Nelson Mandela with Elinor Tatum (53084)

I guess we thought he would live forever. Or at least we hoped he would.

We hoped that all the struggles he transcended would forever keep this world going on a perpetual road to freedom and equality. We hoped that all of the sacrifices he made would forever benefit South Africa and the world. We hoped that Madiba would change the course of history, and in so many wonderful ways, he did.

Last week, we lost a giant of a man who had the grace and the elegance of royalty, as well as the humbleness of an ordinary person. To be in his presence was to brush with greatness. Electricity exuded from him constantly, bar none. One cannot begin to explain the power of his presence, the energy of a room he entered and the love he shared with all.

Nelson Mandela was to several generations what King had been to our mothers and fathers. Mandela’s legacy was tangible. We protested for his release and called for divestment in South Africa. We watched him walk out of prison after 27 years of confinement. We saw him greeted like a head of state in New York City, addressing tens of thousands in Yankee Stadium. We saw the end of apartheid, and we saw him elected the first Black president of South Africa.

We saw all of this in real time. It was not just through speeches we read in textbooks or stories our parents or teachers told us; we saw it for ourselves. We saw history in the making. We saw a new dawn in South Africa and a prince among men.

Mandela’s legacy will live on for eternity. Just like King and Gandhi, he will not go gently into that good night; his dreams and hopes will burn in our hearts and minds forever.