Clayton Early Learning

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela: His Legacy of Walking in Cultural Humility

Shant'a Johnson

Posted by Shant'a Johnson


Shant'a Johnson

It is fitting to use this space and time to honor and celebrate the life of one of the world’s most influential and courageous leaders of whom we have recently lost-Nelson Mandela.  Mandela, a South-African anti-apartheid activist and revolutionary, also served as the first black South-African President from 1994 to 1999.

Over the past week, as I viewed news clips of his life and legacy, one theme continued to shine through about who he was and the life and work that he lived.  It was his legacy of forgiveness and resiliency.  This legacy is one that many of those on either side of the former apartheid system attributed publicly to being the unifying factor of the 52,981,991 people who live in South Africa today.  Being an African-American female in the U.S., who still feels the impact of racism, classism, and gender inequality; I am thankful to have an example such as Mandela to look to as I journey and grow towards cultural humility.

You might be asking, what is cultural humility and what does this have to do Nelson Mandela?  Cultural humility, is a concept first birthed out of the health field to address the issue of lack of patient compliance to doctor prescribed treatment.  In the article Cultural Humility versus Cultural Competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education, cultural humility is defined as being:

“A lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and critique, to redressing the power imbalances… and to developing mutually beneficial and non-paternalistic partnerships with communities on behalf of individuals and defined populations” (Tervalon, 123).

A young African American boy immitating a picture Nelson Mandela's raised fist during a speachMandela’s legacy embodies the very essence of cultural humility and its standing principles.  One standing principle that I feel reflects the life and legacy of Mandela is that of self-reflection and the life-long learner model.  Mandela states, “As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself.  You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.”

This principle deems it “imperative that there be a simultaneous process of self-reflection (realistic and on-going self-appraisal) and commitment to a lifelong learning process” (Tervalon, 119).  One must first be willing to “consciously think about their own, often ill-defined and multidimensional cultural identities and backgrounds” (Tervalon, 120).

Mandela is characterized as a highly self-reflective individual, he shows what he has learned about himself and accepted through the following quotes:

“I am fundamentally an optimist.   Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say.  Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward.  There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.  That way lays defeat and death.”

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find ways in which you yourself have altered”

We also can see Mandela’s process of letting go and forgiving in the following quote, as he reflects upon being released after serving over 27 years in prison, due to his involvement in anti-apartheid activism, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”

Mandela, with a firm foundation of understanding who he was, and the strength to accept what came, changed the course of a nation’s history and impacted the world.  If we were to take a closer look at his life’s journey, we can see one who lived by the principle of self-reflection and the lifelong learner model, allowing his life’s tragic events to transform him from being not only an influential activist against the apartheid, but also an advocate for the cause of peace on behalf of all.

In conclusion, let us all be challenged to take more time to self-reflect and accept what comes, using it to strengthen ourselves and others in this journey called life.  Together, we can have a hand in helping to shape the future for those little ones who will follow.


Tervalon, M., Murray- García, J. Cultural Humility versus Cultural Competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education.  Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved; May 1998; 9,2; Research Library pg. 117.



Why Does Culture Matter: The Clayton Approach to Culturally Proficient Work

Shant'a Johnson

Posted by Shant'a Johnson


Shant'a Johnson

Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican journalist, publisher, and political activist in the late 1800’s, once stated, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Events such as cultural celebrations or cultural exchanges are necessary to promote understanding around issues of difference, but it doesn’t stop there.

The journey that Clayton Early Learning embarks upon with each individual child and their family is one that honors cultural foundations. We value and implement Principle 1 of the document Revisiting and Updating the Multicultural Principles for Head Start Programs Serving Children Ages Birth to Five, expressing that “Every Individual is rooted in culture” (p. 11).

At Clayton Early Learning we understand that in order for an early childhood educator to work effectively with a child, it is critical to work through the lens of the child’s individual culture. As stated in the manual Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders, “Culture is a predominant force; you cannot not have a culture” (p. 6).

The definition of culture can be simultaneously complex and yet simple in nature. It is important to understand that an individual’s culture comes in layers.
From universal identity- being part of the human species, to group identities such as race, age, gender, geographical, etc. and then familial identity (positioning in the family, effects of childrearing practices and historical family background). These levels of identity build an individual’s culture that make them unique, and yet also connected to others through shared experiences and identities.

For Clayton, learning how to build relationships that honor who a child and their family are is a work that is continuously growing. A wide range of information is captured spanning from the child’s family structure such as: who are the primary caregivers, home language, to important health information about the child and the family, all beginning at enrollment. In addition, a two page document called the first home visit form interviews the family about things like the origin of the child’s name, to favorite foods and eating habits, as well as educational practices within the family. All of this is done for the child to have a better connection to the teachers in their classroom, with their classmates, and ultimately to thrive in their educational setting and with the primary caregivers in their classroom.

In learning about a child, it is understood that culture is a part of the picture, but not the whole picture. A great point made in the Multicultural Principles document is that, “Culture is a way or (ways) of living.” In other words, culture is not the only way to explain human development…Individuals are also dynamic- they change and adapt to the circumstances of their lives” (p. 14). Clayton utilizes the detailed information that is received about each child as a firm foundation upon which to build strong transitions and growth in developmental milestones which ultimately will support a child’s success throughout their academic career and beyond.

Points of Reflection:
• Culture is a predominant force
• Diversity within cultures is vast and significant
• The group identity of individuals is as important as their individual identities
• The family, as defined by each culture is the primary system of support in the education of children.

Revisiting and Updating The Multicultural Principles for Head Start Programs Serving Children Ages Birth to Five (2010). HHS/ACF/OHS.
Lindsey, R. B.; Robins, K. N.; Terrell R.D. (2009). Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders. (Corwin Press; Thousand Oaks, CA)