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Keeping Nelson Mandela's legacy alive

By Trish McHenry, CNN
Nelson Mandela greets children in Cape Town, South Africa, in April 2009.
Nelson Mandela greets children in Cape Town, South Africa, in April 2009.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The best way to honor Nelson Mandela is to take action and inspire change.
  • Take part in Mandela Day on July 18, his 93rd birthday.
  • Fight racism and bigotry, help improve the lives of young people.
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(CNN) -- Nelson Mandela is a symbol of the human struggle for justice and equality. In celebration of his 93rd birthday on Monday, you may be asking yourself how best to honor him.

His own Nelson Mandela Foundation is committed to the issue of social justice. Mandela once said, "To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity."

The main mission of Mandela's 46664.com organization is global awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS. The plight of those who have HIV/AIDS in Africa and throughout the world has been of great concern to Mandela. UNAIDS estimated the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in 2009 at more than 33 million. More than 22 million of those people live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund is dedicated to improving the conditions and lives of children and youths. Mandela has always loved children, and he wants the world's young people to have opportunities.

In a 2000 interview with CNN's Jim Clancy, Mandela said, "We want every child to have a first-class primary education. We want the elimination of all preventable diseases in society, so that we can say in theory and in practice that we regard our children as the jewels in our society."

The Mandela Rhodes Foundation is aimed at helping African youths who show academic prowess and leadership potential by offering them scholarships to further their education and build upon their leadership skills. Mandela knows that young people hold the key to the future. And he wants them to have the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential.

Mandela often calls on all people to do something -- even something small -- to make the world a better place. It seems that each of us whose lives have been affected by the many causes he has so stoically fought for can honor him by carrying on his work in our own way.

In Mandela's own words, "It is in your hands to make a difference."

Here are some ways you can keep his legacy alive:

Take part in Mandela Day

In 2009, the United Nations officially declared July 18, Mandela's birthday, Nelson Mandela International Day. The Nelson Mandela Foundation asks individuals to honor his legacy by devoting 67 minutes of time to community service.

The number 67 is significant because Mandela spent more than 67 years serving his community. The goal of your 67-minute project is to do something that will create not only a physical change but a sense of empowerment and pride among communities.

This year, the theme is "change," and the slogan is "Take Action. Inspire Change. Make Every Day a Mandela Day." So help clean a school, paint a neighbor's house, spend time in a community garden, feed the hungry or read to a child.

Fight racism and bigotry

One way to carry on his legacy is to live by his example. Take a few minutes to examine prejudices you may have. Make a personal resolution to let go of them. Encourage the people in your life do the same.

Speak out against injustice when you see it. Don't accept prejudice. Learn to recognize bullying and harassment.

Donate your time, and share information with your family, friends, school, church and neighbors. A resource that may help you is StopBullying.gov. You can also fight racism and bigotry by supporting organizations committed to social justice, like Mandela's own Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Help increase HIV/AIDS awareness

Globally, there are numerous organizations focused on AIDS awareness and prevention, including amfAR, ActionAid International, Keep A Child Alive, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and Doctors Without Borders.

Become active in one of these organizations, become informed about HIV/AIDS and spread your knowledge to others. Ask someone with the disease to speak at your church or school. Sponsor a family living with HIV/AIDS.

Volunteer at a hospital to hold babies who were born with the disease. Visit the American Hospital Directory online to find a hospital near you, and then ask to speak with the hospital's volunteer coordinator.

Improve the lives of young people

Donating your money or time to organizations dedicated to the welfare of children, locally or internationally, is a way to uphold Mandela's legacy. Aside from Mandela's own Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, some other organizations are Save the Children, UNICEF, Feed the Children and Child Fund International.

Sponsor a child. Advocate for young people. Donate goods. Toys for Tots makes it easy to find a drop-off location near you, and you can call the Salvation Army at 1-800-SA-TRUCK to schedule a pickup of your donated goods.

Promote leadership development

Become involved in an organization with a similar mission such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of America or Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Become a mentor. MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership can help you find organizations in your area in need of mentors. There are even ways to e-mentor. Nurture and encourage positive attributes you see in young people, or consider starting your own scholarship program.

Stand up for what you believe in

Mandela is a man of conviction. No matter what cause is dear to your heart, stand up for it. Advocate for it, and find ways to inspire others to do the same. And that will keep his legacy alive.

 
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