Every night, my family's dinner prayer begins with the words, ''God bless our family in America and in Africa, and help all of the people in the world who do not have food to get food.'' We maintain a positive connection between God, America and Africa for many reasons.
Last week we said a prayer for Nelson Mandela and the universal dream for human rights. Mandela's struggle epitomized the way love and forgiveness can conquer hate. If you are human, then human rights matter to you.
In the wake of Mandela's passing last week, we must not forget his epic stand for unity and forgiveness of his enemies. He showed us all the way to peace in a most improbable manner by simply forgiving and embracing the very same men who had oppressed and imprisoned him for 27 years.
I first heard of Nelson Mandela as a 19-year-old student at Youngstown State University when apartheid came up in a discussion. It seemed surreal to be talking about a present day (in 1985) government with legalized racism. I knew the importance of human rights from my childhood lessons over the U.S. Constitution, its amendments, and The Bill of Rights. But Mandela's story really shook me from my complacency.
My friends and I started a chapter of Amnesty International at YSU and soon after I found myself giving speeches in front of large audiences: ''This is history happening right now!'' (I loved that line) and ''We can change the world if we stand united for justice and human rights for all - regardless of a person's skin color, religion, gender or political persuasion!''
At the time most adult men told me I was naive as they chided, ''There is no bloodless solution for South Africa. The country would either go to one side or the other.''
But in 1987, my friends and I coordinated with universities around the world to boycott a specific brand of soft drink with huge economic ties to apartheid and we got our desired results. Both the giant company and the racist government began to buckle under the economic strain.
A bloodless international boycott against racist South Africa pushed their economy to the bottom of the heap (in growth), until they started making concessions that eventually led to Nelson Mandela's release from prison and the official end of Apartheid in South Africa by 1990.
I became so optimistic for humanity that I joined the U.S. Peace Corps in 1992 and went to Africa in 1993. Four years later, I found myself living in Africa with my African wife, Amelina, and our first child, Alicia.
While reading my story, you may never have guessed that I grew up a racist. My male role models were openly racist, and I had racist friends. I shamefully indulged in all of the racist jokes that denied soulful connections to our African brothers and sisters. But thank God, I have come a long way toward big love, while many of you still have a long way to go.
Good relationships happen when we are committed, in mind and deed, to nurture universal love with all humans. Bad relationships happen when we deny or sever connections the author of us all intended us to have. In this way our entire lives boil down to faith in our author's universal love or the denial of it; either we allow God to inhabit the spaces between us or we do not.
Herman is a Warren resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org