My Tribute to Mandela

Back when Mandela was released from prison in 1990 I remembering watching on TV in my parents living room this great tall man waving to his well-wishers and the nation. I remember growing up seeing signs on church lawns and various places here in the U.S. asking people to divest from South Africa to help end Apartheid. I also remember in 1984 when Stevie Wonder and his music were banned from South Africa because of his mention of Nelson Mandela in his Oscar award speech.

Back in 1996 I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Capetown, South Africa and it was probably one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. Partly because it was my first time flying out of the U.S., and because it was my first visit to the motherland. I went with my jazz group under the auspices of the Episcopal Church’s outreach program. We visited several townships and got to meet some of the important figures in South Africa’s struggle to end Apartheid. One of these individuals was the great Father Trevor Steyn and his amazing family. He gave us first-hand accounts of some of the protests and the tense moments between security forces and community activists. He also showed us the many attempts by people in the townships to reclaim their livelihood after the government stripped them of their land through the forced removals. To see the way people were living broke my heart but to see their resilience and unshakable spirit gave me strength and hope for not only their future but the future of us all.

The hospitality and generosity of the folks we met were beyond anything I had experienced in my life. Families we visited served three course meals for us as if we were heads of state. They shared their homes and their stories and filled our hearts, bellies and souls (I literally gained 10 pounds after that trip).

It is with this perspective that I view the passing of Nelson Mandela one of the great leaders of history. He embodies the concept of forgiveness and has taught us all the meaning and significance of sacrifice. It would have been easy for him to retaliate against his oppressors and to be bitter but he choose the path of peace and reconciliation as evidenced in his own words, “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”

May his spirit live on and continue to inspire us to believe in the goodness of each other.

Amandla Awethu!
(the power is with us) 

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