St. Lewis: What impact has Nelson Mandela had on your life?

By: /
9 December, 2013
By: Joanne St. Lewis
Professor of Law, University of Ottawa

Mandela is the most significant public intellectual of my lifetime. His spiritual politics influenced the world. I was fortunate and humbled in his presence. I can recall each moment of my conversation with him in South Africa shortly after his release when he was supporting Winnie through her appeal.

Mandela embodied our dignity as Black peoples. Through every action, he made our history of racism present and our possibility to transcend the stigmata of race/racism, real. His words and actions transformed international governance as the leaders of the world saw a reflection of themselves as whole souled. For those moments, they were willing to see themselves through the eyes of this unique man, a Black man – a man they wished to emulate. He gave us all a gift of fellowship. We were all blessed.

His rest is so deserved yet our hearts are heavy. There was an intimacy to our connection – people from so many communities, including the Black/African diaspora, were directly touched by him. Ultimately, we can all choose to be a living legacy – to break cycles, to sacrifice individual retribution for the greater community and to always live in hope.

Before you click away, we’d like to ask you for a favour … 


Journalism in Canada has suffered a devastating decline over the last two decades. Dozens of newspapers and outlets have shuttered. Remaining newsrooms are smaller. Nowhere is this erosion more acute than in the coverage of foreign policy and international news. It’s expensive, and Canadians, oceans away from most international upheavals, pay the outside world comparatively little attention.

At Open Canada, we believe this must change. If anything, the pandemic has taught us we can’t afford to ignore the changing world. What’s more, we believe, most Canadians don’t want to. Many of us, after all, come from somewhere else and have connections that reach around the world.

Our mission is to build a conversation that involves everyone — not just politicians, academics and policy makers. We need your help to do so. Your support helps us find stories and pay writers to tell them. It helps us grow that conversation. It helps us encourage more Canadians to play an active role in shaping our country’s place in the world.

Become a Supporter