Remembering Nelson Mandela from John Taylor CEO of National Community Reinvestment Coalition

John Taylor PhotoOur friend John Taylor shared this remembrance of Nelson Mandela.  John is the CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in Washington DC.  He is an effective advocate for social justice and fair lending practices.

I would be remiss not to share with you a brief story of when I met Nelson Mandela. It was six months after he was released from prison.  As many of you know the Kennedys, particularly Robert, were very engaged in speaking out against apartheid in South Africa.

Robert Kennedy went to visit Mr. Mandela while in prison and upon leaving South Africa had his plane fly low over Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned.  Back home the Kennedys were very vocal in calling for a free South Africa, supporting Rep. Ron Dellums (D-CA) and others who passed legislation in 1986 (it actually had bipartisan support) imposing economic, military another sanctions against the nationalist South African government. Of course that legislation was vetoed by Ronald Reagan.  Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats in the Congress came together and procured the needed votes to override the veto.

In any case, when Mandela came to the U.S. after finally getting out of prison, his first stop in our country was to Boston to thank the Kennedys and the City of Boston (the first U.S. city to take a stand against apartheid by imposing sanctions on companies and banks that conducted business with the South African government).

Robert’s son, Rep. Joe Kennedy II (D-MA), invited me and one other person, to a small gathering of people who would be meeting Mr. Mandela at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, not too far from where I grew up in Boston.  What an honor.

Of the 50 or so people there, it seemed that everyone was a celebrity, I was half expecting someone to ask for my ID and then be escorted out of the building.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and as we stood around waiting for Mr. Mandela’s arrival I was having one-on-one conversations with people like Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Danny Glover and several others.

My congressman, and friend, Joe Kennedy II then introduced me to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  He said, “John have you met Mrs. Onassis?” I replied I had not; she smiled and began to talk, when behind her a door opened and out walked Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela and Senator Ted Kennedy to the thunderous applause of the gathered celebrities.  Like a starstruck fan at a rock concert, I immediately moved towards the star of the show to give him my best and thanks.  To this day I regret not being able to show Mrs. Onassis more deference and to talk with her – what an incredible human being she was.

Mr. Mandela did not disappoint.  He spoke of his appreciation for those who stood up against apartheid, and along with his message he exuded a warmth, graciousness and deep humility that touched me like no one before.  It struck me then, what kind of human being spends 27 years in prison and rises from it with such gentleness and forgiveness as this special man possessed.

I would love to say how much of his intimate speech I remembered, but it was a bit of a blur at this point. The man, his love for mankind, for South Africa, for all things ‘justice,’ just floated out over the audience like a misty and intoxicating perfume. What an honor to have met this very special being.

I am eternally grateful to Joe Kennedy for including me in this special event . As I left the John F Kennedy Library I do remember how peaceful the ride was in my little red Volkswagen bug as I reflected on my own life and work in the field of economic justice.

How trivial my challenges seemed but at the same time how critically important the work we were doing locally in economic justice was.  I was inspired by this slight man from a rural area at the very bottom of this vast continent of Africa.

He showed me that we can endure a great deal, but at the end of the day, the goodness and righteousness of people will prevail.  Like others, I mourn the loss of President Mandela, but at the same time I join billions of people who now celebrate his greatness and commitment to a better society and kinder world.  We are all blessed to have known him, better off as human beings because of his love for mankind, and this is as true whether we witnessed him from afar or up close and personal.

John Taylor

President and CEO, National Community Reinvestment Coalition/NCRC

President Nelson Mandela – Tributes on Passing – His Influence Reached to SRI Community in USA

by Hank Boerner, Chairman, G&A Institute

Today the world mourns the passing of one of the 20th Century’s most distinguished statesmen – President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Among his greatest accomplishments was the lifelong struggle to end the system of Apartheid and oppression of the majority black citizenry, which led to establishment of a “rainbow democracy” with all elements of the country’s society included and having a voice and vote.

Apartheid seems so long ago now but the struggle was very present in the United State of America. The issue was debated on college campuses – President Barack Obama said that his very first “political” issue involvement was about Apartheid. Over time as the issue gained greater public visibility, pressure was applied to the U.S. and European companies operating in South Africa. U.S. companies withdrew — among them giants like Eastman Kodak and General Motors, The US Congress in 1986 passed the “Anti-Apartheid Act” which finally banned trade and investment in South Africa — and banned most S.A. exports to the USA. (This was a Republican-controlled Senate, we would note. President Ronald Reagan vetoed the measure but the Senate overrode the veto – imagine that happening today!) Military sales were stopped. I remember SAA — South African Airways — ceasing operations on their busy NY-Johannesburg route when I was in the airline business.

Speaking of GM, one of the largest US industrial powers — a board member, Reverend Leon Sullivan, suggested a process for dealing with the issue and the resulting “Sullivan Principles” were widely adopted by US companies (a shout out to the GM board of that time for their courage).

A familiar force in sustainable & responsible investment and in encouraging good corporate governance began operations around the issue: today’s ICCR (Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility). ICCR members manage US$100 billion AUM and influence the actions of other asset managers and stakeholders with their activism on key ESG issues.

The trade association for the SRI community — US SIF — commented today on President Mandela’s passing: “US SIF honors the life and action of Nelson Mondela. The roots of today’s sustainable investment field can be found in the efforts of investors, often undertaken with civil society partners in South Africa and around the world, to help eradicate Apartheid by putting pressure on companies doing business in S.A. Sustainable and responsible investors have continued effort to support human rights and address inequality in the decades since. The life of Mandela will continue to influence…”

Many of the public and private sector veterans of the 1960s-1980s divestment campaigns targeting U.S. companies doing business in/with South Africa are today recalling their own individual and collective efforts to bring attention to the campaign for equality and fair treatment of South Africa’s majority population.

General Colin Powell today added his remembrances of Mandela and wondered to his CNN interviewer…what might our own country have looked like if President Abraham Lincoln was not assassinated…what in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War would have been different…avoiding Jim Crow laws, segregation, outright discrimination against our own African-American citizens? Interesting to think about as we remember Nelson Mandela and his struggle a century later…and his comments about President Lincoln’s inspiring example.

Soon after the changes in South Africa I attended a lecture in Washington DC by the former leader (under Apartheid), F.W. DeKlerk, who came to discuss the changes taking place in his country. At one point he said he wished that the system that he ruled would have ended much earlier. Mandela was right.  He touched my heart, the former leader of the white majority government said.  Mandela in his 95 years touched many hearts.

And that suggests the immense power of an idea whose time has come — concepts of freedom, equality, democracy for all, fairness, protection of human rights, the responsibility to society of large corporations  — that armed forces, security thugs, bans, institutional blocks, and other means cannot stop.

We have before us today the example of President Mandela, who was jailed for 27 years in the prime of his life to look to for what can be possible. He forgave his jailors (another powerful idea) and brought his rainbow nation together. We are all in his debt. I will remember these things as I mourn his loss.