By Marin Sandieson
Special to the Tribune
Members of the local community recently came together to remember Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy in a panel discussion held by Allegheny College. Panelists personally interpreted the meaning of his legacy and advocated for others to follow his example and fight inequality.
The panel was comprised of Juvia P. Heuchert, psychology professor; Cheryl Hatch, journalism professor; Bruce Smith, political science professor; and Sarah Hardin, history professor. Panelists spoke briefly on their personal and academic memories of Mandela and his accomplishments.
“Mandela’s effect on my life has been profound, and it has left me with a few things,” said Heuchert, who is originally from South Africa and knew friends who had been imprisoned with Mandela. “One thing it has left me with is hope. (Hope) that if somebody has been treated the way Mandela has been treated, a human being can overcome that and become the president of a country and say, ‘No, we’re going to live a different life, we’re breaking the cycle of violence.’
“It gives me hope. If one person can do it, all of us can do it. It reminds me that forgiveness is possible. ... It reminds me that people are resilient.”
“Everyone of my parent’s generation can say that they knew where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated,” said Hatch, who briefly spoke with Mandela while working in Cairo. “So for me, my moment is that I know exactly where I was when Nelson Mandela walked free. At that moment I thought, ‘If this is possible, all things are possible.’ I don’t know how to explain it any other way. It was this moment of hope; true, genuine, glorious hope.”
Smith discussed Mandela’s political strategies not just as a historical figure, but as a man and a revolutionary. Hardin recounted Mandela’s life and the major forces that shaped the person he was to become.
The panel was organized by Kazi Joshua, associate dean and director of the center for intercultural development and student success at Allegheny College. It was made possible through the assistance of Allegheny’s black studies program, the center for political participation and the Allegheny Gateway, a center for career development, civic responsibility and diversity.
Several panelists called for listeners to follow Mandela’s example and fight against racial and economic inequality. Others emphasized Mandela’s humanity and the potential for others to follow his lead. After the discussion, members of the community were invited to speak about their own memories of Mandela.
“I was in my 20s when I was in South Africa ... the one thing that this man inspired was hope in people who were in their 20s, your age,” said John Christie-Searles, who addressed the students in the audience after the panel discussion. Christie-Searles is a member of the Meadville community and part-time instructor at Allegheny College who had been in South Africa during the apartheid.
“Sadly, many people who were my age at that time were doing things that sometimes required them to take life-risking decisions,” Christie-Searles said. “Some of them went on missions and never went back. Some of them went to training in Kenya or Zimbabwe and died. These were my peers, and these were friends and people I knew ... but now look at the future in South Africa.
“Those young people are now grown up. And those young people are working today. You’re young people here. Take note.”
Marin Sandieson is an Allegheny College student.