Sometimes there are those persons who are born to raise the bar for humankind. Such is the legacy of Nelson Mandela who departed from our realm this past week. His life journey from lawyer, to freedom fighter, to prisoner, to president of his country is a testament to the spirit of the man and that spirit will stand through the ages. His name and story will survive the centuries to come.
I first learned of Nelson Mandela in the early 1970’s as a young teenager. When I started school in the early segregated 1960’s, I was taught by very well-educated African-American teachers whose mission was to advance the race through education. Therefore, I was taught to be an avid reader and to be aware of world events. In the early 1970’s, I joined a “culturally aware” youth organization. We studied the equality struggles of other countries in comparison to the equality struggles in the U.S., especially the Civil Rights Movement that was most recent in our country. Of course, during our studies, we studied apartheid in South Africa and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela.
During the years afterwards, I followed what was happening in South Africa with dismay. Finally, I rejoiced with everyone else when Nelson Mandela was freed and the last remnant of apartheid was abolished– amazed that it happened in my lifetime. I was ecstatic with the rest of the world when Nelson Mandela became President Nelson Mandela of South Africa. I felt the circle of righteousness had now come full circle for South Africa.
For me, the circle closed when one day in the late 1990’s I was driving home from the office and I heard on the radio that the Fifth Ward Multi-Service Center was raising money for a group of youth to travel to South Africa on a “cultural awareness” trip. They would join other youth groups there and they all would attend an event in attendance by President Nelson Mandela. I rushed home and grabbed my checkbook to donate. I was so inspired by the knowledge that a group of youth from my city – so much like I was in the 1970’s – would have the opportunity to learn about a culture first-hand that I could only study from a distance in the 1970’s. After I wrote the check, I grabbed a sheet of notebook paper and jotted down all of my feelings in a note to accompany the check. A week, or so, after mailing the check, I received a call from the Director of the Fifth Ward Multi-Service Center. He thanked me for my donation and told me that the note I sent was so inspirational that he wanted my permission to read it to the youth and their parents at their departure assembly. I gave my permission. I don’t recall everything I wrote but I do recall this one thought – “If you wonder if God still works miracles, just look at the life journey of Nelson Mandela.” I remember how exhilarated I felt writing the note and if any of that feeling transferred to it, then I know it was worthy to be shared.
I still believe that statement I wrote that day. Nelson Mandela’s life journey was one of God’s miracles and this is why his name and spirit will live through the ages to come.