Insight News

Feb 09th

Standing at Mandela’s prison window

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tene-wells sitting-lgSocial entrepreneur Tene Wells: Telling the universe our desires

Last month, I traveled to South Africa to look out a window. 

After a series of challenges in 2009, when I was fired, I questioned the trappings of my past successes and corporate security and decided it was time for me to do my: soul work. I applied and received a Bush Fellowship. As I envisioned my new life I decided that one of my learning objectives would include a trip to South Africa to witness the sparks of a new economy. However, the bigger objective was to look out the window of Nelson Mandela’s jail cell.

robben-island-jail-cell-cimg0935Of all the people who transcended their circumstances, no one personifies this more than Nelson Mandela – the man, the leader, the father of South African democracy and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Mandela was given a life sentence in 1964 at the age of 44, for treason against the system of apartheid of the South African government. Apartheid was the system of racial segregation under which the rights of the majority, of Black inhabitants of South Africa, were brutality deprived of their citizenship and banished to live only in townships; enslaved in their homeland.

Held in solitary confinement with his “co-conspirators” on Robben Island for most of his imprisonment, Mandela looked out the window of his cell and manifested a new reality. Allowed only one visit a year, and permitted to receive and send a one-page letter every six months, Mandela said of this experience, “there I had time to just sit and think,” and in that time, he envisioned a different South Africa.

In the 1970s, when I was a young adult beginning my career for social and economic justice, I marched anti-apartheid rallies and learned about Nelson Mandela, vision and the movement he inspired from jail.

I was appalled by the system of apartheid and the imprisonment of Mandela. While the world marched and demanded change, Mandela turned what he called “a misfortune” into a personal triumph when he emerged from imprisonment in1990 and four years later became the President of South Africa.

anti-apartheid-movement-photo-credit-flickrFor many people, the end of apartheid, Mandela’s release from prison and election as president in South Africa was a miracle. How and who controls the power, to manifest the miracle is sometimes debatable, but we can agree our intentions create our reality and the steps we take to manifest our intentions can change reality.

Several years ago, I adopted, Henry David Thoreau the American poet, philosopher, abolitionist, and leading transcendentalist’s mantra, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you have imagined.” Every morning I meditate with this mantra. In all of my speaking engagements and workshops, I start or end with Thoreau’s quote. Although I have experienced the power of this statement many times, somehow I am always amazed when what I have imagined, becomes reality.

nelson mandela-I have heard many stories about Mandela’s predictions of the future and the methodical daily actions he took to manifest his vision. In some accounts, I read that he envisioned his Presidency from the window of his cell. How did he know he had the power to defeat apartheid? What did he see out that window that guided his actions for those many years of isolation?

My trip to South Africa was phenomenal in many ways. Professionally, I studied the genesis of an evolving economy (the South African government is less than 20 years old). I saw a multitude of social enterprises, and heard several stories demonstrating the entrepreneurial spirit of the Black people, of South Africa. I will continue to study and plan to return to South Africa many times, but my first responsibility is to write about the miracle to manifest a new realty to overcome insurmountable circumstances.

My own struggles seem so trivial in the shadow of Nelson Mandela, yet the lesson he inspired in me has the power to change anyone’s circumstances. When I applied for the Bush Fellowship, I declared that I would travel to South Africa to look out Mandela’s window to see my own future. I made a vision board and prominently placed South Africa and a map of the country, on the board to represent my desire and waited for the universe to respond.

I want to become the Suze Orman for poor people. With a fellowship from the Bush Foundation, I now have the resources and time to learn new skills, write a book, and become a motivational speaker.

Standing in the doorway of Mandela’s cell and looking out that window at the sky was one of the proudest moments of my life. This experienced taught me that having a clear intention is the secret ingredient for sending a request to the universe. Being vague, unsure and dubious can manifest a lot of negative energy and distracts us from our mission. The forced breviary of Mandela’s limited correspondence forced him to focus his intention and succulently state his aspiration. There was no room for blaming circumstances or wasting words on threats and fears. The best way to manifest a desire is a clear vision and words and images that best convey the aspiration.

Tears will always flow from my eyes and fill the space where my heart beats life through my veins when I relive the “moment” I experienced the power of one man’s belief in the possibility of renewal – to wait without anxiety and trust the universe to respond. It is hard to find the words to describe what I felt when I reached the destination and realized the power we all have to manifest our dreams. I am humbled by the words and actions of Mandela. I believe more than ever in the infinite possibilities in my own future. I learned to release my fears and to envision my future beyond my current circumstances. We all have the power to create windows to our souls – to tell the universe our desires.

Tene Wells is a social entrepreneur who has dedicated her life and used her business development and community leadership experiences to create economic wealth for poor people. This article is the beginning of a continuing dialogue to spark action to change how poor people build wealth and economic independence. Wells can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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