He was the greatest leader of my lifetime…
As a student at the University of Colorado in the 1970s, I was part of an effort that fought against apartheid and urged my university to divest. Eventually it did.
As a journalist in the 1990s in Colorado and Northern Virginia, I interviewed the head of one of the few hospitals for Black in South Africa. I would later meet writer Dennis Brutus, who was locked up with Mandela at Robben Island, who shared memories of the man.
The day Mandela was released from prison, I fashioned an ANC flag out of a piece of paper and wore it on my lapel. When asked what it was, I relied simply that it was for Nelson.
He was inaugurated on my birthday, May 10, 1994. It was also the day of a full eclipse.
In 2000, I visited South Africa and went to the home Nelson and Winnie had lived in in Johannesburg. It was/is a tiny house that had become a museum. It is a hands-on museum — unusual for someone of his stature — located in a modest community. I sat on the Mandela sofa and thumbed through Winnie’s scrapbooks — one of her and foreign dignitaries, one of family. I touched the plaques on the walls and tried unsuccessfully to put on the championship belt given to Nelson by Sugar Ray Leonard — who was much thinner that I.
I walked the streets of Soweto, meeting people who had lived through the bad days, lived through the end of apartheid. I saw homes that reminded me of my grandparents’ homes in Baltimore and in Camden, South Carolina. I felt at home.
Nelson was my inspiration. He taught me to fight for what I believe in, even in the face of overwhelming opposition. And he taught me the power of patience. He taught me, through his example, the power of dignity. He taught me decency and forgiveness. He taught me what love for our fellow human really should look like.
We have lost a giant. My heart aches…