Former President Barack Obama delivered his first major address in South Africa this week at a public ceremony honoring the 100th birthday (July 18) of the late Nelson Mandela. Standing before a crowd of 15,000 people attending the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, Obama was the characteristically class act that the world grew to love and respect, and now deeply misses. While not a perfect leader, Obama was and continues to exemplify true leadership that can galvanize and inspire “that collective spirit” lying in the hearts of others, especially young people.
Before Obama became an American household name, the world grew to love and respect the late and great Nelson Mandela who Obama referred to by his beloved moniker “Madiba.”
As a young leader, Mandela’s radical opposition to the racist apartheid system in South Africa resulted in his arrest and imprisonment for nearly 30 years, many of which were spent in solitary confinement. There, as Obama noted, “his power grew as his jailers’ diminished.” And while many in the crowd agreed that Mandela could still be president of South Africa because of how he led to inspire, he also believed that “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., President Donald Trump was forced to explain and revise his recent message to the world that reflected his opinion involving U.S.-Russian relations which could potentially endanger the world. However, his words were bereft of inspiration. In fact, his presidency was accurately described by Obama when he said, “Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up.”
“So on Madiba’s 100th birthday,” Obama continued, “we now stand at a crossroad — a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories — two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?”
Let’s hope that the words and actions of Barack Obama, Robert Kennedy and the life of Nelson Mandela will inspire the next generation who stand on the shoulders of great leaders and, as Obama said, “know that it is now their turn to do the work.”