Levin Ballroom was fully packed on Wednesday evening, despite a snowstorm, as the Brandeis community gathered to listen to Kweku Mandela-Amuah and Ndaba Mandela, grandsons of the late Nelson Mandela, deliver the keynote address of ’DEIS Impact week. The event was sponsored by the Ruth First Lecture series in collaboration with the African and Afro-American Studies Department. In addition to a packed room of Brandeis students, faculty and staff, other attendees included Herman Hemingway ’53, the first black man to graduate from Brandeis, and Eliza and Judy Dushku, renowned social activists who delivered last year’s keynote address.
The Mandela grandsons are the co-founders of the Africa Rising Foundation, an organization they co-founded with a mission to publicize a positive image of Africa around the world. Kweku Mandela-Amuah is a producer, director and social entrepreneur who has undertaken various film ventures in South Africa. Ndaba Mandela, his cousin, is a former senior political consultant at the Embassy of Japan in Pretoria, South Africa. Together they have also launched the Mandela Project, a social media site to honor the activism and spirit of their grandfather.
Mandela-Amuah spoke first about the importance of youth becoming more involved in activism in fighting to end the imbalances of the world. He said he views Brandeis at the heart of social change because of its commitment to this line of work.
“When I think about Brandeis, I think about the degree to which magic can really happen at an institution like this. You’re putting something that’s so unique [social justice] at the forefront of everything that you do,” Mandela-Amuah said. “’DEIS Impact is the best of who we are and what we aspire to be.”
Mandela-Amuah continued to speak about the weight that ideas have on social justice, but said that ideas alone will not put an end to inequalities around the world. He said that society is having difficulty achieving social justice because a key ingredient is missing: the intention. He believes that these two concepts, innovative ideas and clear intentions, are the key to a more positive future in the world.
“An idea is the match that lights our souls on fire,” he said. “Ideas are one step in our search and thirst for social justice. For me, the idea of Africa Rising is just that. But without true intent, an idea is meaningless.”
Mandela-Amuah’s vision for a more positive future continued throughout the night as his cousin arrived at the podium to speak about the projects of Africa Rising.
“Discrimination is the enemy of social justice,” Mandela said. “I am proud to stand up and tell you that my agenda is the African people.”
Mandela said that the world continuously views Africa as a war-, dictator- and poverty-stricken area that constantly reinforces the African people’s inferiority complex. He spoke about a campaign that he is embarking on called the “African Dream,” an effort that he hopes will bring together young people and educators to answer one question: What is the Africa that you want to see tomorrow?
“Let us use the very same tool that they use against us,” Mandela said. “This is the tool that Africa Rising will use: to tell our own stories from our own point of view. We want to create the leaders of tomorrow. These are the leaders who will genuinely look after the interest of their own people.”
Mandela spoke about his passion for educating youth through the Africa Rising Resource Center, a place in which he hopes to give knowledge, expertise and mentorship to youth from rural villages to gain employment and start successful businesses. He says the first tool is teaching these children how to use a computer, a resource that he says is far too often taken for granted.
“The average South African today finishes high school without even touching a computer,” Mandela said. “This is a reflection of the Mandela legacy. We are continuing the legacy of the man who fought and gave up his life for freedom, not just for black people, but so people in his country could all be free and unite and have equal opportunities to go to school.”
Mandela recalled a story from a time when he brought an American artist to play the piano for his grandfather. As soon as the pianist started, his grandfather opened up a newspaper. Mandela claimed that at the end of the visit, his grandfather told him why he was not interested in the American pianist. He said he enjoyed meeting an American artist, but he encouraged his grandson to start getting to know his own African artists more. This, Mandela said, reaffirmed that the work he was doing with Africa Rising was on the right path.
Following the grandsons’ remarks, there was a question-and-answer session facilitated by Dr. Chad Williams, chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. Students asked questions on the progress of Africa Rising, as well as the Mandela grandsons’ opinions on the current political climate in South Africa.
Williams offered opening remarks about the Ruth First Lecture series and its importance to the Mandela legacy. The lecture was established in 1985 to recognize the work of Jewish social justice activism and the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa. Ruth First was a member of the South African Communist Party and was committed to the overthrow of the nation’s apartheid regime. As a student at the University of Witwatersrand, she met Nelson Mandela there, a law student at the time, who interacted with radical students like First who came from a variety of races and backgrounds.
“It was experiences like his interactions with First that transformed him and sent him on the course of becoming arguably the greatest freedom fighter in modern history,” Williams said.
Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment, followed Williams’ remarks in speaking about the uniqueness of ’DEIS Impact week.
“As you know, universities have a lot of celebrations, festivals and conferences,” Flagel said. “But ’DEIS Impact is distinctive. It is university-sponsored, but student-organized. It encourages us to get more involved personally in the pursuit of social justice and all its forms.”
Flagel honored Jules Bernstein ’57 in his remarks, as being one of the “prime movers” behind ’DEIS Impact. Bernstein created the Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice, which supports Brandeis students in social justice-focused internships and promotes the issues of social justice that the former U.S. Supreme Court justice championed throughout his life. Bernstein developed his passion for social justice in his interactions with Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Brandeis campus.
Student Union President Ricky Rosen ’14 introduced the Mandela grandsons but first spoke about what makes Brandeis students stand out.
“What makes Brandeis students different is how unconventional we are,” Rosen said. “We embrace it, and we accept it. All of this stems from our university’s commitment to social justice.”
Rosen said that on other campuses, he imagines that students stand up for their beliefs, but he believes that no other campus takes action quite as promptly in the way Brandeis does.
“Other schools stand up for what they believe in, but at Brandeis, we don’t just stand for things. We move them, actively.”
In an exclusive interview with The Hoot, the Mandela grandsons gave one last thought to Brandeis students.
“Don’t ever give up. Follow your passion. You’re here at the epicenter of a place where you can change other people and change the world if you want. Believe in yourself,” they said. “There’s no reason or rhyme to stop you.”
’DEIS Impact will conclude on Monday, Feb. 10 in Hassenfeld Conference Center at 5:30 p.m. with the third annual SoJust Leadership Forum, featuring Brandeis alumni who will share how social justice has been incorporated into their careers.