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Madiba: Lessons Mandela taught us

  • Friday, December 6, 2013

    PRINCESS ANNE, MD - (Dec. 6, 2013) - When Nelson R. Mandela died Thursday, two Delmarva news organizations knew they could turn to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for perspective on the anti-apartheid crusader's long, colorful life.

    Joshua Wright / Kathryn Barrett-GainesDr. Kathryn Barrett-Gaines and her history department colleague, Dr. Joshua K. Wright, were interviewed by The Daily Times newspaper and WBOC-TV, respectively.

    "I remember when he was released from prison and became the president of South Africa, and how that was such a momentous occasion even though at the time I was young," Wright told WBOC. "I knew this was a big moment."  

    The government of South Africa jailed Mandela for 27 years, charging him with sabotage for leading civil disobedience in opposition to oppressive segregation policies and laws.  

    Barrett-Gaines, a frequent traveler to Africa, where she is well-known, learned of Mandela's passing, ironically, as she was about to begin teaching her class in Modern African History.  

    "It was the final class for the semester, and it was a nice moment when students who at the beginning of the semester didn't know much about Africa, told me he had died," The Daily Times quoted Barrett-Gaines as saying. "That meant something because it indicated they knew something about Africa."  

    Barrett-Gaines directs UMES' African-American studies program, so her students are exposed to big-picture lessons and discussions about important historical figures, including Mandela.  

    Wright worries those without the advantage of taking a class like the kind taught by Barrett-Gaines might not grasp why Mandela's death is generating so much attention and reflection.  

    "I think for a lot of young people, they may not be familiar with Mandela," Wright said in his TV interview. "Unfortunately a lot of our young people don't keep up with history, whether it's U.S. or world history, as they should."  

    Wright predicts 2013 will be remembered as a year of reflection on the meaning of civil and human rights.   

    America this year took note of the 50th anniversaries of Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The nation also remembered the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address authored by President Abraham Lincoln.  

    Mandela's stand against apartheid, a system of discrimination based on race practiced by a white-dominated government, set an iconic standard people around the world - and history - should not overlook or discount.  

    "When I think of Mandela. I think of two words … empowering and … reconciliation," Wright said in his TV interview.  

    "When you look today at someone like Barack Obama becoming president here a few years ago, you know it had that same type of feeling, a nation that was once divided that was able to come together and put those past differences behind themselves," Wright said.  

    Barrett-Gaines also pointed to Obama, indirectly, when she said she believes Mandela will be remembered for another admirable quality.  

    "A lesson we can learn most from him is patience, that change cannot come instantly,” Barrett-Gaines told The Daily Times. “When we can't sign up for health care in five minutes, we get mad. We have no patience. But Mandela led a revolution that took decades. He was a lawyer, and lawyers know change happens slowly.”

    Bill Robinsondirector, public relations(410) 621-2355