Where were you when you heard the news about the death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and what are your memories of him?
Have you ever played that game – where were you when you heard the death of a famous person, that changed the world – Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Mahatma Gandhi.
Well on the Thursday 5th December 2013. I was at the Harama Community Awards, helping them to celebrate the achievements of special people, whose contribution to others or their community, went beyond their own needs. I listened to the achievements and trials over adversity by individuals. Unfortunately I had to leave a little early around about 9.50pm.
But on my way home, my mobile phone when crazy, with Emails, Whatsapp messenger, Blackberry Messenger, Text messenges – with messages from friends from all over the country spreading the word that Nelson Mandela, had passed away. I quickly switched on my car radio to BBC Radio 5 live and they confirmed the news that I did not what to hear.
It was coincidence, that the Harama Awards Ceremony was on the same night as the death of Nelson Mandela. But there are famous proverbs, which talk about the ‘cycle of life’ and how everyone that dies leave a legacy for others to follow. I believe the work of community projects like Harama and the individual voluntary contribution epitomises what Nelson Mandela lived for. Where he saw a society where moral responsibility to care for and be considerate of others less fortunate or in need.
What does Nelson Mandela mean to me? I have been a supporter from since the mid 1970s, with the campaign to free him from Robben Island and the protests against the South African government to get them to abandon apartheid rule – which saw racist laws that meant black South Africans where second class citizens in their own country.
When Nelson Mandela came to Leeds in 2001, to receive the Freeman of the City and to open the Garden named after him. Incidentally, I was working at the Mandela Centre in Chapeltown at this time, a youth centre named after him.
I took my two daughters aged 5 and 11 years old at the time, out for school for the day to join the thousands of Leeds people that went to welcome him to the City of Leeds, in the Millennium Square. It was an amazing day and when I see some of the TV coverage at the time, I still get a rush of ‘goose pimples’ – of how special that occasion was for all of us that were there. The stories you hear of people who have met Nelson Mandela, who talk about his personality, charm and charisma, is something I witnessed on the day as part of the crowd.
As I write this blog – I am reminded I received a text from my eldest daughter, who was with me on the day and who is now aged 24. The message says:
“… hearing the death of Nelson Mandela, I just want to thank you for taking me to see him when I was young. I’ll always be able to say and take pride that I herd him speak.”
The legacy that Nelson Mandela has left behind, is one for my daughter’s generation and the one behind her, to pick up the mantle and create further changes and not be afraid to challenge and speak out about inequality and injustice. No matter how great the odds are against her !!