Nelson Mandela's Grandson on Global Citizen Festival, Youth Activism and Why "Storytellers Keep Us Going"

Ahead of the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 taking place Dec. 2, Mandela's grandson Kweku talks dedicating his life to ensuring the activist's efforts are recognized: "It's about being human and our responsibility that goes along with that humanity."

Five years after his death, Nelson Mandela and his legacy continue to be honored by the Global Citizen Festival, which will take place in Johannesburg for the first time to celebrate the activist's centennial on Dec. 2. Among this year's headliners are Beyonce and Jay-Z, Ed Sheeran, Eddie Vedder, Pharrell Williams and Chris Martin, and Usher.

Mandela's grandson Kweku sits on the festival board and is dedicated to honoring Mandela's legacy by being heavily involved in both the entertainment and activist industries. The filmmaker currently helms an L.A.-based production company dubbed Dang Entertainment, is a founding member and ambassador for GenEndIt (aimed to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic) and sits on the boards of Global Citizen, Pioneer Works and actress Charlize Theron's Africa Outreach Project. 

In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter to rejoice Mandela's centennial, Kweku talks about his efforts to uphold his grandfather's legacy with the festival, his take on the current climate urging for change and how the youth's urge to have their voices heard is the very thing Mandela fought for. 

The "Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100" is an event set to honor your grandfather’s centennial. What can you tell us about this event and the process of putting it together? 

I joined Global Citizen's board in 2013 after meeting Hugh Evans (Global Citizen co-founder and CEO) and I was determined to see the festival travel from its humble roots in New York to countries around the world. I was lucky enough to participate in its growth to Canada, Germany and India. We have raised over $35 billion in financial commitments to support the world's most marginalized people over the last seven years.

Two years ago, after India took place, I approached Hugh and told him I really wanted to bring this to South Africa to be a part of my grandfather's centennial. We met with Chris Martin, Global Citizen's festival curator, and told him about it, and he instantly said we need to do it in Johannesburg and it needs to be about connection. 

It took us countless meetings and hours of working with governments, leaders of the private sector, plus family and friends to get to where we are today. All of those people committing their time and effort to help build on the core mission and one of my grandfather's biggest visions, which is how do we end extreme poverty and can any of us truly be free while it still exists? 

This year, artists such as Beyonce and Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran are performing. Was there anyone that you specifically requested to perform at this event? If so, who was it and why? What was their reaction to being involved in this? 

All of the artists involved were artists I wanted involved in this event and they all shared our enthusiasm. Chris [Martin] and Pharrell [Williams] have been really tireless champions of this process. They took it out to the artist community and conveyed why this moment in time was critical to the movement to end extreme poverty.

What would you hope that people take away from this event? 

It's the same thing that my grandfather said in 2008 in his final public speech: "We all have the opportunity to be great and play our part." Global Citizen allows our actions to move the needle each and every day closer to a world where we can find balance and basic rights for all. This isn't a charity and the movement has never been a fundraiser. It's about being human and our responsibility that goes along with that humanity.

What would you hope you grandfather would think of this event? 

He spent his life fighting for his family, his country and people around the world. I hope he would look at what Global Citizen is doing and feel that his efforts, life and legacy lives on in the millions of young people who take action on the platform every month around the world.

Apart from the festival, this year you also launched an initiative called "100 Conversations" to honor your grandfather's legacy of taking on equality, leadership and justice. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what you hope to accomplish with it? 

"100 Conversations" is an initiative I launched to focus on hearing the voices of millennials and Gen-Z. It's morphed into an organization called Represent run by Michael Orso, a 23-year-old who, after graduating from Georgetown University and debating what he should do next, chose to take on the challenge of how he could ignite his peers to realize the power of their actions and ideas to change and impact their communities.

A lot of people know what Nelson Mandela stood for, but maybe not necessarily who he was personally. What would you want people to know about him that they don't?

He was a father, grandfather, great-grandfather and someone who was unwilling to linger when he saw something in the world that was inhumane. He loved music and dancing; it was an outlet for him, a space and way to connect and celebrate with people around him. It made him someone you could touch and feel. He never allowed himself to become detached from where he came from and always stayed young at heart.

Something sparked with the recent March for Our Lives movement, with students beginning to raise their voices for change. What do you think should be done further for youth to have their voices heard?  

I've been advocating for a while that the world needs younger leadership and people that have the energy and are deeply in touch with their environment and community. The voices and actions of activists like Naomi Walder, Emma Gonzalez, Kelvin Doe and so many young people around the world like them deserve more of our attention and support.

There has been a shift in society, where we're beginning to talk about a lot of things that once previously weren't truly discussed or acknowledged, such as mental illness, female empowerment, immigration, racial discrimination, etc. Why do you think this has taken so long and what can we do to continue pressing forward?

The world is in conflict with itself and there are a number of forces focused on continuing to divide us. We are and always will be complex by nature but extremes push us to a limit. We've started to challenge what we thought were norms and this is happening everywhere from a kitchen table in California to the streets of South Africa. I think storytellers in every and all industries are going to keep us going, to keep pushing us forward and hopefully find a way to bring us back to each other.

What would you say that you learned the most from your grandfather? 

Learning that true leadership means you don't have to be the loudest person in the room. Learn to listen!

Can you pinpoint a favorite memory with your grandfather? 

My grandfather always took time out of each day to reflect. He would just stare off into the distance and contemplate his day or thinking about the people he met and the places he had been. I remember bringing over a dear friend who captured him in that moment and I have that photo in my room as reminder of how important it is to take moment reflect each and every day.

You are a man of many duties, as both a dedicated activist and filmmaker. Can you tell us about any of your upcoming projects? 

I'm proud of all of the projects I'm involved in as I think each one is a story about real people ... ones with flaws and obstacles but ultimately ones that seek out a connection.

I just finished producing a film we shot in South Central L.A. called Gully. What was striking for me was how much that community shared in common with so many places I've been to around the world. I'm excited about that, as I think the themes we explore mirror a lot of what we are experiencing right now in society: Trauma, love, exploitation, violence, community, resilience and the influence of modern culture on all of this.