The Honorable Nelson Mandela: A Detroit Memory

The Honorable Nelson Mandela: A Detroit Memory

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” — Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

December 5, 2013. Another day of loss that I will never forget. The Honorable Nelson Mandela passed from this life to hopefully a world of pure love not tainted by racism, discrimination, poverty, greed, or injustice of any kind. Many know his backstory, unless they have been completely missing from the landscape for decades only recently to reemerge, or are too young to know about world history that includes the strength and power of a man who helped change South Africa. Today, Mr. Mandela’s persona seems more like heroic folklore than twentieth century reality.

One can learn much about him from the many stories people tell—personal accountings from those who knew him well, in and out of prison. We learn about him from those who joined the fight against apartheid, and from others who were fortunate to meet him after spending 27 years in prison. Then, there are stories from people like me who waited, in a packed stadium, to get a glimpse of the man in hopes that an inkling of his power would become a part of me through osmosis.

In June 1990, while visiting U. S. cities after his release from prison, Mr. Mandela stopped in Detroit. His visit culminated in a huge celebration at Tiger Stadium, the home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, at the time. I had never been in a crowd before that instilled in me such a feeling of euphoria and pride. The faces were diverse not only in ethnicity, but also age. From babies to people in wheelchairs, and those using canes and walkers, we all wanted to be a part of something we knew would probably never happen again in our lifetime.

Local heroes such as Rosa Parks, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Mayor Coleman A. Young shared in our excitement. I felt lucky. I marveled at how many people peacefully came together without negative incident, and wondered why we could not seem to accomplish the same feat for other purposes. There was a sense of togetherness and belonging that I have not experienced since that day. We were all there, waiting to save the magic of surreal moments in our minds, hearts, and souls.

Throughout the years, I have carried that experience with me and recall the power of those moments anytime I need to get through a life challenge, or simply to reflect upon the joy of the event. Even now I close my eyes, and transport myself back to Tiger Stadium. I can feel the cohesiveness of the crowd wrap around me like a nurturing hug. In my mind’s eye, I see Mr. Mandela step to the podium and hear him speak from his heart…a heart big enough to change a country for the better. That’s true power.

Thank you Mr. Mandela for showing us the value of…in the words of Mr. Sidney Poitier’s book title, the true measure of a man.


Ferdman, R. A. And King, R. (December 5, 2013). The wisdom of Nelson Mandela: quotes from the most inspiring leader of the 20th century. Retrieved from

You may also like