Black History Month Reflections: Nelson Mandela

Jackie Summerville-White
Austin/West Garfield Park Community Project Manager, READI Chicago

Jackie Summerville-White manages our day-to-day operations and participant outreach for READI Chicago within the Austin and West Garfield Park communities. The Austin community is one of the largest of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods, yet has experienced housing disinvestment, and serious loss of jobs and of commerce over the past several decades – making Jackie’s work providing employment and therapy programs all the more critical. Jackie is dedicated to rebuilding Austin through opportunity and hope, which is why she chose to reflect on Nelson Mandela for this piece.

Why did you choose this person?

I went to the University of Illinois back in 1978 to the 80s, which was when Apartheid was very visible in South Africa. I love Nelson Mandela because he stood against systems and how he did it with quiet strength, with love, with understanding, and including all people against a system.

How do they inspire the work you do today?

In READI Chicago, working with the highest risk population, a population that people have basically written off, Nelson Mandela inspires me because this population didn’t just come up overnight. These systems and microaggressions have been around for years. Mandela inspires me to stay true to my passion about human rights and justice for all, and to not just looking at it individually, but to look at it largely. One person can make a difference for many, even when it seems insurmountable. It can sometimes seem like the things we do every day aren’t making a different, but when we step back from it, what our collective individual work is doing is standing up against a system. I believe we are creating a new system that is going to respect human rights.

What do you think it will take to get to the future that he fought for?

One of Nelson Mandela’s best quotes is, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” As we go through this journey, take it step-by-step and day-by-day, eventually we’ll say, “Wow, it’s done.” It’s the continued work, continuing being respectful, walking day-by-day and keeping our minds open to change. Not being afraid of hard conversations for those changes. It’s only impossible until it’s done.