Mandela Was an Inspiration and a Model

Posted by John Kerry
December 6, 2013
Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg

You don't meet a lot of people in this world who leave you with a feeling that can only be described as awe.

He was a hero to my wife Teresa. We had the honor of sitting with Mandela over the Thanksgiving holidays in 2007. I was struck by his warmth, openness and serenity. I stood in his tiny cell on Robben Island, a room with barely enough space to lie down or stand up. I learned that the glare of the white-rock quarry permanently damaged his eyesight. After spending 27 years locked away, after having his own vision impaired by the conditions, I wondered how this man rejected enmity and still managed to see so clearly the best interests of his country and even embraced the very guards who kept him prisoner.

The only explanation was that Madiba's vision resided not in his eyes but in his conscience.

Nelson Mandela was a stranger to hate. He rejected recrimination in favor of reconciliation. He knew that the future demanded that he and his country move beyond the past. He devoted his life to healing South Africa and leading it back into the community of nations.

And he didn't want to be remembered as a saint -- he wanted to be remembered as man who made difficult decisions. Because then he could truly be not just an inspiration -- but a model.

We remain in awe of Madiba's 'long walk to freedom' -- and now that his long walk has ended, think of how each of you might take just one step in the next mile of a journey that never really ends. If you're looking for a moral mission, take a moment to watch this video from the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs of Maya Angelou's moving tribute to Nelson Mandela on behalf of the American people.

About the Author: John Kerry serves as the 68th Secretary of State of the United States.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears on The Huffington Post.


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Eric J.
New Mexico, USA
December 18, 2013

There are many Nelson Mandelas incarcerated by repressive regimes we'll never know about, nor ever remember, for lack of public exposure, in the silence of the "disapeared".

A soul rests now, a life's work complete. But for humanity, the work is never finished and to truly honor his legacy , folks must continually become inspired to think.

For that is the purpose in raising one's voice against injustice.


Maureen V.
Massachusetts, USA
December 18, 2013
“Awe” as Secretary of State Kerry writes when speaking of Nelson Mandela. Thank you for sharing the tribute by Maya Angelou, her poetry is so beautiful. Thank you also Ms. Thomas-Greenfield for your post and words. I watched the tribute several times since last week. It was an extremely humbling experience to see Nelson Mandela from afar. When word got out that he was coming to Boston after having been released from prison I knew that I must go to witness a chance at seeing freedom. It would be a rare chance. Onlookers singing in the streets of Boston as his car past slowly so he could wave to everyone, smiling. It is that smile from far away which has stayed with me ever since. That smile big enough to heal the world. He had it. I saw wisdom, justice and freedom all in one man. All in the same day and at the same instant.

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