Members of the Clergy, Rev. Harshaw, Congressman Price, Mayor Mcfarlane, Senator Blue, distinguished guests,
It is an honor to be here today and I thank each of you for hosting this memorial service.
“Generations to come will scarce believe that one such as this in flesh and blood walked this earth”.
Albert Einstein 1947
These words by Einstein could also be used to describe how we feel about the man we honor today, Nelson Mandela, like Gandhi, an anti colonial freedom fighter, who changed the face of humanity.
These words also have very personal meaning for me, as my great grandfather, Dr. U Rama Rau, was the Speaker of the General Assembly in Chennai, India, and left the parliament in 1930 to join the civil disobedience movement in India, led by Mahatma Gandhi, a freedom movement, which would span over five continents, affect political change in countries all around the world, and would inspire a South African lawyer, Nelson Mandela, to fight for a free South Africa, and also a dynamic, visionary, Dr. Martin Luther King, who would lead one of the greatest civil rights movements in the history of the world.
My grandfather, Major SV Rao,who grew up in British India, served in the British Army in WWII and then would serve in the Indian army after partition. He would become so inspired by a nation where you had Presidents like Kennedy, leaders like Dr. King, fighting for the same Gandhian ideals, that freedom could not be deprived from anyone based on race, religion, ethnicity , that he sent his daughter and son-in-law to the United States, to raise their children and future generations of their family, in a nation, where any dream could be achieved, in freedom, with hard work, and determination.
Let us as honor Madiba today, by recognizing that his fight for freedom was inspired by these very same ideals which we hold dear in America and around the world.
Gandhi, Mandela and King were truly remarkable individuals, whose walks to freedom were marathons not sprints. They endured imprisonment, humiliation, embarrassment, ridicule, and were willing to stare oppression and injustice in the face by bringing out the best in humanity, by doing their best to change the world, by their actions, not their words, and by their weapons of peace, hope and equality.
Their journeys are similar, their lives, constant reminders of the power of the human spirit.
Gandhi, the young lawyer, whose journey began in South Africa, when he was kicked off a train when he refused to sit on the colored section of the train. He would take this movement on to India, and emerge as the father of a free India, today the worlds’ largest democracy.
Mandela, a South African lawyer, who refused to accept Apartheid as his nations’ destiny, imprisoned for twenty seven years, in the same prison, where Gandhi had been imprisoned decades before. Like Gandhi, he had to learn to have the compassion to forgive his oppressors and show them their own injustices by his freedom fighting in South Africa.
And Dr. King, who was unwilling to accept a segregated nation as the home for future generations of Americans, so that we could truly honor the creed of our forefathers, that all men are created equal.
Mandela and King drew their inspiration from Gandhi, as they both learned to forgive their oppressors, and saw civil disobedience and passive resistance as more effective strategies for their causes. Mandela, would have to forgive his oppressors in his quest for a post-Apartheid South Africa, a dream that he never gave up on and was able to see as President of South Africa.
Most importantly, the fundamental truth sought by these leaders, the idea they were willing to fight for at all costs was the same:
All suppressed people, regardless of their differences, of religion, ethnicity, or caste must stand together against their oppressors, and as in the words of Gandhi, “cease to play the part of the ruled”. They reached their convictions through years of hardship, and dedicated their lives to this cause.
In fact, shortly before the elections in South Africa in 1993, , Mandela unveiled a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, and stated “It is an honor for me to unveil this statue of hope, hope that all South Africans would be treated as equals, and that South Africans would be able to forge a non violent society, free from the havoc wrought by havoc and oppression”.
“Mahatma Gandhi is an integral part of our history because here in South Africa, he first experimented with the truth, that he demonstrated his characteristic firmness in pursuit of justice, here, that he developed Satyagraha as a philosophy and method of strategy”.
In closing, recently, I have been taking my children to many of the superhero movies,Thor, Man of Steel, Iron Man, the Avengers.
I have been reminding them and we need to all remind our children, that the real superheroes are leaders, like Mandela, Gandhi, and King, who commanded no armies, who had no special powers, who did not come from great wealth or privilege. They were normal human beings, just like, us, whose weapons of hope, peace and freedom changed their nations and world forever.
The best way we can honor Mandela, is to remind our children and future generations, that in a world of increasing violence, increasing terror, political division and the politics of hate, that violence is not the solution, that each of us must strive to be our own Mandelas, our own Gandhis, our own Kings–that each of us can as Gandhi reminded the world, seek to become the change we seek in the world.
As we recognize the anniversary of the Newton tragedy, let us forever remind our children that peace is the answer, not violence. That our hope is freedom and the ideals which Mandela fought for his entire life.
If each of us looks for the best in humanity and mankind, we can pass the gift of freedom on to future generations and the world.
Today, as we say farewell to Mandela, we can say the same thing about him that we said about Gandhi 66 years ago, “Generations to come will scarce believe that one such as Nelson Mandela in flesh and blood walked this earth”.
Madiba, we honor you today, we will honor your legacy, and you will live on through commitment to freedom and democracy around the world.
Your are our Mahatma, our great soul and we know you are watching over us.
God Bless each of you. God bless Madiba.
Pictured with good friends, Raleigh Mayor Nancy Mcfarlane, Raleigh Council members Russ Stephenson and Eugene Weeks, and Senator Dan Blue, speakers at the Memorial Service.