I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
It’s with great sadness that I have to write these words, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa has passed away at the young age of 95. From revolutionary activist turned political prisoner to President, Mandela lead a movement that ended one of the worse racial segregation systems in our history, a modern history. This man spent 27 years in prison fighting for freedom for all throughout the world, but especially for South Africans, black Africans, to have equal rights…universal voting rights. After apartheid ended, President Mandela won overwhelmingly on April 27, 1994 as the first democratically elected President of South Africa.
I remember seeing photos of the voting lines during the country’s first democratic election…I knew I would never take my right to vote for granted. Two years later I was old enough to cast my first vote. I remember Amnesty International and writing my first letters of petition as a young teen…a history I lived and I witnessed, so this passing carries such great weight. You hear about Martin Luther King, Jr., but we were fortunate enough to know President Nelson Mandela in the present tense; to see him as a living icon and as apart of our pop culture. Even The Cosby Show twins were named after him.
President Obama, our first black President elected democratically has the honor on behalf the United States to speak on President Mandela’s death. Presidnet Obama lead his speech with the Nelson Mandela quote above plus these poignant words:
Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man.
Today he’s gone home and we’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages. Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better.
His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or in our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I’m not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action — the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics was a protest against apartheid. I would study his words and his writings. The day he was released from prison it gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears.
And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. And so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him.
To Graca Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him most, and I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family.
There’s so much I could say, but in peace may his soul rest, but in life may his spirit forever live. #Mandela
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