President Barack Obama has made it no secret that he considers Nelson Mandela one of the greatest influences — if not the greatest — in his life and in the lives of countless others. According to the Cable News Network, throughout his first five years in office, he has repeatedly referenced Mandela, either invoking quotes from the anti-apartheid icon or spreading his messages of freedom and equality.
In 1980, Nelson Mandela was sitting in a South African prison cell, serving a life sentence. On the other side of the world, a young college student named Barack Obama was riveted by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the brewing crusade to free the renowned activist.
Little did they know that nearly three decades later, the two would have something in common: They would be the first elected black presidents in their respective countries.
Obama said On Thursday ‘’We have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth. He no longer belongs to us-he belongs to the ages.”
At Occidental College in Los Angeles around 1980, Obama first forayed into political activism – a protest against apartheid. It was the beginning of what would become years of studying Mandela’s speeches and writings.
“In the most modest of ways, I was one of those people who tried to answer his call,” he wrote in the forward to Mandela’s 2010 memoir “Conversations with Myself.”
Obama has acknowledged that none of the obstacles he faced growing up compared to those of the victims in South Africa, but Mandela’s “example helped awaken him to the wider world,” he wrote in the forward.
“Through his choices, Mandela made it clear that we did not have to accept the world as it is- that we could do our part to seek the world as it should be.