Mandela Day Speech at United Nations

Mandela Day Speech at United Nations
By Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
Friday, July 24, 2015


Today we gather to honor the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. We consider Mandela a hero for freedom and justice, but Mandela Day is not a day for hero worship. We celebrate Mandela Day not with individual praise, but with institutional change.

Mandela dreamed beyond his present predicament. He dreamed beyond the oppressive imposition of apartheid. Where there was bondage, he saw freedom. Where there was persecution, he saw justice. Where there was exploitation, he saw equality.

Mandela dreamed not only beyond his present predicament. He dreamed beyond his personal predicament. He was in jail as a political prisoner for 27 years. During those years, through the sheer force of will in his moral authority and beautiful vision, he was able to transform his dark and dirty cell into a projection of liberty and justice for all; helping the world, little by little, to see the evil of apartheid and the essence of courage.

Even transcending his present and personal predicament, he dreamed beyond his people’s predicament. He saw for them what he envisioned for himself even through cold, steel bars – Freedom to roam, freedom to vote, freedom to lead, freedom to love, and access – access to power, access to resources, access to education, access to infrastructure, access to industry, access to technology, and access to capital.

The predicament of economic inequality, racial disharmony, and political oppression confronts us in our current day. It demands that we dream beyond it. Mandela earned every superlative we attach to his name, but adjectives will not alter our condition. Only policy can heal our wounds, and heal the cancer of inequality metastasizing around our world. Only policy can reset our legs so that we are standing on solid ground.

Rather than competing to see who can most poetically praise Mandela, we must work to determine what Mandela would do now if he were here to challenge, guide, and instruct us. What battles would he fight? What policies would he advocate?

I come today with four policy challenges to the United Nations.

First, the UN must set aside an annual day in dedication to the remembrance of slavery. We risk repetition if we do not honestly remember our past. It is only through remembrance that we can accurately forecast our future. We must ensure the no one in the world forgets the criminality and legacy of slavery. Germans live with the memory of the holocaust on a continual basis in their streets, in their homes, and in their schools. The United Nations, by creating an annual day of slavery remembrance, can rise to the level of its high purpose by leading the world in creating a condition of memory and meditation on the evils and influences of slavery.

Second, the United Nations must follow through on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2011 declaration of the slave trade as a “crime against humanity.” The policy implication of any indictment is for justice, recompense, and restitution. The United States, CARICOM Nations, Great Britain, France, and Africa are the scenes of the crime. Now, the beneficiaries of that crime must make reparations.

The UN must provide institutional incentive, infrastructural support, and political encouragement for Great Britain, the United States, and France to offer reparations to the ancestral people and nations of slavery. The moral responsibility and financial duty for reparation and repayment always falls on the criminal, especially when that criminal benefited from the crime. If the slaves did not have their chains, the great powers would not have their wealth.

Third, the G-20 must overcome its hierarchal tendency, and must end its construction of the world as pyramid scheme for the rich and powerful. The G-20 must ennoble itself by committing to the quest for world representation. It will only have credibility and integrity if it elevates all the people’s dignity and opportunity. It is a present injustice and disgrace that the G-20 does not include Africans in the execution of its mission to “promote growth across the developing world.”

The systemic confinement of Africans to underclass status is made hideously clear in Africa’s lack of leadership in the G-20. The G-20 betrays its mission by refusing to fully assimilate Africa into its admirable aim.

Europe and North America account for 14 percent of the world’s population, but occupy nearly 50 percent of seats at the G-20 table. Africa, home to 16 percent of the world population, occupies only one seat (South Africa).

The exile of Africans to the basement of global architecture guarantees predatory discrimination against people of African origin.

My fourth policy change challenges the architectural arrangement of the world economy. We must ensure that the World Bank is striving for a more equal world, and is working to prioritize the growth and development of Africa, allowing for African leadership and prosecuting discrimination against African citizens and markets.

For too long, those with the most have had institutional encouragement to accumulate more, while those with the least live outside closed doors and inside a climate of deprivation.

Africa must have access to infrastructure and industry. When we examine G-20, and the World Bank, we do not find the world’s leading institutions paving a path toward equality and reconciliation. We find endemic racism.

A 2014 World Bank report, long hidden, but released after demands from the DC Civil Rights Coalition, found that on a scale of one to six (one being outright racist), the Bank “hovers between 2 and 3.” Some staff referred to their assignment as a “kind of apartheid.”

Mandela led political, social, and spiritual combat against apartheid in South Africa. We must beat back apartheid in the world’s most powerful financial and administrative institutions.

