"I value my cell phone, and my family (more than Mandela)…" A young person actually said this to a reporter from CNN, who was in South Africa asking youth of their view of the revered Nelson Mandela in today's day and age.
Mandela, known to those who love him as Madiba, has no doubt changed not only South Africa, but he has inspired a generation along the way, and our world along with it. That said, this shocking comment (amongst others) was made just recently by a young person born after Mandela's amazing accomplishments, but still during his lifetime. And as far as this young lady is concerned, she doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.
Now, let me start by saying I am shocked, appalled, and even saddened by this story.
It touches me personally, as I had the privilege of meeting then President Mandela during one of the pilgrimages of the late Rev. Leon Sullivan and his African-African American Summits to South Africa, and it remains on of the thrills and precious memories of my life. I even remember my friend and fellow hero, the late, great Secretary Jack Kemp, encouraging me not to take a photo of Madiba, because of my camera flash, and then watching him (Secretary Kemp) take one instead (smile).
We were both smitten by Mandela, Madiba, and the man, and Secretary Kemp and I too were separated by a generation of life experiences. But we still "got" the man's irreplaceable contribution. But not this young lady interviewed by CNN, nor several other young people interviewed with her, in the South Africa of today.
And while I remain highly offended by anyone comparing this man's contribution or value to that of a "cellphone," I do unfortunately understand what I call the "relevancy issue."
The problem today, as I keep saying, is more silver rights (finance, economics, jobs, opportunity and ownership) than traditional civil rights. The problem that continues to plaque South Africa, and so many other places around the world today like it, is poverty and a mind-numbing lack of economic opportunity.
It is simply difficult for some to appreciate a former leader's contribution when they do not have food on the table, a roof over their head, or a good job to call their own. I take that back — not just a good job, but any job.
I love mother South Africa, and I am honored that Operation HOPE has Phase I of our silver rights movement work present in some parts of the country, but this issue of poverty overwhelms almost all other considerations of life.
60% of South Africa's population is under the age of 25, and was not even born when President Nelson Mandela changed everything for the country.
40% of youth are unemployed in large areas of South Africa.
Unfortunately, a very small portion of the South African population pay taxes (which translates into work, ownership, business and entrepreneurship), but this small group subsidize the larger population. It is hard to have sustainable self-esteem and hope when you don't work, and you cannot chart your own future forward.
The problem today in South Africa, particularly amongst this generation of youth — as it is here in America and in countless countries around the world — is a lack of hope.
If I don't like me, I cannot like you. If I don't feel good about me, I am not going to feel good about you. Charity starts at home, and the most dangerous person in the world, is a person with no hope.
At bottom, this story is really not about President Mandela, nor is it really about South Africa, per se, other than a need for leaders there to recognize what the real, underlying problems are, and to then address them. This story is really about the lost hope of a generation of young people, who don't have a movement to get behind, or a mission to define their days, nor a leader, it appears, that can inspire them to live for something larger than their present problems.
The Bible says, "without vision, the people perish." Nothing much has changed in more than 2,000 years.
Onward and with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and is chairman of the Subcommittee for the Under-Served and Community Empowerment for the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability, for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum. Mr. Bryant is a thought leader represented by the Bright Sight Group for public speaking. Mr. Bryant serves on the board of directors of Ares Commercial Real Estate Corporation (NYSE: ACRE), a specialty finance company that is managed by an affiliate of Ares Management LLC, a global alternative asset manager with approximately $59 billion in committed capital under management as of December 31, 2012.