Pastor Reuben Eckels offers his perspective on how Nelson Mandela affected his life and the lives of many African Americans across the United States.
For most black people in America our greatest historical figure was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through Dr. King, we were able to visualize a day when we would reach the “mountaintop” of equality. We longed for the day when his words would ring true: We as a people will get to the promised land and not be judged by the color of our skin but the content of our character.
But by the late '80s and '90s with the rise of crack cocaine, a backlash against affirmative action and seeing people like Ronald Reagan and Dick Cheney in power, many blacks began to despair.
Then came Mandela! That man with one name whose very presence caused the world to take notice of the wonderful land and people of Africa. Places like Lesotho and Soweto became a part of our vocabulary and our consciousness. Along with the people of South Africa, blacks in America would begin to believe again in world without racism and apartheid.
You see, racism is insidious! So insidious that even for the ancestors of Africans, such as myself, our only connection with Africa was through the eyes of the white-controlled media. Much of that media portrays Africa as poverty ridden and always in need of white missionaries’ help.
Then came Mandela!
Upon Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, the world saw a courageous people that were willing to die for the cause of justice. Mandela made me and other blacks in America love blackness again. “The Dream” of my people was coming to pass. It would not come easy but it would be bought with a price.
The day Mandela was released in 1990, I was celebrating the work of Richard Allen, one of America’s first African organizers and freedom fighters. Upon Mandela’s death 23 years later, I was in Chicago organizing and standing beside unions and low wage workers striking in front of Wendy’s. For many of them, believing that they deserved less then a living wage was the norm.
Then came Mandela!
Reuben Eckels is pastor at New Day Christian Church in Wichita