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Kennedy Odede’s Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Image via NY Times

Kennedy Odede ’12, President of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) and accomplished rapperwrote a powerful tribute to South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, who passed away on December 5. In the piece, Odede writes about how Mandela inspired him during his childhood in Nairobi’s Kibera slum:

I had many conversations with Nelson Mandela, although I had not met him.

In my family’s tiny shack in Nairobi’s Kibera slum, my one-way exchanges with the great man kept me going. Mandela survived 27 years of prison; maybe I would make it out, too.

Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, when I was 10 years old. In Kibera, people celebrated and talk circulated the streets about this man, but I didn’t see how his story connected to mine until much later. I was struggling too hard simply to survive.

One of the great works that would hugely influence Odede’s thinking was Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”:

A visiting American gave me two books. I had never gone to formal schools, but I had learned to read and write with the help of a kind priest. The American gave me a collection of speeches by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom.” It was Mandela’s book that spoke to me. I couldn’t put it down. Here was someone whose life I could somehow picture.

For the first time in my life I saw I had a choice. I could either submit to the degradations of poverty, to the prevailing hopelessness, or I could start my own long walk.