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His name was Nelson Mandela.
Shane Wilson, a 16-year-old freshman at Start High School, shrugged.
“I’ve never heard of him,” young Wilson admitted. “He just died?
“I know Paul Walker just died. He was an actor and celebrity. Roger Rodas, who was driving the car: he also died.”
Young Wilson’s response wasn’t unique. About 20 Toledo area high school students were asked Friday if they knew who Mr. Mandela was. Most students didn’t even recognize the name.
Mr. Mandela spent nearly a third of his life in prison for opposing apartheid, the racist system of white-minority rule and segregation that governed South Africa for decades.
After years of worldwide pressure on South African leaders, Mr. Mandela was released in 1990 and soon thereafter was elected the country’s first black president. He led the dismantling of the apartheid system, and in the process became a world leader and symbol of inspiration.
“I know he was really well-liked,” said Corina Rodriquez, a 15-year-old freshman who attends Bowsher High School. “But I’m not sure why the world loved him.”
Jose Luna, student outreach specialist for Toledo Public Schools, wasn’t surprised that students were more familiar with movie stars than a world leader such as Mr. Mandela.
Unfortunately, he said, students don’t learn about leaders like Mr. Mandela in school, nor do they take it upon themselves to learn more about the world around them.
“Some students are lazy and don’t take the time to learn about the people and things that really affect their lives,” he said. “It’s all about movies, music, and video games.”
Waite High School freshmen Joshua Cosby, 15 and Armani Brent, 15, were also stumped when asked if they knew anything about Mr. Mandela. When asked, young Cosby just hung his head and shook a “no.”
“I’m not sure,” Mr. Brent said. “My mom said he was a great leader.”
Ashley Hanback, 15, wasn’t able to add much more detail.
“I’m not sure,” the Bowsher High School freshman said. “I know he was South Africa’s president. There’s a lot of stories about him on the Internet.”
Contact Federico Martinez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.