“Ubuntu” is a word derived from the Bantu languages in Southern Africa and today it is a classic African philosophy about human existence that centers around the power of sacrifice, helping others, embracing forgiveness and loving each other for the greater good.
This concept has been espoused by some of the world’s leading statesmen, including South Africa’s freedom fighter Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Tutu defined Ubuntu as “the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have Ubuntu you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole humanity.”
Mandela defined Ubuntu in his typical sagely way of expression.
“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu, but it will have various aspects,” Mandela explained.
“Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is, are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to be able to improve?”
These varying definitions of Ubuntu, from Tutu and Mandela make the case for the former Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick and Detroit prison reform campaigner Yusef Shakur and others — that they belong to our community despite the serious mistakes they made in the past.
We cannot abandon them and we must not look at their lives today through the prism of their past, but by the exemplary lives they are living now as change agents. The past belongs to the past.
In 2011, we can begin to take a realistic and pragmatic look at giving a second chance to those who have not only shown remorse for their past actions, but are helping to change society for the better.
Since they have sought genuine redemption for the terrible decisions they made in the past, who are we to now hold their lives hostage by heaping condemnation on them, sometimes in a self-righteous, even hypocritical manner.
Vick made an inexcusable decision to run an illegal dogfighting ring in which seven dogs were killed. Even so, he deserves the right to life as we all do. Vick was made to pay the price by serving 19 months in federal prison in addition to the financial losses — in the millions — that he suffered.
He came out of prison and the Philadelphia Eagles staked its reputation by giving him a second chance. There was much opposition to his offer and to this day there are those who are still opposed to the second opportunity he was given.
Vick is now turning out to be one of the NFL’s redemptive and inspiring stories. His interesting road to redemption motivated President Obama to call Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffery Lurie to congratulate him for giving Vick a second chance.
Obama’s critics and those who are opposed to redemption because they live “perfect lives” unlike everyone else, dismissed the president’s applause of the redemptive story of Vick by saying he was making a calculated political move at a time when he was down in the polls.
Insanity. Conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson, upset about the foremost leader of the free world spotlighting second chance on the national scene by calling Lurie for signing Vick, said Vick should have been executed. That was for the ratings and nothing else.
Carlson’s remark exposes the nakedness of unintelligent, unreasonable and unhealthy discourse that is devoid of any inkling of humanity that passes through the airwaves these days as serious dialogue.
I wonder if Carlson would have called for the execution of a relative who was in the same predicament as Vick?
Where is his sense of Ubuntu? Carlson and those of his ilk represent a movement whose personal sense of redemption does not extend to people who don’t look like them.
For some education on the power of liberating forgiveness, I would recommend that Carlson and his crew reach out to people like Shirley Sherrod, the former USDA Georgia official — victimized by racial smear and fired — who rose from racial bitterness and became an example of racial harmony helping Blacks and Whites. She exemplified Ubuntu.
I condemn animal cruelty in every form.
But this question needs to be asked: If Michael Vick was White, would the condemnation been as intense and long-lasting? Or would he have been receiving recommendations for awards with regard to the power of human transformation?
Look at former New York Governor Elliott Spitzer who rendezvoused with a prostitute in a hotel, which later brought down his political career. Now he is co-anchoring CNN’s prime time news program.
If he had been a Black man would CNN had given him such a generous second chance?
Such chances should not be applied on the basis of race, but on our humanity and skill.
Just as Vick is making efforts to redeem his life, so too is Detroiter Yusef Shakur, driven by his own personal efforts with the support of others who believe in the liberating power of forgiveness.
Shakur is mentoring young people to avoid getting caught up in the criminal justice system and speaking out on violence after serving 10 years in prison for gang activity.
In prison he met his own father, a harrowing story he narrates in his book, “The Window to My Soul,” about his life growing up and ending up in prison. But he takes responsibility for his past actions and vowed to change and credits his mother for never giving up on him. He has received numerous awards for his transformation and now owns and operates a bookstore.
Shakur’s life story is no different from other young Blacks who are entrapped in the ghetto world of limited or no opportunity and have to fend for themselves. In that world there are young people who are basically raising themselves, with no parents, and only the very strong are making it through high school and college. There are children waking up every morning without food on the table. Their world-view is drastically different from ours.
Ubuntu dictates that in 2011 we reach out to this world that some of us have written off and offer mentorship and support to those young people who are crying for opportunity, before they get in trouble and perhaps end up on a second chance list.
Even though Vick was a millionaire by the time he committed the offense and may not be coming from the same experience as Shakur, the point still remains that everyone needs a second chance — regardless of race, social status, gender and creed.
Senior editor Bankole Thompson is the author of the new book, “Obama and Black Loyalty, Vol. 1.” It is a trilogy on President Obama and Black America. Every Saturday at 1 p.m. watch “Center Stage With Bankole Thompson” on WADL-TV38, Comcast Channel 4. You can also listen to his weekly analyses on Thursdays, 11:15 a.m., on WDET-101.9 FM, Detroit NPR affiliate station. E-mail email@example.com.