July 18th is the birthday of the great Nelson Mandela, and on this day, in honor of his legacy, “Mandela Day” is celebrated in service to others.
“Do not look the other way; do not hesitate,” he said. “Recognise that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision.” But how? When so many issues that we face are rooted in systemic racism, do the actions of ordinary citizens make a difference?
Yes. The literacy and math skills that young people receive from volunteer tutors, for example, can put them on the path to high school, college, and career success. Even collecting and donating gently used children’s books to youth-serving organizations can help nurture young students with little opportunity for reading at home.
All over the U.S., United Way volunteers perform free tax preparation and help filers get the tax credits and refunds they are due. United Ways from Amsterdam to Israel and beyond are leading volunteers who call, visit, and assist housebound seniors with everything from using technology to stay connected to the world to preparing and delivering meals and supplies that help them live safely and independently at home.
Nelson Mandela devoted his life to fighting for social justice. As a human rights lawyer, a prisoner, an international peacemaker, and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa, he believed that every individual has the ability and the responsibility to make positive change in the world.
And he believed diversity and inclusiveness are required for progress. As we work to rebuild from the pandemic, United Way isn’t looking to get “back to normal.” In the spirit of Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi, we are working to build stronger, more equitable and inclusive communities.
Will you join us? One way to act is to diversify your bookshelf with books for all ages about equity and inclusion. Another is to volunteer your time – in person or virtually – to efforts that alleviate poverty by strengthening the education, financial stability, and health of people in need.
The fall of apartheid showed us that government-sanctioned racism can end. Likewise, we can end poverty through systemic changes and by taking a stand to do more for one another. “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity,” Mandela said. “It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”
The world is hungry for action on #MandelaDay, and every day, to bring justice and dignity to all.