Let Us Honor Mandela by Emulating His Humility and Humanity

12/06/2013 09:09 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2014


The world has lost a truly noble leader with the death of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela. His 1993 Nobel Peace Prize only touches the surface on how he will be remembered. Mandela's passing December 5 at the age of 95 brings to mind what my grandmother used to say about longevity: God leaves good people here a long time to watch over bad folks.

Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, was able to break racial barriers. His firm but humble style of leadership is really what the world could use more of today.
Most people would be bitter and divisive after being imprisoned unjustly for so many years. Instead, he walked into freedom after 27 years and helped unify South Africa by working with both whites and blacks.

I remember attending a rally in Washington, D.C., to call for an end to the apartheid system that inhumanely oppressed blacks. Seeing Nelson Mandela overcome his country's mistreatment and rise to head its government was a signal of what could be in the United States and around the world. Years later we saw that potential manifested with the election of the first black president in Obama's triumph.

My unforgettable moment with Nelson Mandela came in 1998 when I had the honor of meeting him and experiencing his generosity of spirit. Our conversation was a reminder that he was an attorney and activist, and full of wisdom.

I asked him what advice he could give me for our pursuit of justice for the black farmers in America. He said farmers are the most needed people in the world. Without farmers there would be persistent famine worldwide. He advised me to keep pressing forward with our fight for justice and vindication.

I held those words close as the years went by and even now as our struggle continues today. I feel honored to have had the opportunity to visit with him. The world can learn from both his struggle and his ultimate victory. His African National Congress was banned, his struggle turned violent with the government. He served 27 hard years in prison.

Every so often God chooses the best man for the job. Nelson Mandela was the right man at the right place and time in history. His legacy is secure as the man who broke the chains of Apartheid.

U. S. leaders could use a chapter from Nelson Mandela's book. We have a divided Congress whose members choose not to work with President Obama, a black man. The loss of this great illuminates a better path. The world can learn from both his struggle and his leadership. He was banned from the African National Congress, his struggle turned violent with the government. He served 27 hard years in prison.

Mandela's passing should give us the opportunity to look deep into our own struggles and ask what we can do to make America and the world a better place.

He will be mourned. He will be missed. And as we memorialize him let us do so by adopting the spirit of his greatness: tackling huge challenges with humility, love and unshakable determination.