Nelson Mandela, an international leader for the rights of all people, passed away on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95. Throughout his life, he was a vocal fighter for freedom, justice and equal rights for all. His work has inspired countless activists, including us at ACE, to dedicate our lives to working towards a better world.
While most famous for his work with the African National Congress to end apartheid in South Africa, Mandela continued his activism long after apartheid fell. After serving as the first truly democratically elected President of South Africa, he worked to fight disease, promote world peace and build necessary infrastructure in communities across Africa. He recognized that oppression lives at the intersection of multiple injustices: racism, poverty, and environmental degradation, among many others.
In 2007, Nelson Mandela brought together some of the world’s greatest leaders to form The Elders, an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights. By tackling some of our most pressing challenges, including climate change, they strove to “make our planet a more peaceful and equitable place to live.” In 2009, The Elders urged government leaders to tackle climate change in Copenhagen at the UN Climate Change Conference. According to The Elders’ chair, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when it comes to climate change, “no one is immuned – rich, poor, developed and developing countries. We are all in this together. I will probably be spared the worst effects of climate change but I’m worried for our children’s future and for the millions of people who are already being impoverished and displaced.”
Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela stood in the face of criticism, racism and violence to fight for what he knew to be right. He helped lay a framework for activism and change to which we should all aspire. In recognizing that it wasn’t enough to just fight one manifestation of injustice (apartheid) he acknowledged that in order to create a better world, we must work to right all wrongs, including climate change. His leadership inspires and spurs us in our commitment to empower today’s youth to stabilize the climate. As the effects of climate change continue to ravage our most vulnerable and oppressed communities, we will keep the values he embodied, and the words he spoke, at the forefront of our minds. As Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” By continuing to educate and ignite youth to speak out for a better and more equitable world, we honor his life and work.