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“It Always Seems Impossible Until It’s Done!” - Mandela Washington Fellows Series

By Yvonne Jila

This quote by Nelson Mandela is one of my favorite quotes.  Not only does it remind me of my journey to becoming one of the 2015 Mandela Washington Fellows, but it also reminds me of struggles I have had to conquer in life.  The quote also inspires me in my work of advancing the rights of women in urban and rural Zimbabwe.

Flashback to Monday, August 10, 2015, I came across this same quote again, this time at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. Located in downtown Atlanta, The Center is an engaging cultural attraction that connects the American Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movements. I saw this quote during our orientation of the Mandela Washington Professional Development Experience when the Center's Director of Educational Strategies, Dina Bailey, was taking Mandela Washington Fellow Joel Tchombosi and me through the museum.

The museum takes you back to the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s and traces the rights movement through to present day. There is a story of six-year-old Ruby Bridges who is known for being the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in Louisiana during the 20th Century is in the exhibition. Her courage moved me to tears as I felt that must have been too much for a girl of her age.

I also marveled at the courage of Claudette Colvin who, in 1955 at 15, resisted bus segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, and was arrested. Although much credit and publicity has been given to Rosa Parks who also resisted bus segregation (nine months after Colvin), Colvin's story reminds me of how young people are capable of contributing towards change.

During this tour, I was ushered into the world of nonviolent strategies that the activists used to fight for their rights. The Freedom Riders challenged this status quo by riding interstate buses in the South in mixed racial groups in order to challenge local laws or customs that enforced segregation in seating. Although they were beaten, tortured, they did not fight back.

Then there were the lunch sit ins. Here I had a rare privilege of going through a simulation experience of what the activists went through. From the moment I put my hands on the counter and headphones on, I was taken way back to  the  torture young activists underwent when they would sit down at a "whites-only" lunch counters and ask to be served. I could feel the shouting and insults getting louder and louder as if this was happening in real life. The experience was amazing although it lowers ones spirit to think that this torture happened in real life and the tortured would not fight back.

Another major highlight for me during this tour was the section dedicated to Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  His death always reminds me that leadership is about being selfless and it is also about sacrifice. In his words, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.”  Knowing about this man, reading his works and the experience at The Center has inspired me to think beyond horizons and seek to become a leader with a difference.

Inspired by this rich history, I spent the whole week visiting the museum in the afternoons, reading, listening to audio recordings and watching videos of individuals who made sacrifices to bring an end to racial segregation in America. Although these experiences moved me to tears (thanks to The Center for providing boxes of tissue in some exhibition spaces), I admired the courage that these individuals had to make the impossible a possibility.


Yvonne Jila is a gender, media, and arts activist with over seven years’ experience. She is currently the director of the International Images Film Festival for Women, Zimbabwe where she advocates for women’s rights through film in both urban and rural areas. She also develops outreach and activism campaigns that support gender equality and social justice. Yvonne spent the first six weeks of the Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley training on Civic Leadership. She will  be interning at the Center for six weeks. During this period, she will be writing articles on this blog.

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