The atmosphere in the entire world feels different today. We mourn the death of the most influential leader of the past century.
I wanted to share my story with you because like millions of other people, I too have been inspired by this remarkable man, even more so because I had the privilege to meet the legend himself.
Nelson Mandela has been a profound driving force for me and has much to do with who I am today and all I aspire to achieve in the years ahead.
His belief, persistence, and relentlessly positive spirit realized his lifelong dream. He transformed a country of dismal hopelessness into the most democratic, free society in the world, where all races, sexes, and religions live together in a free nation.
From Prisoner to President
Not long ago, I stood in awe, not believing that I actually was present in the same room as the most celebrated hero in the world. It was at a dinner in Gaborone (Botswana), where we gathered to celebrate Africa’s first black African woman to ever win the Miss Universe pageant: Mpule Kwelagobe.
Nelson Mandela was invited as a guest of honor. He made time out of his busy schedule to attend the celebration, one of Botswana’s most momentous occasions.
No words can describe the emotions and energy that exuded from the mere presence of this man on that evening as he made his entrance. I still feel the chills running through my entire body as I remember his entry.
Madiba delivered a charming and, as always, inspirational speech. He cracked a joke every now and again, truly enjoying the evening.
This man sacrificed and dedicated his entire life to freedom, justice, and equality for all.
A fun, warm, wonderful person
He seemed no different than many of us in the room, except that he had a profound energy which radiated out to every corner of the dinner hall, making it very hard not to notice that you were in the presence of a most exceptional human being, far superior in spirit and light than words can ever describe.
A global icon indeed
The event drew to an end and it was time for him and all of us to depart. Crowds stood anxiously at the exit aisle to see him off, hoping to get a handshake. I too managed to work my way towards the exit sign wanting a closer look at this now-saintly figure, eagerly wishing he might just reach out and shake my hand!
Instead, something way more surprising came my way as I stood idle, enjoying every moment of this rare event.
Suddenly Nelson and I were looking at each other eye to eye, and then, completely unexpectedly, he called my name!
I looked around me in disbelief, thinking that I most certainly heard wrong. Did I really hear my name? Is he calling me? Who is he asking to come towards him?
Surely not me!
Yes, you, nodded Nelson.
As he came closer towards me, he reassured me that I was the one he called to come closer to him.
My legs were trembling so hard I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold myself together to actually get to him.
“Would you mind holding my arm?” he asked. “Escort me down the aisle. I am an old man. Did you enjoy the evening?”
No vocal cords. I’m lost for words. Just a couple of nods.
Not much literal conversation, yet as odd as this may sound, looking back it felt as though we shared quite a lengthy silent one.
Simple acknowledgement and warmth that spoke volumes.
Wow….he’s so tall!
Fragile in his old age,
and yet so strong.
Could Madiba have gone the extra mile to find out who designed Mpule’s dress?
I often ask myself.
All I did was believe in a young woman and only hoped that she had the chance to participate at a pageant and show the world her brilliance, not only for her looks, but also her intelligence.
For me, a chance to share my talent.
Yet, this small occurrence managed to change our lives forever.
Nelson Mandela’s unconditional spirit shines strong across the globe today.
Find your dream.
Set your goal.
Have no doubt.
And in true Madiba spirit,
Realize your own personal legend.
Angelo Lambrou began his fashion career in South Africa under the apartheid regime and witnessed first-hand Nelson Mandela’s dream come to fruition.