This essay contest was open to all employees and family members of Delta Airlines and won first place.  The theme was MLK and Mandela – how they affected your life.  


MLK and Mandela


My earliest memory of Martin Luther King was his face on the front of every cardboard fan in our church.  His image flashed before my eyes a thousand times a Sunday accompanied by a cooling breeze.  His story and his sacrifice was told and retold in church, in school, and at family gatherings.  He was depicted as a scholar, a hero, and a leader.  He was the best of us and he was taken from us far too soon.

King’s non-violent philosophy was marred with riots and destruction after his death.  A neighborhood store behind our house was looted and burned.  The National Guard patrolled our street.  Life would never be the same.

At that time, half a world away, another man sat in prison for fighting the same battle as Dr. King.  I did not know this man, Mandela.  I didn’t learn about him for many years, not until my worldview expanded outside of the United States.  When I discovered what he did, what he stood for and that voices around the world called out for his release.  I joined my voice with theirs.

Here was another Martin.  Here were another people crying out for justice and equality.  Here was another chance to right the wrongs of the past and maybe, just maybe get it right.  In the early 80’s I attended the University of Michigan and participated in protests against his imprisonment.  The Civil Rights Movement may have been over in the US but another movement was underway in South Africa.  It was my opportunity to make my voice heard and play a small part in ending Apartheid.

When Mandela was freed and became President of South Africa, I became a father.  That is when I realized why he did what he did.  Why he spoke out and sacrificed his freedom, why he was willing to sacrifice his life.  It is no wonder the people of South Africa called him “Tata”, which means father.

I would wonder, what Dr. King could have accomplished had he lived?  Could he have been the first African American President of the US?  Would the people who loved and followed him have called him “Papa”?  I’d like to think that in some parallel universe it is so.

What I do know is this.  Wherever there are a people living under injustice, wherever parents dare to dream of a better future for their children, wherever freedom wins over oppression the names Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela will always be spoken.


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