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James Michael Brodie On December - 7 - 2013

 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.

English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo date...

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.

English: The prison cell where Nelson Mandela ...

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…



Written by James Michael Brodie

Writer/author -- I am a journalist who has written about education and other issues. I am also a former teacher in Baltimore City School System, grew up in Colorado. Have written a few books on Black history, and have 20 years experience as a journalist. As for politics, I guess I am a liberal-leaning Independent. I prefer conversation over shouting matches -- and feel free to call me on that when I fall out of line.

8 Responses so far.

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  1. Nomadic View says:

    You might find this post interesting.
    Madela and Reagan: The Truth that Right-Wing Republicans Would Rather Forget

    I was surprised (but not so much) how hard people like Dick Cheney fought in the Senate to defeat the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Bill from becoming law. Reagan’s veto did not stop it and moderate Republicans (back when they existed) actually joined Democrats to override the president veto.


    • James Michael Brodie says:

      I saw that. And I saw how much grief Newt took for saying kind things about the man.

      We always act as if race has only been an American problem. Indeed the problem is quite global.

  2. agrippa says:

    Mandela was, truly, outstanding.

    He was instrumental in bringing about peaceful change in South Africa.
    It may never have occurred without his actions.

  3. kesmarn says:

    James, it’s hard to know where to begin. I share your sorrow. And yet I’m also envious. I’m envious of your experiences with having met and interviewed Dennis Brutus, and especially of your opportunity to visit the Mandela house — to actually be able to touch the things he touched. To sit on the sofa where he sat. As you know, there’s a long tradition of “relics” in the church. And I think that it has endured because of that very natural and intimate need to hold in one’s own hands something that was close to a very rare and outstanding fellow human being.

    It seemed that Nelson Mandela never thought of himself as a saint or a hero. But I think he was. Saints and heroes are just ordinary people who say no to fear and rage. One of those deceptively simple things that are so much easier to say than to do.

    I think the main thing that I learned from him is that bitterness is a choice. Almost all of us have read the quotation from him regarding his decision to renounce bitterness after his release from prison. He said that he knew he’d never be free until he did that. Bitterness would have been so easy — so understandable, so forgiveable. But he said no.

    I love the key words in your last paragraph: patience, dignity, decency, forgiveness and love. That was Mandela. And even though you never met him personally, I think you were his brother and co-worker when you successfully urged your university to divest.

    Thanks so much for sharing your recollections and thoughts. As the President said, now he belongs to the ages.

  4. Kalima says:

    J.M. Brodie, a simply wonderful collection of thoughts and memories about this great man. I share with you a powerful feeling of both pride in what he achieved, and the loss of his passing.

    In a speech given in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2005, these word’s touched me as deeply as so many others. Thank you for sharing your memories here with us today. Peace.

    “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings”.

    “‘Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom”.

  5. Beatlex says:

    Perhaps your ache can be tempered James by the fact he lived a long extraordinary life,and was truly a giant of the 20th century.His life and commitment to justice for his,and all people,was and still is truly inspiring to people everywhere.Just this morning I heard on the radio from one of his jailers who told of becoming great friends with Mandela,that he had changed him completely.He was a white man who had been brought up believing in apartheid,but soon changed his views as he got to know “Mandiba” Men of his kind,Ghandi,Martin Luther King were counterpoint to men like Hitler and Stalin.They have been consigned to the trash heap of history.While Mandela will live on as a shining star for justice for all.Peace

  6. Nirek says:

    James, I’m older than you. Had a different life , too. But the respect I have for Nelson Mandela is equal to yours.
    I was a soldier in the 60″s and was infantry in Vietnam 1969 (drafted 67) I saw war first hand and have been against war and for peace ever since. My respect for Mr. Mandela comes from his life experience. To think that he could forgive the very people who held him in prison for 27 years gives me hope that the Vietnamese people could forgive me for my actions in their country.

    I often think about the one Vietnamese soldier that I shot (while he was shooting at me). I wonder who is taking care of his family?

    The impact of working for peace has made me a better person, I believe.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with us here on the Planet.
    Peace be with you.

    • James Michael Brodie says:

      Thank you, my friend. What often gets lost in the mythology of war is the humanity of those involved. Two uncles served in Nam, and that experience changed them in profound ways. God bless you for your service at a difficult time in our history. Peace be unto you as well…

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