Nelson Mandela in 2007 | AP file photo
Chicago-area elected leaders and others joined in the global outpouring of grief on Thursday with the passing of Nelson Mandela. Several reflected on how the one-time political prisoner-turned South Africa’s first black president touched their lives:
◆ “The world is saddened by the demise of one of God’s greatest creations, a world leader who was able to command the respect of all of us who occupy mother earth. Nelson Mandela rose from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of love and respect throughout the world. His life is a testimony to the power of love for humankind.” — statement from U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill.
◆ “Nelson Mandela’s iconic legacy of activism brought him to the front lines of the struggle against apartheid. His legendary endurance and discipline helped him survive twenty-seven years of unjust imprisonment without hate for his oppressors. And his distinct ability to build bridges of understanding and healing between those of different races and backgrounds led to him becoming the first black president of South Africa.
“Nelson Mandela’s life and persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, as well as his steadfast commitment to equality galvanized the global community and will forever serve as an inspiration to everyone to lead lives that provide hope and opportunity to the underserved and disenfranchised.” — statement from Chicago Urban League
◆ “Nelson Mandela will be remembered as a man whose personal integrity and the circumstances of life molded into a prophetic international figure. For many years, in prison and out of prison, he resisted apartheid in South Africa.As a catalyst for reconciliation in South Africa, he became a model for how all of us can respond in the face of grave injustice.” — statement from Cardinal Francis George
◆ “Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.’ Few 20th century figures changed the world as much as Nelson Mandela.
“Despite 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner, Mandela never lost his optimism, his resolve or his generous heart. A hero of democracy, he earned the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, 2002 U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and eternal gratitude of freedom-loving people everywhere.
“As President, Mandela guided his nation out of the darkness of apartheid, provided free healthcare for children and opposed the death penalty. He could have been content after his Presidency to enjoy much-deserved time with friends and family, but he continued crusading for better schools, AIDS awareness and democracy across Africa.
“We join the people of South Africa and the world in mourning this great loss.
“The vision and spirit of Nelson Mandela live on.” — statement from Gov. Pat Quinn
◆ “Not even death can dim the light Nelson Mandela brought to this world. Courage and commitment are rare, but like Abraham Lincoln, Mandela added a caring and forgiving heart to his amazing life story. The world is a better place because of the life he lived and hope he encouraged. I feel honored to have met him.” — statement from U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
◆ “The world has lost an icon for justice with the passing of Nelson Mandela, whose long walk to freedom leaves behind an even longer legacy of tolerance, equality and perseverance. Mr. Mandela’s wisdom has influenced many in the Chicago area, including myself, and will continue to inspire a more loving and optimistic future for people around the world.” — statement from U.S. Rep. Mike Quiqley, D-Ill.
◆ Mayor Rahm Emanuel: “My wife Amy and I arrived in South Africa on our honeymoon in 1994 just a few months after Nelson Mandela took the oath and became President of what he called ‘a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.’ I will never forget the sense of possibility and promise that he sparked in the people of South Africa, and as Amy and I were starting a new life together, we felt it was fitting to be in a country as it began a new life of its own.
“People of different colors and creeds, separated by culture and country, were united by a shared admiration for Nelson Mandela. They placed their hopes in him because they saw themselves in him. By mastering unjust imprisonment, he helped free a people; by reaching out across divisions he brought a nation together and set an example for all of us to follow. Though his personal journey may be over, Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom will journey on in places both far away and near at home, in the work of people around the world who continue to struggle against oppression and division. It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to this great peacemaker who now rests in peace, and say thank you for a life well lived.”
◆ “Twenty-five years ago, amid the struggle against Apartheid, I volunteered as a high school teacher in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and black South Africans were still denied the right to vote. I taught English, math, history and science to my students, but I knew my true work was in educating the next generation of black South African women to be ready to lead in a new South Africa. Mandela’s unrelenting strength and courage made this dream a reality for my students and their families.” — statement from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
◆ Around the globe, millions of us pause to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela who became an early fighter for human justice and against racism. We celebrate him as the first member of his family to attend school, yet who went on to become a scholar, a lawyer, and was eventually recognized as a world leader. We celebrate Nelson Mandela’s victory as he emerged from a life of oppression, imprisonment, and struggle to eventually lead his nation and be honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
We are inspired by Nelson Mandela’s leadership model to address the chief ills of our time. We celebrate his fight against racism and his work to foster racial reconciliation, as well as his resolve to challenge poverty and economic disparity. The principles for which Nelson Mandela stood guide us today in our battles over these issues. -- statement from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis