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“Do You Remember Me? It’s Me, Nelson!” – Memories of Nelson Mandela

“Do You Remember Me? It’s Me, Nelson!” – Memories of Nelson Mandela
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Written by Sharon Gelman; above photo: ©ANSA and Peter McKenzie

These days, my thoughts are frequently with Nelson Mandela. I am praying for his healing and also hoping we’ll all find the strength to let him go with grace and dignity when he is ready to depart this world.

For the past 22 years, I’ve headed Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), formerly Artists for a Free South Africa (AFSA). When AFSA was founded in 1989 by Alfre Woodard, Danny Glover, Mary Steenburgen, Blair Underwood, CCH Pounder and friends, we didn’t think we’d live to see apartheid fall nor did we dare dream that Nelson Mandela would one day be president. We just knew supporting the fight against apartheid was the right thing to do. However, scarcely a year later, I found myself at a church, waiting for Madiba’s release from prison. We sang and danced through the night until he finally appeared on the TV, walking free after 27 years. He was dignified and unbowed and his face was full of joy.

Soon after, Mr. Mandela came to L.A. as part of a world tour. Without much lead time, AFSA helped plan a gala that raised over a million dollars. In the midst of our event, his doctor asked me to bring him some water without ice. I’ve never been more honored or more careful about pouring water into a glass.

That night, Alfre introduced Madiba with an impassioned speech that went something like, “Tata Mandela, I wish I were a million people toyi-toying to welcome you here tonight. I wish I were the voices of 10,000 African woman ululating, but I am just one black woman.”¯ In the midst of her speech, she interrupted herself and said, “Madiba, you look so tired. Are you getting enough rest? How long will you be in town? Do you have time to come to my house for dinner? I make such good chicken.”

Many people have told me it was Madiba’s favorite introduction of all time. I imagine that’s because everyone celebrates him as an icon, but Alfre also expressed genuine concern for him just as a fellow human being who was in the midst of a punishing schedule. It’s so easy to put a revered leader on a pedestal and forget he’s also a person with the same basic needs we all have. Recognizing that humanity also means we can’t leave the job of fixing the world to our heroes. Each of us has the capacity and responsibility to make a difference in ways both big and small.

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Photo Credit: Sharon Gelman

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643 comments

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9:13AM PST on Jan 15, 2014

'Do you remember me?' One can never forget Nelson Mandela, his name will shine and inspire so many without hope for generations to come.

2:00PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

Después de 27 años en prisión caminaba libre, erguido, con su rostro pleno de alegría.
Cada día de nuestra vida podemos tener un caminar erguido y un rostro alegre si nuestras causas son justas, y nuestra valentía, pacífica pero tenaz.

9:27PM PST on Dec 21, 2013

ty!

7:44PM PST on Dec 20, 2013

wonderfull--ty

9:33AM PST on Dec 15, 2013

Thank God monday is near....NOW...the media might give it a rest.....
what a lot of c... every where......

PEOPLE SHOULD GET A LIVE OUTSIDE TV ETC...

3:15PM PST on Dec 11, 2013

My one true hero. We often say history is there to teach us lessons, yet few apply the lessons learnt. This man showed the word that forgiveness is possible, that we can learn to love our enemy and make him our friend.
How much he suffered, and through it all emerged victorious in uniting a people that even those closest to him did not believe possible.
He healed a nation and remains the embodiment of love.

11:15AM PST on Dec 11, 2013

WHEN will he be made a saint????


Should not be long now!!

10:53PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

What a wonderful read. Thanks for sharing.

7:46PM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Thanks for a good post.

9:49AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Thank you for posting such a lovely testament to your experiences with such a wonderful man. Nice to see the personal side of Mr. Mandela. May he rest in peace and his legacy of freedom live on.

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