From The Grio –Nelson Mandela, who is affectionately known as Madiba, turns 92 on Sunday, July 18th. On any day one can reflect on the storied life of this world icon, but it’s particularly poignant to do so on his day of birth because he’s given life to the movements and moments which have inspired people around the globe.

February 11, 2010 marked twenty years since Mandela was released from prison after serving twenty-seven years. Even before prison, Mandela had worked tirelessly for the rights of South African people who lived under the brutal policy of apartheid.

After being released from prison instead of resting on his laurels he continued to fight. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with F.W. de Klerk and on May 10, 1994 Mandela was inaugurated as the president of South Africa.

Mandela’s legacy has not only affected South Africans but the entire international community. The impact of his life’s work can be seen from those having served in office to some of the biggest stars in Hollywood who have been humbled by him. A few notable people took time to share their fondest memories of Mandela with theGrio.


Academy award-winning actor Morgan Freeman who played Nelson Mandela in 2009’s Invictus shares his memories of first meeting Nelson Mandela and why he resonates in our hearts and minds.


I first met him at his home in Johannesburg after he’d told the SA press, in response to the question, that if his book ever became a movie he wanted me to play him. It was a very low key, private meeting over tea, during which I told him if I was to play him I needed access so I could get to know him. He agreed.

Why he resonates in our hearts and minds….

Because of the time he spent as a political prisoner and still exemplifies those qualities of courage, compassion, and generosity of spirit to which we all respond.


Maya Angelou, an American legend herself shares with us when she first met Nelson Mandela and why he remains a hero the world:


When I first met him I was living in Cairo and I was married to a South African freedom fighter who was with the Pan African Congress and Mr. Mandela of course represented the African National Congress. He came to Cairo and came to my house there and it was so wonderful to hear the ANC and the PACpeople talking out of the country. There was no animosity. There was no rancor. They talked as brothers in Cairo, Egypt and it was so wonderful to see that.

I do know that he told Charlayne Hunter-Gault when she went to see him at Robben Island that someone had gotten my books into him and so he was able to read as my books came out quite a lot about the African American and about the United States and that was really good to hear. He’s one of the great heroes of our world and I loved the fact that I can be of use, and to be it something of mine was of use to Mr. Mandela just pleased me to no end.

He remains one of the heroes of the world of course because of his posture, he stands for fair play for everybody and one of the things that endeared him to me, at his inauguration he invited the guards who had guarded him at Robben Island to be there, present. I thought it was just an amazing experience to see that hugeness of heart, that largeness of being able to forgive, not forget but forgive.


Emmy award-winning and Oscar nominated actress Alfre Woodard shares with us her fight to end apartheid, meeting Mandela for the first time and what he continues to mean to her:


We had all been working tenaciously to break the chokehold of the brutal injustice of Apartheid. In all sectors of societies around the globe, the tireless anti-apartheid movement churned. For years, activists and everyday folks put themselves on the line and held down the fort for their brave and battered brothers and sisters on the southern tip of Africa. Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment as well as that of Sisulu, Mbeki, Kathrada and all the other leaders of the drive for freedom and life in SA became the symbol of the ultimate showdown for justice to power over ignorance and fear and brutality.When the will of the South African people triumphed over that evil, a victory paid for in pain and suffering, the walls of the political prisons fell and Nelson Mandela strode out untouched in the places the captors had hoped to break. He was no longer our cause, our battle cry, our inspiration, our mythical brother/father. He became our Madiba. And we could touch him and know our own potential, our own strength and possibility.

When he first came across to the States and to Los Angeles, Danny Glover and I got to introduce him at a huge gathering at the Coliseum. I was a hopped up teenager on stage, full of electricity, just shouting a praise if introduction, weeping and giggling. You’d thought I’d seen the seas part. He rose serenely from his chair and did that grace stride through a pulsating throng and on to the stage. A roar rose from the middle of the earth and came up through the mouth of that gathering. I stood, shaking on my toes, hyperventilating when Danny leaned into my ear with, “Go ahead, hug the man”. I shot off my feet and into my Madiba, our Madison’s arms and held him for all the mamas and daddys and sistahs and brothas- gone, present, to come. For All the endless nights and days of wanting to touch the solitude and sooth the silence, I held on.

Through the years, I have had the good fortune of being able to touch Madiba often. Every time I am in his presence is a blessing and an awakening. I walk away clearer, smarter, more compassionate. Now, I sit at his feet and try to make him laugh. He does.

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