My Moment with Nelson Mandela: A Lasting Memory

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  • I’m blessed and honored to have lived in an era when so many great men and women have walked this earth. They are people who have taken risks, and sacrificed everything, sometimes their basic comforts, sometimes their families and sometimes their lives for the greater good.  I don’t know what makes one person upset about injustice and another so outraged that they make it their life’s mission to right a wrong.

    Dr. Martin Luther King, a young preacher who couldn’t tolerate racial and economic injustice, Fannie Lou Hamer, a share cropper who fought her way from the fields of Mississippi to the Democratic National convention in Atlantic City to testify about black people being denied to their right to vote.

    Then there is President Mandela whose stance against apartheid sent him to prison for 27 years. He survived that, was released and led his nation in a battle to fight human rights abuse, poverty, poor health conditions, and the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

    From the moment I saw him back in the mid 90s, I knew I was in the presence of real greatness and I knew that the day was coming when I would be paying this kind of tribute to him.  I had no idea it would be almost 20 years later. I’m amazed that a man who had been through so much and in such inhumane conditions could still have so much left to give to humanity.  But he had work to do, and he didn’t stop until he couldn’t do anymore.

    I never got a chance to sit down and have a one-on-one with President Mandela.  I was in a receiving line at the White House with hundreds of people, but when looked in his eyes, that moment was special for me. In those three-second, I saw the 27 years he lived on that island.  In that instant he went from being a symbol and a legend to man who cared about others more than he cared about himself. A man who whether he was confined in his small cell on Robben Island or being honored at the White House, never wavered on his commitment to battle injustice.

    I have a framed autographed picture of him that I bought at an auction. It’s the first thing I see when I leave my house and the first thing I see when I come home.

    And now, I ask you and myself, what will you live for?  What will you stand for? What will you fight for? What will you die for?

    Rest peacefully, President Mandela.

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