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Happy Birthday Madiba, We Will Forever Remember Your Steel Will and Tender Heart

July 18, 2018




Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Happy Birthday Madiba, We Will Forever Remember Your Steel Will and Tender Heart

A statement by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.


The hallways of my hotel in Cape Town, South Africa on that unforgettable day in 1990 thundered with joy as the maids and cooks drummed dents into their pots and pans.


Nelson Mandela – Madiba – was coming home. He was finally free. Soon, his nation would be, too.


Today would have been Madiba’s 100th birthday. He almost made it. He died at age 95 in 2013, but not before he showed the world what a true patriot and president looks like. He spent 27 years of his life in prison to save his beloved country from the evils of apartheid and the bloodbath of civil war.


He chose forgiveness and racial reconciliation over retribution and domination, hope over fear, futures over funerals. He had a steel will and a tender heart. He never would have ordered children snatched and separated from their parents to be locked in cages.


Madiba never internalized the poison of oppression. He never believed the lies of inferiority. He always knew that he was somebody.


He suffered and sacrificed his way deep into the hearts of everyone who dreams of peace and fights for freedom. He had the option of leaving prison early. He would not until the system came down. He chose the ballot over the bullet and became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. He could have been president-for-life, but rejected strong-man, authoritarian rule and gracefully oversaw the transfer of power after one-term.


I am blessed to have known and worked with two of the greatest human beings and freedom fighters of the 20th Century – Madiba and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Heroes have heroes, too. Dr. King was Madiba’s hero.


Martin and Madiba had so much in common. They were principled, educated, courageous drum majors for justice. They never allowed hate or racism to dull their love for humanity – all of humanity.


I was the first African American to meet Madiba when he was released from prison and began his long walk to freedom, his fist thrust high into the air, living proof that the arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice. 


We became friends. He came to my home in Chicago. He spoke at PUSH. We traveled together in England and France. I miss his friendship and his counsel. The world does.


There is still much work to be done in South Africa and in the United States. Poverty and despair continue to rob too many of our young of their todays and tomorrows.


Everything we fought for the last 60 years is in peril – voting rights, women’s rights, worker’s rights, children’s rights, immigrant’s rights, affordable health care, peace – is under attack. The Right is on the move across the world.


But we have more weapons to fight back today than we ever had before. We have the ballot – Dr. King and Madiba made sure of that. And if we vote our numbers, our needs and our hopes and dreams, we the people, will win.


The life and legacy of Nelson Mandela shows us that.


Happy birthday, Madiba. We owe you so much. We promise to fight on.




Don Terry


Rainbow PUSH Coalition is a multi-racial, multi-issue, progressive, international organization that was formed in December 1996 by the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. through merging of two organizations he founded Operation PUSH People United to Serve Humanity (estab. 1971) and the Rainbow Coalition (estab. 1984). With headquarters in Chicago and offices in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Oakland, the organization works to make the American Dream a reality for all citizens while advocating for peace and justice around the world. RPC is dedicated to improving the lives of all people by serving as a voice for the voiceless. Its mission is to protect, defend and gain civil rights by leveling the economic and educational playing fields while promoting peace and justice around the world.


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