June 05, 2015

A Tale of Two Pauls: Why I am thankful for the journey I follow

Carol Cone

Carol Cone On Purpose

Like millions around the globe, I too was deeply touched by the passing of Nelson Mandela. As South Africa President Zuma stated in his powerful eulogy, “Whilst your long walk to freedom has ended in the physical sense, our own journey continues. We have to continue building the type of society you worked tirelessly to construct. We have to take your legacy forward. In doing so we will continue drawing lessons from your very rich and extraordinary life.”

The death of this world statesman and peacemaker, caused me to reflect on my life’s journey and its crossing with some extraordinary CEO’s, both named Paul.

Let me explain.

In 1988, we began a partnership with Reebok supporting their commitment to global human rights, from their sponsorship of the Amnesty World Concert Tour, a celebration of the 4oth Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, to the creation of the Reebok Human Rights Awards, honoring young activists under the age of 30 conducting nonviolent acttions of human rights in localities.

When Mandela selected Boston as his first US visit in June, 1990, Reebok supported various events surround that momentous trip. I had the honor of providing pro bono services to this visit. Boston was selected to express thanks to activists who had supported the struggle against apartheid rule in South Africa. ( Massachusetts was the first state to withdraw its pension funds from companies doing business in South Africa.) As well, the city was selected as a cornerstone to begin fundraising for the Free South Africa Movement.

At the time, my agency’s client, Reebok, was

The whole program was started by Paul Fireman,” says Ken Lightcap. “His per­sonal commitment to this issue is what drove the whole campaign. He saw the opportunity. As far as the human rights program is concerned, we are on track and we will begin a whole new phase this fall.

“The Reebok Foundation had already fol­lowed up the tour by creating the world’s first human rights award for young activists. In 1988 and 1989, the Foundation awarded $100,000 to young people under the age of 30 who have made significant contributions to the advancement of human rights. Recipients to date have included two young South Africans (one white, one black), and a survivor of the Cambodian genocide living in the United States and campaigning to edu­cate American children about the horrors of war faced by young people all over the world.

Reebok was also active in supporting the recent visit of Nelson Mandela to the United States (and Cone handled PR for the Boston leg of his national tour) and attended a meeting between Mandela and Boston business leaders.To coincide with the visit, Paul Fireman presented a three-year $375,000 grant to the TransAfrica Forum, a Washington think-tank on U.S. policy in Africa.

Mandela deeply understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

Mandela taught us the power of action, but he also taught us the power of ideas.

“One of the most difficult things is not to change society — but to change yourself,”

Mandela was also an ardent proponent of the African concept of human brotherhood or Ubuntu — mutual responsibility and compassion. Fellow South African, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, explains Ubuntu as “gentleness, compassion, hospitality, openness to others, vulnerability, to be available to others, and to know that we are bound up with them in the bundle of life.”

Mandela regarded ubuntu as part of his heritage and as a “combination of instinct and deliberate planning”.

“People are human beings produced by the society in which they live,” he said. “You encourage people by seeing the good in them.”

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Humility: From all accounts, Mandela had, at most, a modest view of his own importance. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey recalls, for example, his question when he arrived at her studio for a show she had planned about him: “So, Oprah, what is this show about today?”

Courage: Among the iconic images now in circulation, my favourite is that of Mandela, along with some of his ANC colleagues, holding his fist high through the windows of the prison bus transporting him to Robben Island to serve what should have been a life sentence. Resolute in the face of danger and unfettered by fear, he was always free to be great.

Intelligence: Superiority of mind, a capacity for thought and reason, and to acquire and apply knowledge, were obvious Mandela traits. People were drawn to him and his ideas because of his wisdom and his ability to offer insight and analysis that make perfect sense.

Dignity: His stately bearing and easy grace set him apart. It was not possible to ignore his self-assuredness and commanding presence.

Forgiveness: Unfairly imprisoned in the prime of his life for 27 years, he emerged without bitterness and placed forgiveness as a central part of moving forward for himself and his country. Former United States President Bill Clinton, on CBS radio, December 6, said he asked Madiba outright about this: “It was good politics to put your jailers in your inauguration and your government,” Clinton asked. “But didn’t you hate them even just a little?”

“Briefly,” Mandela replied. “But if I continued to hate them, they would have still had me.”

Focused: From the time he joined the ANC, to the end of his presidency, a span of more than a half-century, Mandela was focused on one thing only: ending the brutal apartheid system and setting his country on a path to freedom, equality and justice. At the time of his sentencing in 1964, he declared this a cause for which he was prepared to die.

Authentic: He was simple and unpretentious. He rose to greatness, not because he craved it, but because he lived up to the principles he believed in.

Resilient: The road from Robben Island to the presidency of South Africa is a testament to Mandela’s ability to emerge unscathed from unimaginable hardship.

Attentive: He was a keen listener and he was watchful and observant. The ability to listen is often cited as one of the most desirable qualities of a great leader.

Transformational: To transform means to change in a significant and positive way. Mandela led the overturning of an oppressive racist system and set South Africa on the path to a free society. His ability to be transformational rest upon all his other traits.

Ultimately, it matters not how often we quote Madiba or declare our undying admiration if the principles he held are lost on us. Our greatest tribute to humanity’s finest, the elder of our global village, this man “who took history by the arm and bent the moral arc toward justice,” is to emulate those traits that made him great.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

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