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Mandela Day is July 18

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Nelson Mandela’s name and image conjures up thoughts of honour, defiance, sacrifice, and action in the face of racial inequality and social injustice.

At a time when such topics are consuming widespread consciousness in Canada and the rest of North America, we could sure use his wisdom. What words would he use to help bring all of us together to move the world to a better place? Mandela believed that vision with action can change the world. OPSEU has been working hard to marry vision and action for decades and, in fact, has taken many leads from Mandela’s wisdom and courage.

“It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all,” said Mandela.

OPSEU holds this call to action close to heart. On July 7, our union called on all members and employees to take part of in a voluntary Anti-Black Racism TeleTown Hall. Participation was great, the conversation difficult yet necessary, and the outcome too soon to judge. But we are hopeful that our union’s collective consciousness is awakening to the plight of Black people everywhere. Only time will tell. We won’t stop fighting – Mandela wouldn’t. The world has finally realized that systemic racism is real. It is deadly. And it has to stop. The good news is that we can stop it. Working together, just as OPSEU did during our townhall discussion, we can help build a foundation for a new way of thinking, and a new way of acting.

Mandela would have encouraged this kind of action and behavior, but he would have told us that it can’t end with talk. The way we hold ourselves today will be the bar our next generation looks to when faced with adversity, racism, violence, or all of the above.

Just like how some of our past leaders’ actions and racist beliefs are being held to account today, our actions will be on display tomorrow. It is up to us to create a world today that we can all be proud of tomorrow. Standing by silently will NOT cut it anymore. It is time for resolute action. In Mandela’s own words: “When people are determined they can overcome anything.”

Fortunately in this era of the Internet and social media, years of frustration and defiance against racism are being heard like never before. Our new world is able to provide images and evidence immediately, where in the past those same crimes were covered up and witnesses were silenced. While OPSEU takes great pride in advocating the importance of public service and social justice for Ontarians, Mandela’s own public service and human rights record stretched to every corner of the globe. It encompassed all needs of humanity, not just racial equality.

Mandela’s life was also spent fighting for action against poverty; women’s, children’s and seniors’ rights, and so much more. They were fights taken up by his children — including his youngest daughter, Zindzi Mandela, who died in Johannesburg on July 13 at the age of 59 – and by people around the world.

And so, today, almost seven years after his death, his call to each and every one of us to do our part in any way we can, rings as loud as it did when he walked this earth amongst us. We are proud to call him a fellow human, and even more proud to follow his lead.