The lesson of Nelson Mandela’s life is that we do not have to accept the world as it is—we can remake it as it should be, AFT President Randi Weingarten and Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson said in a statement following the legendary leader’s death on Dec. 5: 

“We stand in awe of his long walk to freedom and the liberation struggle he led even from the Robben Island cell where he spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned,” they said. “The grand change in the history of his nation and the world that came when he vanquished apartheid has benefited millions of his fellow South Africans and others around the globe. His insistence on reconciliation rather than recrimination stands as an enduring gift of grace and courage to us all.

“Nelson Mandela’s life and historic achievements continue to instruct us in today’s struggles for equity, civil rights and opportunity for all. His moral compass still provides direction to those efforts and will guide us for as long as we honor his memory and celebrate his legacy.

“The AFT has a long and special connection with South Africa and its path to freedom and democracy. These range from AFT President Albert Shanker’s efforts to assist that nation’s multiracial teachers’ unions, to our HIV/AIDS programs in South African schools, to Share My Lesson’s partnership with The Weinstein Company in promoting lessons associated with the film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”