Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu
By Heather Rader

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” –Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

The world premiere exhibit, Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu, at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati welcomes visitors to explore the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela through the lens of South African documentary photographer, Matthew Willman. With a collection of artifacts and photographs, this profound exhibit allows visitor’s own distinctive light to shine brighter after observing the photographic journey of Mandela’s inspiring life.

The photographic journey begins in Mandela’s humble childhood home, Mvezo Village, then travels to Johannesburg, Pretoria (where Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists went on trial in 1963) and Robben Island (where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years). Each photograph chronicles the pivotal moments of Mandela’s life, in which he dedicated to creating equality for all. Along with the poignant photography collection, the exhibit features artifacts from Mandela’s life on loan from The Nelson Mandela Foundation, including recorded segments from Mandela’s famous Pretoria courtroom speech “I Am Prepared to Die” and a replica of Mandela’s Robben Island prison cell.

Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu tells the story of one man’s fight for equality, justice and freedom through unimaginable challenges, discrimination and sacrifices. Even after numerous injustices, Nelson Mandela persevered to forgive, to love and to liberate an entire country. Mandela’s life serves as a platform to teach tolerance and unity of all individuals, indeed achieving “Ubuntu,” a Nguni Bantu word meaning “humanity to others.” 

The combination of visual imagery, auditory dialect and creative, yet symbolic exhibition design creates an emotionally captivating journey that leaves one yearning to make a positive impact on this world.

“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” -Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu welcomes visitors through August 20, 2017. The exhibition costs $5 with regular museum admission. To learn more about the important mission of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, please visit


About the Author