I wanted to post this sooner, but couldn't find the ticket stub for the longest time (at least a year). Then one day while cleaning up I stumbled upon a place where I had stashed it in safe keeping: the ticket for when I saw Nelson Mandela speak, shortly after being freed.
I was 14 years old. My cousin and I were given tickets to see Nelson Mandela speak at the Coliseum in Oakland. We knew this was a big deal! So much so that one of our family members had given us tickets with the order to "Go see history!" and off we went...
As my memory recalls:
Bart train to Coliseum station. The train was packed, and so were the walkways to the Coliseum. People were singing, the vibe was beyond positive all around. We end up on the Oakland A's baseball field surrounded by thousands of people - from the field to the stands. It wasn't until Mandela came out and started to speak that it all started to sink in:
Nelson Mandela! Mandela! The man freed from political persecution. 27 years hard labor in prison. The government that sent him there up held the brutal "Apartheid" system. Any Black South African could be killed for protesting, let alone in everyday life. Many were. Black there = 2nd class citizen. The odds were stacked against Mandela but the South African anti-apartheid movement ignited the world wide anti-apartheid movement - which in turn created a moral force that demanded the South African government to set him free...and there he was standing free!
I remember that day feeling proud to be African/ African-American. That somehow justice was able to finally come through for someone of color (even at 14 I already had glimpses of racial injustice in American society, which made the suffering of Black South Africans all the more relevant to me) and the amazing courage it took to stand up to an oppressive force even when they are killing people all around you, and subjugating daily life to terror and injustice.
(I recalled this moment briefly on a verse on the Go Back track off of The Unspoken Word album:
Harputt's Addidas / Mandela free at Coliseum arenas / First dose of Cheech's )
When Mandela died I pondered (as I have lateley when any of the legends pass away) "who will lead us now?" I know we are supposed to embody the examples of those who did great things before us, and not idealize them to a point of missing the point: get up and stand up for what is right and just! The question for me is more from a place wanting to have that example, living, to point the way, to remind us in these modern times that we still have work to do to counter the current tide of injustice, racism, and oppression. Finding this ticket stub was a reminder that I was there to witness this great man days after being freed, a critical moment in South Africa and world history; but also to consider Mandela's legacy, and not forget the trials that he and the anti-apartheid movement faced, and overcame on their journey for freedom.