I’ve had a close personal relationship with Nelson Mandela over half my life. We met during my pre-teens, both of us first-time students at a local YMCA karate class. We soon learned we both enjoyed videos games, music and sports, sharing conversations about each before class.
After the day’s lesson we’d wind down playing an arcade console, a high-octane shooter called Time Soldiers. Very little talk, lots of intense action; our nervous hearts beat simultaneously like a drum line. It presented a challenge we were never able to overcome.
Of course this person I kicked, punched, and shot with was was not the former South African President of Eastern Cape decent. The college-educated civil rights activist born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela, who later was given the surname Nelson, was serving a life sentence at Robben Island prison for treason against the oppressive National Party government of South African. His revolutionary voice against apartheid, a racial segregation law, spoke too loudly. Incarceration was an attempt to silence him.
The Nelson I’d come to know, he and I were two boisterous kindred goofballs who rarely had silent moments. I would playfully call him “Nelson Mandela,” prompting the consistent response of, “That’s me!” One day he showed me his school ID, revealing his middle name in fact was Mandela! Honestly, I didn’t know much about the man for whom he was named, but our friendship encouraged my work on an important school assignment.
During Black History Month following our acquaintance, I chose Nelson Mandela as the subject of a mandatory multi-page profile. Working on this paper I learned about his role with the African National Congress, and why he chose to conduct and encourage nonviolent protest. The South African government kept Mandela locked away while his native supporters cried out for his release. While their requests were met with brutal beatings and bullets, an unrelenting desire for change and equality could not be wounded.
Mandela’s confinement only housed his physical body. His spirit and ideals could not be contained. Mandela’s message traveled as far as the winds could carry it, well beyond the sweltering coastline of the South Atlantic and Indian oceans.
Those inspirational winds blew over a critically and publicly acclaimed, cross-culturally revered American journalist named Clayton Hardiman. Having grown up personally and professionally during an era of racial unrest in our United States, he and his wife chose to name their oldest son after a South African leader who symbolized unflinching dignity—a man who, despite his situation and opposition, chose to be the bigger person in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and detest. The ruthless, inconsiderate, often brutal bigotry surrounding him never enclosed on his humanity. I imagine as Clayton held his son for the first time and their hearts met, both beat simultaneously like a drum line. Seeing this name on a school ID or karate registration form left more of an impression than ink ever could.
Nelson Mandela and his people, in and outside his country, held each other close. Behind those Robben Island prison walls his passionate, loving heart beat like a drum. Those who were receptive gave their time and lives marching to its rhythm. Mandela was a confined time soldier awaiting release. Apartheid created intense circumstances, a challenge South African people desperately needed to defeat. Once Mandela was finally freed on February 11, 1990, he came out proverbially kicking, punching and shooting. He toured the world, embracing his supporters. They felt his heart beat drumming. All got in line, remaining in tandem with the South African leader until his passing on December 5, 2013. Millions overcome with emotions realized, though in his physical body he has passed, Mandela’s spirit and ideals will never die. His message will continue to travel as far as the winds can carry it—which could be as far as another birth certificate turned to years of honor, inspiration, and friendship.
Rest In Peace Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918 – 2013)
–Mr. Joe walker
“The Word Heavyweight Champion” Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and feature writer for City Locs, is an award-winning entertainment and news journalist and columnist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Former Editor In Chief of XPOZ Magazine, his work has graced the pages and covers of Notion Magazine, Kalamazoo Gazette Newspaper, Real Detroit Weekly, and MLive.com. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.