You did not know me, Nelson Mandela, but I knew you. In the small white Indiana town I grew up in, there was little talk of racial equality. My mother spoke of it, and brought books and movies into our tiny home that supported such causes. Even with everything that happened to us and between us, that is one of the few things for which I thank her.
But I remember you. South Africa's campaign for equality somehow made it into my life, and my heart wrapped itself around you and your cause in a way I had never felt before. I was a young teen, and I had just been introduced to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's here. What was going on in South Africa to blacks and allies chilled my young bones. But there you were, resilient, an advocate for peaceful resistance after using violence.
You lived! Although you were jailed when I first heard your name, you were alive! Here in the US, our most successful advocates for equality and peace were laid low by the tyranny of white supremacy - it's lackeys using death as their political tool. Violence, prison, slavery, TB: none of it had taken your life or your principles.
In four short years you went from 46664 to Mr. President, ushering in not just a new country, but a new era. You and your movement showed us that peace could be made under any circumstances. It took incredible fortitude and forgiveness, but equality and peace could be born in the shadow of an apartheid nation. You did not do it alone, to be sure, but your strength and serenity were the midwife for this incredible birth.
Even in all your greatness, and your Presidency, and your Nobel Peace Prize, there was more. You remained human, even as we tried to deify you.
Your quest for peace and justice reached far beyond South Africa. Even in a town that had only recently stopped allowing Klan rallies at the courthouse, your presence reached even there and touched kids like me. For that I could never give adequate thanks, but I do thank you. You and your country was the first cause for many advocates and activists. You lit our hearts and moved our hands and for many of us, even as our causes changed, never stopped.
Thank you, Madiba, may you know whatever peace you dreamed would be waiting for you.
Peace and love,