The 2014 World Bank report coalesces to create an ugly portrait of racism and exploitation in the world economy with a 2005 Staff Association report. The 2005 report showed that the Bank’s Senior Advisor for Racial Equality received and reviewed over 450 cases of discrimination in just five years. Not a single complaint has prevailed, leading one former Senior Advisor for Racial Equality to the World Bank to protest, “The internal justice system is immune from scrutiny, especially when it comes to racial discrimination against Sub-Saharan African people.”

The United Nations and the United States must demonstrate true leadership in the spirit and tradition of Mandela to establish an external commission to investigate the World Bank for systemic violations of the rights of African people. We must address the gross under-representation of blacks in management positions.

Mandela’s vision was simple, but profound. In his own words, “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it, black and white. No government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.”

The dream of democracy and self-determination; It is that same dream that drove Dr. King to liberation in Montgomery, Selma, and Washington. It is the inheritance of that dream with which we are left to honor and uphold. We can begin to achieve the vision of our vocation for democracy if the United Nations implements the four policy proposals offered here today.

Then, we must continue our upward trek through turbulence and treacherous terrain, armed with our faith, toward the higher ground of moral victory.

Thanks be to God. We have the inspiration and instruction of Nelson Mandela. He was a bird that would fly only for freedom. On his wings we can soar to the heavenly heights of triumph over terror, triumph over tyranny, and triumph for togetherness.  

Nelson Mandela was a long distance runner; always able to adjust to different terrain, and set to scale new hurdles. His unimpeachable integrity was that of a man money could not capture. The power of the purse was snuffed by the source of his politics. His politics came out of his values, not the other way around. Whether as a lawyer, a revolutionary, or a President, he was always prepared for the next battle.

Against staggering odds, he used the powers of moral authority, economic sanctions, reason and nonviolence, and global networks of allies to influence world opinion and to appeal to the world body, the United Nations. He inspired a worldwide opposition to apartheid. He went beyond the immediate gratification of getting even. He chose to get ahead. He found no wisdom in blood for blood, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. He knew that such violence will leave everyone blind, bitter, disfigured and ugly.

He chose the role of neither victim nor executioner. He was victor and liberator.

Yes, Nelson Mandela was a long distance runner. He carried the baton as long as he physically could. His spirit and blood cry out for us to pick up that same baton and continue the marathon that is the fight for justice. The race is not over. We can only get to the finish line of freedom for all if we follow Mandela. It is easy to admire Mandela. We must follow him. Admiration requires only private piety. Following demands public suffering and sacrifice. Following demands love and service for our neighbor, the stranger, the dispossessed, the disinherited, the disenfranchised, the despised.

Mandela Day is a sacred day. It is day of celebration, but it must also be a day of continuation. It is within our power to transform every day into Mandela Day. Let us use this Mandela Day to organize and strategize: To vow to fight poverty; To vow to stop locking people up for profit; To vow to stop racist propaganda; To vow to study war no more.

The fight begins with acts of memory. We must remember slavery. Those who benefited from slavery must pick up the tools to repair the damage of slavery. The ancestors of the enslaved are the creditors, not the debtors in the world economy.

It is in adherence to this sacramental obligation of family, community, and decency that the United Nations must support the payment of reparations. It can begin by illuminating the insanity and importance of slavery every year on an annual day of mourning, reflection, and action for correction. Any calendar worthy of our observation must include an annual dedication to the memory and history of slavery.

Those first two challenges, even if met, will prove ineffectual in the effort to advance Mandela’s vision of democracy and self-determination. The United Nations must also grab hold of the wheel and drive the democratization of the G-20 and the World Bank. These institutions have no value and no vitality if they exclude Africans from the procedures of negotiation and regulation. They have no heart pumping blood through their bodies if they have no African leaders.

Global governance must lead the world on these issues – Striking a resounding blow for freedom. Such a blow would reverberate in its impact across Africa, Asia, North America and South America. It would send a clear message to the United States, which must end the systemic racism in its criminal justice system. It must end its predatory lending, police brutality, and educational apartheid against African Americans.

We can strike a blow for freedom when we challenge the economic disorder that concentrates 48 percent of the world’s wealth in the hands of the top one percent.

Much of the tragedy and trauma of inequality is traceable to the two tiers of rules and expectations separating the powerful and the poor. The poorest nations can compete with the richest nations when the playing field is even, the rules are public, the goals are clear, referees are fair, and the scores are transparent. Meritocracy is possible only as product of transparency and objectivity.

Mandela calls us to service. We cannot all be famous, but we can all be great if and only if we serve.

We can no longer see Mandela in the flesh before this body. We can continue to see his spirit if we fight to keep it alive. We can see Mandela wherever people are struggling for freedom from their oppressor and occupier. We can see Mandela wherever people protect the innocent from police attack. We can see Mandela wherever people help a child crying for a crust of bread. We can see Mandela in the outstretched arms and enjoined hands marching for movements of peace.



We must keep Mandela alive.


Keep Hope Alive!