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Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela, who died Thursday night, is pictured in a mural in Kansas City, Kan., by artist Alexander Austin, called "The Peacemakers." (Photo from Karen Hernandez)
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The PeacemakersNelson Mandela, who died Thursday night, is one of the figures pictured in a mural in Kansas City, Kan., by artist Alexander Austin, called "The Peacemakers." (Photo from Karen Hernandez)
Yesterday, I happened to turn on the TV around 4 p.m. and saw a familiar face on the screen. It was a picture of Nelson Mandela and my first thought was, "He must be back in the hospital." Soon after, I found out he had actually died. I stood transfixed to the screen in disbelief.
My phone rang and my former daughter-in -law Teresa expressed her sorrow at the loss of one of my heroes. "I know how much you admired him. I'm so sorry. I love you," she said. I thanked her for her kindness and my tears began flowing, as I hung up the phone. I spent the next few hours watching the tributes to the 95 year old hero as they poured across the TV screen. President Obama said, "Nelson Mandela achieved more than could be expected of any man. We have 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." It was Mandela's life that first inspired him to serve others.
The last time I felt such pain and loss was when Dr. Martin Luther King died on April 4, 1968, the day I dedicated the rest of my life to promoting his Dream of creating a Beloved Community. In my own small way, I have tried to promote agape (brotherly) love for all the members of our One Human Family. Most recently, I commissioned a mural to be painted on the side of our garage, to be created by Kansas City, Mo., artist Alexander Austin. It is called "The Peacemakers" and Mandela is the last of six peacemakers portrayed that influenced my own life. The mural was painted in June of this year. I told Alexander, "Mandela has to be up there with the rest" — Jesus, Mary, Gandhi, Dr. King and Mother Teresa were already painted on the wall. I had one space left for Madiba.
If there is one thing I need to say about Nelson Mandela, or "Madiba," a clan name, as those who have respect and affection for him often refer to him — he was a man who spread agape love to people all over the world. After being sentenced to prison and serving 27 years behind bars, where the freedom fighter worked tirelessly to end the apartheid segregation system created by the white minority oppressors of his people in South Africa, he was finally released in 1990. He came out of prison with a plan to forgive the oppressors, to be inclusive of them and show them the love that had he and his people had been denied for so many years. He formed a Truth and Reconciliation Committee that became a model for other countries facing similar histories of oppression by the ruling elite. By simply acknowledging the abuses they had inflicted on others based on the color of their skin, the rulers/abusers received forgiveness and a reconciliation took place. What courage it must have taken for Mandela to not only forgive, but show love toward his former enemies.
Mandela and Frederik Willam de Klerk, the president of South Africa at the time, were jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa." In 1994 Mandela was elected by members of all races as the first black president of South Africa — in the first election where blacks were allowed to vote. This was a historic victory for all the races of people living new lives of hope, freedom and inclusivity in South Africa. The whole world was changed by what occurred there in a relatively short period of time. Mandela's subsequent human rights activities captured the imaginations of activists, change agents and peacemakers everywhere, who saw tangible evidence that if people worked together toward a common goal, anything was possible. What a legacy he left for all of us to follow.
The history of Mandela's life is well-known — it is being covered extensively on many TV networks for those who want to know more. There is even a new movie coming out about it, called "Mandela — Long Walk to Freedom." I believe it opens Christmas Day in this area. It is based on an autobiography written by Time magazine editor, Richard Stengel, in collaboration with Mandela. Another book that was recently released by Stengel is called "Mandela's Way: Lessons on Life, Love and Courage," which he wrote based on hours of taped conversations they had.
I appreciate the opportunity to share my admiration for this great man, Mandela — this legendary activist for civil and human rights, this lover of humanity who chose love over hate, forgiveness over revenge, and inclusiveness over exclusion. Heaven must be celebrating right now. Another one on the right side of history has come home. Now it is up to us to carry on his vision, his dream, his legacy of agape love. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Mandela.
"No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Rest in Peace, Madiba. Pray for the Peacemakers you inspired by your example.