Nelson Mandela: Why was He Important to Kentucky Youth?

December 12, 2013

Photo Credit: ABC News
At the Make Poverty History rally in Trafalgar Square, Nelson Mandela said, “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”  

On December 5, the South African anti-Apartheid leader, politician, and humanitarian Nelson Mandela died in Johannesburg.  Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned for his involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement.  He was released from prison on February 11, 1990.  Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black president of South Africa on May 10, 1994.  In 1993, Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace prize for their efforts toward ending apartheid and creating a democratic government in South Africa.  

Photo Credit: United Nations Foundation

Nelson Mandela was equally committed to poverty alleviation.  While in office Mandela donated one-third of his presidential salary to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.  The fund was created to help youth facing poverty and homelessness in South Africa.  He devoted his life following his release from prison to humanitarian causes.  In 1995, he spoke to an audience of 22,000 people at the rally for Make Poverty History.  Later that year, the United Nations would introduce the Millennium Development Goals toward poverty reduction.  

Poverty has no boundaries.  Kentucky is not immune to the same problems as South Africa.  Kentucky is the fifth poorest state in the United States, and nearly 19.4 percent of Kentuckians live below the poverty line in 2012.  Poverty in Knox County is exceedingly worse, with nearly double or 36 percent of residents live below the poverty line.  It is estimated 44 percent of children in Kentucky live below poverty level.   In 2011 Knox County was the sixth lowest in the state of Kentucky for median household income. 

A 2012 study by Kentucky Youth Advocates ranked Knox County 116th out of 120 counties for child wellbeing.  The factors studied were economic security, education, wealth, and family and community involvement.  All areas of Knox County have been heavily affected by poverty; from Kay Jay to Brown’s Branch poverty is apparent.  Substandard housing with inadequate plumbing and insulation contribute to chronic health issues.  A home should be a safe haven, but frigid winter weather leaves children vulnerable in their own homes.  Winter coats, hats, and gloves are a luxury for many, when they should be a necessity for everyone.  

Childhood obesity should not be synonymous with food insecurity, but it is.  Children in low income households are nearly twice as likely to be obese as children from higher income families.  Cheaper and non-nutritious foods are loaded with calories, and they are often much less expensive.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, and lean meats are often considered an extravagance. 

The study ranked Knox 120th for childhood education wellness.  The issues are apparent, it is not the intelligence of our youth which achieves such rankings.  The affects of growing up in poverty greatly contribute to the ranking.  Children who are well nourished, have stable housing, and their basic needs met, perform better in school.  

Photo Credit: Unknown 
Knox County needs their own Nelson Mandela.  They need youth which are inspired to greatness.  We need leaders which are devoted to improving poverty and equality within the county.  Food insecurity breeds inequality.  We create man-made disadvantages.

Nelson Mandela lived on another continent nearly half the world away, but his teachings were universal.  He said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”  Parents should teach their children about leaders such a Nelson Mandela.  He had courage and faith, even at his grimmest hour.  He fought tirelessly for years under severe oppression.  Nelson Mandela committed his life to the service of others.  When will our own “Nelson Mandela” arrive? We are awaiting the great generation.  

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