Memories of Madiba

I've read some deep and moving tributes to Nelson Mandela, I've read irreverent and misguided thoughts, I've read some articles that attempted to be profound (and missed) and some that attempted to be witty (and failed). Short, long, wise, pithy, awed, anguished, simple... every expression on Nelson and what he meant to the world is available for the reading and dissection.

I haven't said a lot because it's fairly impossible to eulogize a man that became a movement, whose name is so etched into most of our social consciousness that even trying to whittle thoughts into a few paragraphs seemed ill-advised.

So instead, I'd thought I'd open the floor and let you all share your thoughts and feelings on the life and legacy of Madiba. I'll share one of mine: I was in my sophomore year of college at University of Texas when I felt compelled to join the Black Student Alliannce's March Against Apartheid. This was huge for me. I was not (and am not) a marcher. I'm a write-an-article-about-it and-send-a-check-for-the-cause kind of activist. I'll dial phones and organize but actually marching through the streets in Texas heat? Not my thing.

But apartheid ticked me off. And the way some folks on campus acted like it had nothing to do with America ticked me off even more. So I put on my one semi-militant outfit (a t-shirt with a Kente cloth X in the middle, denim walking shorts and black high-top Reeboks) and went to be about my march. I wasn't ready. I sat through the 45-minute presentation explaining what was going on in South Africa and with Mandela and found myself moved beyond anger into urgency. What could we do to make a difference right now? Well... we could put on the "Free Nelson Mandela" song and march across UT's campus up the avenue to the state capitol and raise a ruckus.

Which is exactly what we did. And because you know how we do, we had fists raised and marched in time to the beat with a whole lot of youthful exuberance. Some of the melanin-challenged students did not approve and the heckling and skirmishes began. Campus police kind of stood around confused, city police wanted none so the Highway Patrol escorted us on our way. It was a long hot day where a lot people made a lot of impassioned speeches. At the end of the day, everything was exactly as it was that morning politically. But I was different. I started opening up my eyes to things outside my bubble. I listened to different music (read as I discovered Chuck D), I watched different movies, I explored lots of different books. I became a little less MLK and a little more Malcolm X in thought if not in deed.

I began to believe less in luck and more in a combination of preparedness, timing and perseverance as keys to success. A belief solidified when Mandela was freed in 1990 and then ascended to the Presidency of the country that had imprisoned him.

That's my Mandela legacy: A hot Texas afternoon where I sweated out my perm and chanted myself hoarse; walked home on aching feet with listless spirit but got up the next day determined to learn about the world I lived in and make some sort of contribution, for better or worse. So thank you, Madiba for what you meant to me and the world at large. Take your rest.

Feel free to share your memories, thoughts, and comments below...