Wednesday, April 16, 2014  
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Charles Latham
   Last week the world lost one of the greatest leaders of this century, Nelson Mandela. I would like to pay tribute to him by reflecting how his strength, courage and determination impacted  my life.
   I first learned of Nelson Mandela while attending San Diego City College during the late 1970s. One day I saw a group of students protesting the United States’ support of  South Africa’s apartheid government. I didn’t even know what apartheid meant. As I started to research and learn more, I saw a television news report that depicted South African military and police beating the blacks and attacking them with dogs ripping the flesh from protesters of all ages.
   I immediately had flashbacks of a time in the summer 1966 in my home town of Grenada, where as a 12-year-old, I was a part of a group attempting to march up to the Square downtown from  the Chat & Chew restaurant. We were lined up on the west side of Highway 51 when Mississippi State Troopers, Grenada police, sheriff’s deputies and angry men with dogs attacked our group with tear gas, billy clubs and ax handles.
   I was able to empathize with the African Nation Congress’ struggle for basic human rights. Blacks weren’t able to vote, walk in certain areas of town, had to carry identification or risk being beaten and locked up for no reason other than just being black.
   Eventually, with pressure from the world, the apartheid regime agreed to release Mandela after he served 27 years in prison. It was what he did after being released from prison that impressed me most. He forgave his captors. He realized that the streets of South Africa would have been covered with blood had the blacks taken revenge on the minority whites.
   Most importantly he understood that continuing to hate his captors would have meant that they would still have control over him. Instead he learned their language and began to communicate in a way that they understood.
   He went on to become the country’s first black president. He became a symbol of reconciliation worldwide just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had during the civil rights movement. Both men preached nonviolence as a way to gain social, economic and human rights.
   What I learned from both men is that, first, one must understand who he is and what he stands for. Both men were educated and were able to articulate their concerns to their oppressors in the oppressor’s language. They worked to change laws that adversely affected blacks, depriving them of the right to vote and be involved in the democratic process. And that hatred is a much heavier burden to bear than forgiveness. I refused to give anybody that kind of power over me.
   We will miss you Madiba, the world will never see the likes of you again. Your work and your spirit will live on through those of us who believe in and work toward racial reconciliation, social and economic equality.

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Grenada, MS
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