The world stopped in 1990 to witness the first steps of freedom of one man, Nelson Mandela, after his 27 years of imprisonment. Today, the world celebrates the 93rd birthday of one of the world's greatest leaders. That he has walked upon this earth has changed the course of history, not only for South Africa but for the entire globe.
Born of royalty on 18 July 1918, he has lived his 93 years in the service of oppressed South Africans, and he is a beacon of light that inspires freedom, peace and justice across the African continent and around the world for people of all races, creeds, and cultures.
Mandela's iconic status was forged during his years on Robben Island as a political prisoner, and in the imagination of many of us who grew up knowing him from a single image taken during his incarceration.
I first spoke to Madiba in 1999 and met the real man in the Oval Office when he visited President George W. Bush in November 2001. I met him several times more when I served as the United States' Ambassador to South Africa, including arranging and participating in his last visit to the White House in May 2005.
Mandela was and is a towering figure of great wisdom, humor and kindness. Meeting him left you, and indeed continues to leave you, uplifted and feeling that you've been in the presence of a saint. One of my proudest moments was helping to put America on the right side of history in July 2008 when Mandela and his ANC colleagues were removed from the U.S. terror list that dated back to apartheid days in the 1980s.