Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Minority Health Organizations Remember Nelson Mandela

Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great.  You can be that great generation.”
-Nelson Mandela

We at the Office of Minority Health stand with the world in mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, and honoring his truly transformative legacy.  Even though he now belongs to the ages, his fight for civil rights and social justice will continue to galvanize our movement for equity.  His ideals will endure; his words will live on.  And his example will continue to light our way. 

A prisoner who became a President, a freedom fighter who united a nation, a giant who led with courage and humility, President Mandela taught us that one voice can become an inflection point for sweeping change.  He showed us that a nation can come together to face its most painful truths, and overcome its deepest wounds.  He inspired us, in more ways than we can count, to believe that there are no limits to what we can do when we work together.

“To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains,” President Mandela once said, “but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  As he invoked our highest aspirations, he reminded us that we as a people cannot aspire to greatness without also fulfilling our obligations to one another.  From his vision we draw strength and hope as we move forward in our work to create a healthier more promising future for our most vulnerable and underserved communities.

Today, as we offer our condolences to the Mandela family, and to the people of South Africa, we also celebrate the life of a truly extraordinary man. We remember Nelson Mandela’s courage, his grace, and his unyielding belief that even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, a brighter tomorrow is within our reach.  His dream of justice and equality for all is now ours to carry on, and bring to bear.  

J. Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health
Director, HHS Office of Minority Health

Today as I reflect on how I can best honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela, I realize that while we have been preparing for this day, with his passing comes a tremendous responsibility. A responsibility not just to act, but to act intentionally even when what we seek to achieve seems so far away.

I, and many of us at APIAHF, have spent most of our lives fighting for the voiceless and advocating for equality. I have been honored to do my work alongside you and many others who share a common vision of a more just world and civil society. In those times when I feel that I have not done enough, I remember the sage words of Mandela: "It always seems impossible until it's done."

Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Capetown, as part of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. In bearing witness to the resilience, resistance and indomitable spirit of Nelson Mandela's 27 years at Robben Island, I felt the absolute truth of his words and I took inspiration in how his experience is part of our shared narrative in fostering a deeper understanding of racial reconciliation.

In the summer of 1990, I listened eagerly in Oakland as Mandela spoke of the struggles of his people, the adversity faced around the world and the need for all persons to come together and live in harmony. ''We are at a crucial historical juncture,'' Mandela said. ''We shall not turn back.''

Mandela's commitment to reconciliation and his deep understanding of how it is the cornerstone of equity and justice echoes our work.  At APIAHF, we dedicate ourselves to the struggles of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, as well as the broader community. We fight to stamp out health disparities. We fight for equality in health and equal opportunities for all.

Like Mandela's work, our work is opening doors for underserved communities. We are facing the challenges in health equity head on and tackling them step by step. Though our work is far from over, we are helping to bridge the gaps in health and health care.

Holding steadfast to our goal of equality is the best way we can honor Nelson Mandela. So let us take a moment to reflect on his unprecedented accomplishments, life and unbreakable spirit and continue the mission.

We shall not turn back.

Kathy Ko Chin
Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum

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