by Tanya Franklin
Tanya Franklin is UCLA School of Law’s inaugural Education Law Public Service Fellow at MHAS.


In the wake of the loss of a visionary leader, I can’t help but reflect on the lessons we should have learned by now.  Nelson Mandela, one of history’s humblest heroes, through his words and his actions, taught the world about freedom, equality, and courage.  As it relates to my work with restorative justice, I’m reminded of the way he understood the human condition and the legacy he leaves, challenging us to not only see – but also to illuminate – the good in others.

When I was a middle school teacher, I had posters of inspirational quotes all around my classroom walls.  On the second day of school, I led an activity I called “Quote Art.”  My students would choose a quote and draw and present a visual representation of what the quote meant to them.  They did this in pairs to get to know their classmates, discuss classroom expectations, and build a positive community in our room: the foundation of restorative justice in a school.

Several of my students chose the quote on my wall from Nelson Mandela: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  They drew and discussed bringing out the beauty and the good in each other.  They said that when they were nice to someone, that person was more likely to be nice back, and if you messed up, saying sorry and meaning it would let others truly forgive you and be your friend again.  With their sixth grade voices and their worlds of experience, they eloquently articulated what Mandela struggled to convince adults.

He believed it was more natural to love than to hate; he encouraged mercy over retribution; and he valued optimism, education, and perseverance.  My eleven year old scholars understood that and could articulate it with their new classmates on their second day at a new school.  As I mentioned last week, students have the answers and we adults must give them the opportunities to share their voices.  In doing so, we treat our young people with the dignity they deserve and we reveal our trust in youth leadership.  Mandela remarked, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  I hope ours is respectful.

As LAUSD moves toward restorative practices in all our schools by 2020, I’m reminded of another reflection of Mandela’s: “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”  I encourage us all in this movement to truly believe in the justice of restoration and the power of community.  This includes educators, administrators, community members, students, and families. We can all reflect on our experiences and illuminate the virtues in each other.

No matter your role in a movement toward a more just society, Mandela’s words can offer inspiration: “It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”