Remembering the Life of Nelson Mandela

Written by Eric M. Chávez (CYNY Alumnus & CYSJ/SV Alumni Board Member)

City Year San José/Silicon Valley would like to join their South African colleagues, those across our 25 other sites and those across the globe inspired by the work and achievements of Nelson Mandela in both the mourning of his death and the celebration of his life. His moral courage and unyielding commitment to social justice have positively changed not only his country but also the world. He’s traveled the path from political prisoner to president with remarkable personal grace, going so far as to invite his jailers to his inauguration.

He’s most definitely had a profound impact on City Year. In 2001, thirteen years after City Year’s founding, Mandela invited President Clinton to speak at a conference on Civil Society in Cape Town. Clinton brought along a delegation from the U.S., including City Year’s leadership and AmeriCorps representatives. It was this introduction that encouraged and inspired the founding of City Year South Africa.

This would become City Year’s first international site and is now in its eighth successful year. Since its inception in 2005, City Year South Africa has graduated over 1,200 Service Leaders who collectively engaged over 23,000 children through after school programs and various other projects. In total, these Service Leaders have completed an estimated 900,000 hours of service.

The new executive director of City Year South Africa, Daylene Van Buuren, never met Mandela but says he’s always been a central figure in her life and work. Van Buuren happened to be in Boston on City Year business when Mandela died. She spoke with WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer last Friday. You can hear her entire interview here:

Mandela’s Role In Bringing Boston-Based City Year to South Africa

Michael Brown, City Year Co-Founder and CEO, explained in his statement after Mandela’s passing, that our South African colleagues are the ones who “shared with us the concept of ‘Ubuntu’ – the spiritual understanding that the humanity of each of us is tied to the humanity of all of us, and therefore we must treat each other with great acts of human kindness and deep empathy.” Nelson Mandela was the embodiment of the spirit of Ubuntu.

Mandela himself was quoted defining education as “the greatest weapon you can use to change the world.” As we all know, City Year’s own motto is “give a year, change the world” and we all give that year (if not more) in the highest-need public schools in the U.S., the U.K. and South Africa.

Charlie Rose, Senior Vice President and Dean of City Year, said it best when expressing that “Nelson Mandela’s life was a gift from South Africa to the world. The inspiration of his words and deeds is immortal, and his legacy is now in our hands.” Today, City Year San José/Silicon Valley would like to join City Year, in re-dedicating ourselves to this work in Nelson Mandela’s memory and continue to try and emulate his humility, commitment to social justice, and his unwavering dedication to a cause greater than himself.


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