I almost had a fan girl moment when I was assigned to cover Ndelika Mandela’s visit to a high school in Smyrna, Tennessee. Obviously being a Mandela alone carries a lot of weight and having an opportunity to speak with someone with such poignant life experiences is really a gift.

I was VERY excited. She was so nice!

I was VERY excited. She was so nice!


Ndelika, the eldest granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, is a force within her own right.

“I’m Ndelika first before I am Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter,” she said when asked if it was difficult to establish her own identity.

“I try to carve my own identity but emulate [Nelson Mandela]. I can never be like him. I can always emulate him.”

She started the Thembekile Mandela Foundation, named after her father who was killed in a car accident in 1969.

Thembekile Mandela Foundation

The foundation focuses on promoting health and educational programs in the rural areas of South Africa.

That’s why Mandela wanted to visit a high school during her trip to Tennessee, to see what ideas she could implement back home. Mandela was sent to Stewarts Creek, the nicest high school I’ve EVER seen.

Mandela Meeting Student Ambassadors

Mandela Meeting Student Ambassadors


The Principal, student ambassadors and a gaggle of city and district leaders followed along during Mandela’s grand tour.

The first stop was to the culinary arts program where students were preparing ahi tuna and steak for Mandela’s special lunch. Then it was off to see the courtroom where students studying criminal justice will be able to get hands on experience. She observed students in the dental clinic, wearing their scrubs, mixing up a pink paste to give each other dental impressions.

Mandela in the School's Courtroom

Mandela in the School’s Courtroom


Others in the veterinary program were grooming dogs and taking care of other animals. In the television studio they were videotaping their announcements on state of the art equipment. There’s also a computer science lab, greenhouse, body shop and hair salon that are programs integrated into the traditional high school curriculum. With the completion of each program students will simultaneously earn either college credit or hours towards a professional certification.

“It’s mind boggling. It is mind boggling,” Mandela stressed as she explained how similar programs, at best, would only be afforded to college students in South Africa.

Her amazement is especially pronounced when considering one of her foundation’s most important initiatives is providing sanitary wear to girls as they menstruate because it currently forces them to miss on average 50 days of school a year.

However the real shock came when Mandela learned Stewarts Creek is a public neighborhood high school.

“It’s pretty awesome to know around the world everybody doesn’t have what we have,” said student ambassador Jasper Snowden. “We’re so much more fortunate.”

That can only be the beginning of the value Mandela’s visit provided for students and staff (really all of us.) The conversation cannot end with a renewed gratitude for our luxuries. If we stop there I would argue that mindset is shallow, not in the sense of being materialistic, but lacking in the necessary depth.

“If you look at [Nelson Mandela’s] life he was a rural boy that first attended school bare footed, with cut of pants from his father, tied with a piece of string,” said Ndileka Mandela . “But he became the first President of a Democratic South Africa.”

So what’s your excuse?

Understanding the opportunities others don’t have isn’t meant to make us feel better or superior, but rather convict us to remove all of the excuses about our own lives. Insert the reminder that the old folks often repeat, “To whom much is given, much is expected/required.”

I was first taught this lesson as a child. I’m African. I’m a first generation American and throughout my life I’ve had the opportunity to visit Sierra Leone many times.

My Mom and I In My Grandmother's Yard: Freetown, Sierra Leone

My Mom and I In My Grandmother’s Yard


It’s one of the poorest countries in the world, but Sierra Leone has a richness in its spirit that I want to bottle up and bring back with me every time.

Beautiful Sierra Leone, West Africa

Beautiful Sierra Leone, West Africa


Having the chance to visit family in West Africa and being immersed in the traditions and culture at home has allowed me to have a global perspective that’s been the foundation in building my identity.

After Church In Freetown

After Church In Freetown


When my mom would yell at me growing up (probably for being wasteful or ungrateful) she would often say,

“Do you know what your cousins in Freetown (the capital city of Sierra Leone) would do with your opportunity?”

Flaming Church School

Flaming Church School


These opportunities have come at a very high price. People have been beat for them, gone to prison for them and have even died. (Watch the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Selma March)

When I no longer felt entitled to the opportunities I was afforded and saw them as a gift, I understood capitalizing on them didn’t make me special; instead it became my responsibility. I feel an obligation to my parents and ancestors to take the baton and run as far as I can with it.

“Within these walls they could be the next Obama,” said Mandela. “They can be the next President that can actually come from poor areas. That’s what I live for on a daily basis.”

I’m not oblivious to the institutional barriers that present very real and painful obstacles, especially for people of color. But we have tangible examples of ordinary people who have overcome them to do extraordinary things.

Ndelika Mandela could rest on her family name but her presence served as a reminder that there’s so much more work that needs to be done here at home and across the globe.

Our privilege provides us luxuries but it also demands a sense of responsibility to create more opportunities for future generations.



  1. MUM
    March 23, 2015

    “Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. As your parents, we taught you to believe in yourself, believe in what you do and encouraged you to pursue your passion. You were taught the value of education, work and responsibility. Follow your dreams. When you can break things down into manageable steps & goals, you will be able to see the possibilities and results of your efforts and accomplish great things one step at a time. It’s nothing but pure joy to us to see you following your dreams. God bless you my dear and know that we are very proud of you.

    • admindreatvadmin
      March 24, 2015

      Thanks mom! You’re the BEST!

Drop a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *