A Rebel for a Good Cause Monday, July 22, 2019, at 10:45 a.m.
Dear Campus Community —
I recently had the pleasure of welcoming to our campus Dr. Makaziwe Mandela, a humanitarian, global activist, daughter of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, and the Jacksonville University 2019 Presidential Global Citizen award recipient.
Of all the places in the world, I was honored Dr. Mandela chose Jacksonville University to celebrate Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18, 2019 -- the day that would have been her father’s 101st birthday. We connected through Khalil Osiris -- author, social activist, entrepreneur, and founder of the non-profit Reflecting Freedom, who spent 20 years of his life in prison. While incarcerated, he was inspired by Nelson Mandela to transform his life, and he began writing letters to Dr. Mandela. She wrote back, and decades later, they united to make positive change for impoverished people across the globe.
Their stories are nothing short of remarkable. Their drive to overcome personal struggles -- heartbreak, regret, bitterness -- and to refocus that energy into a life of service to others inspires us all. The more I came to know Khalil and Dr. Mandela, the more I realized how similar our missions are.
Here at Jacksonville University, we’ve been working for years to cultivate a culture of service and respect for others, and to foster open, informed dialogue on significant, and sometimes difficult, topics. We take seriously our unique community role as a forum for engaging in real, vibrant conversations based in reason, fact and research -- not solely emotion, agenda and opinion. Conversation that can turn to debate, but always with dignity and respect.
We believe in opening minds -- not just filling them up. It is our responsibility to help prepare the next generation of leaders by broadening their perspectives and expanding their worldview. It’s our privilege to unlock opportunities for students and scholars to learn, grow, and contribute.
Within the scope of our chosen mission, and on important days such as Nelson Mandela International Day, we honor and recognize visionaries who have devoted their life’s work to such efforts -- those who invoke necessary change that reaches around the globe and beyond their own lifetime.
In 2015, we honored Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of Pepsi Co., and the chief architect of Performance with a Purpose, Pepsi’s promise to do what is right for the business by doing what is right for people and the planet. In 2017, we recognized Ken Burns, who, with 12 Emmy’s, two Oscar nominations and a lifetime achievement award, is one of the most influential filmmakers and prolific storytellers of all time.
Now in 2019, for only the 3rd time in our 85-year history, the Jacksonville University Presidential Global Citizen Award honors Dr. Makaziwe Mandela -- an extraordinary individual with the most rare of life journeys. Someone who exemplifies the University’s ideal of fostering globally engaged citizens who seek to leave this world better than they found it. Dr. Mandela embodies this ideal as she fights to eradicate one of the most devastating, enduring, pervasive epidemics of our time: poverty.
According to the United Nations, 783 million people around the world live in extreme poverty. That’s one out of every 10 people on this planet. To put it in U.S. terms, they exist on less than $2 a day. Poverty exists in even the richest nations and its impact is very real. Here in the U.S., research shows poverty significantly reduces life expectancy. Those above the poverty line can expect to live 10 to 15 years longer than the hundreds of thousands in our communities who live below it.
Children living in poverty are the most vulnerable. Their families cannot afford nutritious food, medical care, education, clothing, and, in many parts of the world, clean water. Each year, thousands of children in poverty die from preventable diseases. While global poverty rates have been reduced since 2000, the cycle of poverty has proven to be inescapable for millions of people, persisting through generations.
But, as Dr. Mandela is proving, there is an effective tool to engage the fight: education. Access to education -- especially when combined with manufacturing, specialized skills, and agricultural initiatives that promote food security -- helps families break the cycle of poverty. As Co-founder of the non-profit House of Mandela Family Foundation, she advocates for impoverished communities around the world, fighting to secure equal access to basic needs and teaching those in poverty how to generate wealth within their communities. Dr. Mandela’s mission is to empower people and support them with real-world tools and knowledge they can use -- not just to rise above poverty, but to reach a much greater goal. Self reliance. Self respect. Self sustainability.
She’s also a world-class connector, effectively bringing together the less fortunate with the most fortunate. She pulls back the curtain so we can see the need first hand, and inspires us all to do more. Through the foundation, Dr. Mandela works to bring resources to communities so they can rise together.
Like her father, she can be persistent and stubborn. A rebel for a good cause. And it’s clear her unwavering devotion to service continues to strengthen the Mandela family legacy so it will endure for many generations and across continents.
From Terry Concert Hall to a standing-room-only River House, and amplified by outstanding coverage on WJXT, Dr. Mandela shared with us personal experiences, how she overcame a childhood of unprecedented challenge, thoughts on leadership, and her vision for better global communities. She inspired our campus community with the sobering reminder that the greatest mission we could ever hope to pursue is helping one another. It is the essence of who we are here at Jacksonville University, and who we are as human beings. I hope you’ll join me today in reflecting on ways -- big or small -- that we can make a positive difference in the lives of others, creating a wave of kindness and generosity that will ripple throughout our global community.
With humility and gratitude,
Class of 1981