I remember it, as if was yesterday. The crowd was anxious for “Mandela’s” arrival
I was home from college having just completed my freshman year. My mother called me to the phone. A family friend, Ibrahim Mu’min on the other end asked “Atiba would you like to attend the Nelson Mandela speech?”
Yes! I was excited. Mandela had just months before in February been released from prison. He was coming to DC in one of the most talked about events I had ever seen and I had a coveted ticket!
Writing today, twenty three years later, I am emotional and overwhelmed. Tears fill my eyes thinking of that day, that opportunity, that blessing. I didn’t know then it would be the only time I would share the same space and be in the same room as this great man. That makes that day even more significant.
This man for me was as close as I would come to meeting someone like Dr. King or Mahatma Ghandi. I’ve been blessed to meet many people. On several occasions I remember being near or touching Muhammad Ali someone I revered as a boxer and someone who stood up for what he believed.
But seeing and hearing Mandela that day outranks every president, icon etc that I have ever met. That day, I didn’t touch Mandela, he touched me with his presence and his words. I didn’t get to say hello to him, but being in the same room was the most amazing gift I have ever received.
The energy and excitement of people celebrating his struggle was powerful. To leave prison and speak about love, to have 27 years stripped from him and yet appear at peace was amazing and inspiring.
I have heard others who have been in the same room as Mandela say he possessed a powerful presence. That day, we felt it. There was something special about this man, something perfect, something excellent. He appealed to us because he was more than a human being. We saw in him, what God intends from each of us. We saw the example of “being human.”
This is why that day changed me. It is why he changed a nation and moved the world. This is why I love this man. It is the “power of his example” is that makes us love him.
Reflecting on that day, I am moved not by his death, but by his life. There is no person in my lifetime that has more reach or global recognition than Nelson Mandela.
That day, June 26, 1990 we cheered when we learned “he’s in the building.” People on the front row cheered and we joined when the whisper went out that he was behind the curtain. When he was introduced, we cheered, clapped and stomped our feet. This humble man from South Africa moved and touched us. In that moment he was one of us. We were with him and we celebrated.
When he stepped on the stage, he waved to the crowd and it got louder. He walked the stage and it got louder. He had not uttered a word yet, we were so happy to see him. I’ve never been a part of a louder audience.
That building was torn down a few years ago. New buildings are coming up and replacing the old convention center. Perhaps one day a plaque of some kind will be placed there, so others will know, he was there. Today, I pulled out my ticket from that day. My piece of history. I will forever be thankful for Ibrahim sharing that ticket, that opportunity. You see he marched as a student, he sat at the lunch counters that were segregated and was arrested during the civil rights movement. And he was arrested with many others in front of the South African embassy protesting apartheid. Just a couple of weeks ago, he was invited by the South African ambassador, Ebrahim Rasool for the unveiling of the statue of President Mandela.
Mandela inspired many like Ibrahim to stand up to injustice. Mandela’s reach goes farther than his physical stature ever could. Isn’t that God like? His energy moved his country and inspired the world.
What I felt that day was special and it is stronger today. I understand more today, why his life has so much meaning. None of us will achieve his stature. Because none of us have to endure what he did. We love him because he endured it for us. He is the embodiment of Christ, Moses and Mohammed. He showed us strength and compassion.
He belongs to the ages. It is our responsibility to honor him by carrying his message and live his example. Peace, reconciliation, and above all love are what he means to me.
My former intern Nadine Moodie is South African. She is there now and I asked her to share the mood of her country there on the ground.
“There’s a buzz in the air. The Grand Parade is filled with people mourning and celebrating Madiba’s life. I was born during apartheid but have no recollection of the system because of the freedom which Madiba and so many others fought for. His life is a symbol to all to always strive for peace and to do the right thing despite opposition.”
Over the next few days we will find personal ways to celebrate the man South Africans lovingly call Madiba. He is an icon, he is a man, he made mistakes, but in our eyes he was perfect. We love him as a human being, but we will cherish him and his memory for showing us the excellence of “being human.”
I love this man, and I never met him. I love him because his life, his example make me want to be a better human being. Often we face challenges. But nothing can be more challenging than being in prison simply for standing for what is right, for bending the moral arc of justice. I love him because he leaves a wonderful example for all humanity and I hope to each day, to become more patient, more loving, more compassionate and follow the wonderful example of Madiba.
President Mandela, Madiba, thank you for showing us how to forgive, how to reconcile, how to love and above all, Thank You for making the world a better place than the one you were born into 95 years ago.
We will miss your physical presence. It is now up to us to teach generations to come your words and give them the example you gave us.
I hope that you will visit http://www.abillionthanksmandela.com and leave a message of appreciation for the man we all love Nelson Mandela.