Chasing Mandela (Updated with Maya Angelou Tribute Poem)

For some world leaders, you don't have to wait to the moment of their death to realize their importance and legacy. He was one of the rare ones.  RIP Madiba- Nelson Mandela 

...pouring a little Amarula

In some way, shape or form, I have been  chasing Mandela my entire life. As first, it felt as if his impact was following me, always appearing in a life lesson I did not yet know I was learning.  A gold-framed poster hung in our living room near the steps I ran up and down several times a day. Winnie Mandela's sad eyes pierced through metal bars asking the question, "Why are they weeping?"  I found the answer in episodes of Sesame Street, The Cosby Show, and A Different World where television explained South African culture and current events.  There was Mrs. Clarke leading a class discussion in the third grade on Nelson Mandela's election win and its importance. She taped the newspaper front page to the wall outside of our classroom and eager seven, eight, and nine year old children repeated mottos of affirmation we heard from our parents- themselves the children of 1970s black power and black nationalism culture. By the eighth grade there was Mr. Earl, who had previously taught us about the Opium War by calling Great Britain the greatest drug dealer in the world, extolling Long Walk to Freedom as a must read.  Excitedly, I only made it to the part where I realized Nelson Mandela and I had the same birthday (so...the first page). I was connected to greatness. Though I was inducted into the 7.18 club almost seventy years after the great Madiba, his fight for equality and human rights is one that has resonated with me throughout life.

Everyone who has lived through Mandela's efforts feels some connection to his legacy. I came into the world, following Mandela, finding my place in his footsteps. My birth date is the first part of my connection. The day is the same, and the year of my birth was also the same year that Jamaica- my new world ancestral home- became the first country to impose sanctions on South Africa for their policies of apartheid. It is also the year that students at my future alma mater, renewed their calls for Harvard University's divestment from South Africa.  In the eighties,  the internal struggles of countries like the United States and the islands of the Caribbean provided a background for people to examine injustice and poverty in the world community.  Often times the other was cast in an image of despair and defeat. In a few areas, leaders like Mandela summoned admiration. Pity, fear, and outrage started campaigns and protests across the globe. leaving supporters lingeirng between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. The goal, even if not defined, was to catch up with the likes of Mandela, to get to where he was in standing firm for justice.

This past summer, as reports of Nelson Mandela's illness became part of the regular news cycle, the world reflected and some of us held our breath. In one dramatic episode following a false report, I ran out of a backyard party, teary-eyed and distressed. I had been following Madiba for all these years, and did not want my pursuit to end yet. My wish was that we would share one more birthday together. My wish came true, but through his 95 years Mandela gave the world a much greater gift. He was a living breathing example of greatness and humility. He understood his mission as well as the sacrifices he had to make. He also made us understand the hardship of being a Great Man to the public and a great man in the home, where he also struggled. In commemoration and remembrance of his life, we can all still chase Nelson Mandela. We can pursue equality in our backyards and throughout the world. We can take steps to educate our youth, so that everyone has a chance for greatness. As leaders, we can learn when to sit down so that others can learn to stand. We can always speak the unwavering truth- even when it may not be popular to do so. 


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