Nelson Mandela dies: Valley leaders meet to honor former South African president

PHOENIX - Nelson Mandela left his mark on the world and here in the Valley. 

Rev. Oscar Tillman lives in Phoenix and is on the national board for the NAACP. He took a youth group to the national NAACP conference in Indianapolis, Indiana 20 years ago and that's where he met and sat next to Mandela.

Tillman recalls that what stood out most to him was how personable and relatable Mandela was. He describes their first conversation as instantly talking to a friend.

But he says Mandela was passionate when it came to civil rights and that is what has continued to inspire Tillman in his job and even as a cancer survivor.

"I am still fighting, because the fact is, how can I turn away when someone like him did so well," Tillman said.

Other local faith leaders are also reflecting on their meetings with Mandela. Pastor Warren H. Stewart Sr. spent time with Mandela during an intimate church gathering in New York City in the early 1990s. It was Mandela's first trip to America after being released from prison.

The two instantly connected when Stewart spoke to Mandela in Zulu, a language he had learned during his own travels to South Africa.

Stewart says he greeted Mandela by saying ‘how are you doing? Praise the Lord.'

"He was startled, that here I was, an African-American, speaking to him in Zulu." Stewart said. "He was just so humble."

Rev. Jarrett Maupin was just 11 years old when his family traveled to Massachusetts to see Mandela speak alongside Pres. Bill Clinton, shortly after Mandela was elected president in South Africa. 

"I had a chance to shake hands with him, I had a chance to hear his thick accent, I had the chance to literally look up at a giant," Maupin said.

Maupin says Mandela's example to embrace peace, even at a time when he could have spread rage over his imprisonment, left a lasting impression on him.

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