Soul Force: Seven Pivots toward Courage, Community and Change, the book released this year by nonprofit advocates Shawn Casselberry and Reesheda Graham-Washington, opens in sunlit Robben Island, the South African prison where Nelson Mandela was detained for 18 years for battling apartheid.
The co-authors surveyed the bathroom-sized cell where Mandela lived when he was imprisoned and “heard stories of abuse by guards and how the apartheid system was maintained even without a prison.” Strangely, they said, during a visit to the prison compound, “We found our inspiration.”
That scene anchors the rest of the roughly 200-page book, which is on sale at Live Café in Oak Park, the coffee shop Graham-Washington, an Austin native, opened with her husband, Darrel Washington, in 2017.
“Soul force,” Graham-Washington and Casselberry explain, is a concept derived from the Hindi word satyagraha, which is combination of two Sanskrit words — satya, which means truth or love, “both of which are often attributed to the soul,” and agraha, or “polite insistence, holding firmly to, or force.”
It took soul force for Mandela to stand up to, and ultimately defeat, apartheid, and then to resist allowing the pain and injustice of that system to dictate how he governed as his country’s first democratically-elected president.
“Soul force is a way of life for courageous and compassionate people,” the co-authors write, but it’s not something exclusive. It “lives within each of us,” they argue. To harness that force, they write, everyday people looking to act in extraordinary ways just need to pivot.
The rest of the book is divided into seven “pivots” — from fear to freedom, from hurt to hope, from charity to change, for instance — that comprise the main chapters in the book.
Each chapter accompanies a “Soul Force Story” from people who themselves pivoted into something greater — such as a Navajo man abandoned by his mother as a child who now aspires to help indigenous communities across the country achieve the kind of health and stability he didn’t have growing up.
Soul Force reads like a manual for people eager to act on a higher purpose, but struggling to take the first step. There are lessons and nuggets of wisdom (even some in the form of Black Panther quotes) for all would-be Mandelas. The book is worth picking up.