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New Exhibit Honors The Life Of Nelson Mandela And Encourages Community Service

'Part of the Freedom?' is a gallery dedicated to the years of chaos leading up to the landmark 1994 South African election.
Courtesy of the Milwaukee Public Museum
'Part of the Freedom?' is a gallery dedicated to the years of chaos leading up to the landmark 1994 South African election.

Nelson Mandela is known as one of the most important civil rights activists in the world. His life and fight for equality is the subject of the newest exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum in partnership with America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

Ellen Censky is the president and CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum, which is hosting Nelson Mandela: The Official Exhibition until August 1 both in-person and virtually.

“[Mandela’s life] is this story of this man who is, when you read about him he’s such a humble man, but so driven and never gave up,” says Censky.

Robert Davis is the president of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, located in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood. He says the exhibit is not just focused on the triumphs of Mandela’s life but telling the entire story of the civil rights legend.

“Most people only focus on the very end of someone’s life or some significant moments, but they don’t understand how all of those experiences created those significant moments,” says Davis.

There are many parallels that Davis ties from Mandela’s life to Milwaukee today, but he says the most obvious one is protest. After a year of renewed protests against police violence enacted against Black people across the United States, he looks at the violence that Black people in South Africa were facing and how Mandela fought to change the system of apartheid.

“What I’m drawn to in terms of the parallels is what can we take from how he evolved and how South Africa evolved,” he says.

Davis hopes the exhibit will encourage people to have more direct conversations about race in the United States. In Milwaukee he says, people need to “come clean with each other” about the truth of racism and injustice in the community.

“I really hope that this exhibit just reverberates these discussions through our community — our different, diverse community,” he says. “If not the life of Nelson Mandela as this kind of springboard than who or what?”

At the end of the exhibit, attendees are challenged to take part in the My Mandela Pledge. Censky explains that the pledge asks people to take 67 minutes and use that time to complete an act of service.

“It’s in recognition of the 67 years that he fought for equality in South Africa, but it’s — our challenge is to take that 67 minutes and do something for the betterment of the community,” she says. “We’re hoping that it just inspires people to engage in the community and make the community better.”

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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