Today, we had a date with Nelson Mandela; well, the closest we’ll ever get to him anyway; to Robben Island. As I mentioned before, the first book we are reading is his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom (LWTF).” It profiles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison. Under apartheid government, he was regarded as a radical and jailed for his role as a leader of the African National Congress (ANC); which is a South African political party that considers itself a force for national liberation. Not only was he in time granted his own freedom, but led his entire country to freedom from the brutal and oppressive Apartheid government.
Exploring and learning about the apartheid movement is the most moving part of this trip for me. “You never really understand a person until you until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Man, have I walked… Struggle has been the essence of my life; personal and professional.
My father died when I was five years old and my mother died 1 ½ years later; by age seven my sister and I were orphans. We were raised by our maternal aunt, who did not feel good about herself and was fixated with the need to control. This led us to being reared in an abusive environment; emotionally, mentally and physically. I was a child and felt that I had no means of recourse; so as soon as I graduated from high school, I ran to college in the pursuit of my personal freedom. I made a vow to forever retain my personal freedom.
Yet sixteen years later, I found myself in another toxic environment as a federal government employee. Our management was all white and led by a Director who was motivated by personal power and used unethical and mean-spirited means to manipulate the all black staff. We, the staff, named the office “Amistad,” because the management used “divide and rule” tactics to intentionally create workplace division. I felt I had to survive in this environment, because I was a single parent raising my only son with little assistance from extended family.
Unlike my efforts in my personal freedom struggle; I became a freedom fighter, fighting for my professional freedom. I was like Nelson Mandela and used every recourse available to me. As an administrative employee, I was unable to join the union, which was a joke anyway; so I complained to my management’s superiors, filed administrative grievances, complaints with my congressman, the Office of Special Council and Merit System Protection Board. All of my efforts were to no avail, because “management sticks with management.” Like Nelson Mandela, they labeled me a “troublemaker” and a “disgruntle employee.”
I endured this fight for fifteen years; until my son graduated with his Master’s degree. It was then that I decided to again run away to college in pursuit of a Master degree and my professional freedom. I desire to work in an environment that fosters learning and growth for excellence, encourages employees to understand, trust and respect each other and embraces and honor my work ethics. During my professional struggle as a government employee, I’ve been told many times by many, “It’s like that everywhere;” which shows the complacency of people today to endure this type of treatment for whatever reason they feel necessary.
I’ve maintained my commitment to myself for personal freedom. My current walk for professional freedom has generated my “Encore Journey.” I am still currently in graduate school and if all goes well, will be graduating in December. This study abroad trip has taken us on the path to explore Nelson Mandela’s “long walk to freedom,” which has been therapeutic and embraced me in a manner that words could never describe. I will continue my pursuit of professional freedom and not give in to the complacency of any type of career abuse for any reason. As I continue on this journey, I am inspired by Nelson Mandela saying, “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the valley of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”