mere oversight.

Mandela's legacy serves as a poignant reminder that every person, regardless of race, gender, or social status, deserves to live with dignity and freedom.

While critics may argue that human rights advocacy conflicts with conservative values and religious freedom of expression, it is imperative to recognise that religious freedom should never come at the expense of human lives. No individual on Earth possesses the authority to extinguish the breath of life, such power is reserved for a supreme being alone.

As we stand at the crossroads of tradition and progress, it is incumbent upon us to re-evaluate and redefine our commitment to human rights in Jamaica. The call for change is not an affront to our cultural heritage but an affirmation of our shared humanity.

Let us strive to create a nation in which justice is blind, and the rights of all citizens are safeguarded, irrespective of their backgrounds or beliefs. In so doing, we honour the principles of equality, justice, and human dignity that should form the bedrock of any truly democratic society.

Forging Our Own Path

Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, serves as a poignant narrative, offering profound lessons on resilience, perseverance, and the unwavering pursuit of a just cause. The young black leaders of today, inspired by Mandela's arduous journey, find resonance in forging their own paths towards freedom and self-realisation.

In Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom, we find a metaphor for the struggles and triumphs that characterises the lives of these young men. The journey towards justice and equality is not a sprint but a marathon, requiring steadfast dedication and an unyielding belief in the possibility of change. Mandela's legacy challenges these leaders to embark on their own odyssey, whereby the destination is not only personal liberation but the collective emancipation of their communities.

Much like the revered leader, I, too, found myself on my own long walk, a journey marked by aspirations, challenges, and unexpected encounters. It all began in my final year of high school when I delved into the pages of Long Walk to Freedom. Aaliyah Wisdom, my companion in literary exploration, and I spent countless hours absorbing the wisdom and resilience of Mandela within the walls of our school library.

As I turned those pages, I could only hope that one day my life's journey might echo his greatness. Little did I anticipate that life would present me with an extraordinary opportunity — one that would bridge the gap between my humble origins and the global stage. The chance of a lifetime materialised as I stood before the imposing statue of Mandela at the UN headquarters in New York City, USA.

Upon encountering the statue, emotions surged within me, nearly bringing tears to my eyes. Here I was, a young man from Kitson Town, Jamaica, who had weathered the storms of a challenging upbringing, stepping through the doors of the UN.

To my amazement, I was greeted by Mandela's towering statue, arms raised in a gesture that seemed like a high five — a symbol of encouragement and solidarity. Captured in a photograph that I hold dear, this moment crystallised the convergence of my personal journey with the enduring legacy of Mandela. The statue became a testament to the idea that dreams, regardless of their origin, have the power to transcend borders and inspire greatness.

In the spirit of Mandela, my journey continues, fuelled by the belief that ordinary individuals can make an extraordinary impact.

As I reflect on that moment at the UN, I am reminded that the echoes of Kitson Town can reverberate within the hallowed halls of global institutions — a testament to the enduring power of hope and resilience.

As the torch-bearers of Mandela's legacy, young black men in their 20s, spanning Africa, the African Diaspora, and the Americas, stand at the forefront of a transformative era. Mandela's timeless wisdom and diverse opinions, his exemplary service as a human rights lawyer, and his enduring journey towards freedom serve as guiding principles for leaders in the making.

In embracing Mandela's teachings, these young men recognise that the struggle for justice is an ongoing endeavour and their role extends beyond advocacy to the creation of tangible, lasting change.

As they navigate the complex landscape of human rights activism, legal advocacy, and personal development, they carry with them the torch of Mandela's legacy, illuminating the path toward a more just and equitable world.

Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedomonline
A new generation of young black males in their 20s is illuminated by the sun setting on Mandela's unwavering
Tylik M McMillanonline
Tajay Francisonline

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