BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Marylanders whose lives were touched by Nelson Mandela are reacting to his death.

Meghan McCorkell has their stories.

Those who met Nelson Mandela say just being in his presence was unforgettable.

Crowds gathered outside the South African Embassy in D.C. to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela.

“It was just unbelievable to be in his presence,” said Dr. Mankekolo Mahlangu-Ngcobo.

She fled apartheid in South Africa in 1980 and met Nelson Mandela twice. She describes him as a humble man who left his mark on the world.

“The legacy continues. The memories which we had with him, they will not fade away. They will stay there in our hearts. They will stay in our minds,” said Dr. Mahlangu-Ngcobo.

Her daughter was one of five children to greet the Nobel Prize winner when he visited America in 1990.

“It was like a stampede. All I remember is that Winnie Mandela basically scooped me up and held my hand,” said Ntokozo Ngcobo.

Bishop Walter Thomas visited South Africa in the early 1980s.

“To have been able to look across and see Robbins Island and to know he was there was a life-changing experience,” he told WJZ.

He calls Nelson Mandela a modern-day peacemaker.

“He was a man who suffered at the hand and then reached his hand back out,” said Thomas.

Mandela spread his message of peace during a visit to the University of Maryland, right after the 9/11 attacks.

“And that the world attention can turn to other forms of actions,” Mandela told the crowds in 2001.

It’s those messages that will live on forever.

“Footprints. His footprints will always be there with us and we will follow them,” said Dr. Mahlangu-Ngcobo.

In a statement, Mayor Rawlings-Blake said:

“My heart is heavy at the news of the death of Nelson Mandela. As a crusader for equality and justice, he sparked extraordinary change and inspired people the world over. Through his commitment to representative government, he not only brought racial equality to the government of South Africa, but he showed each of us that true dedication and perseverance can indeed change the world around us. I will continue to look to the example he set, and urge all of Baltimore to do the same as we work to strengthen and grow our city.”

In a statement about Mandela’s passing, Senator Ben Cardin said:

“Humanity has lost one of its greatest leaders with the passing of Nelson Mandela.  My prayers go out to his family and all the people of South Africa. He was a personal hero of mine, and of those who work to uphold human rights around the world.  Ten thousand days in prison were not enough to break Mandela’s spirit and his devotion to the freedom of all people.  He led his nation not only in overcoming the divisions of racism, but in reconciling and healing.

“Mandela’s influence does not end with his passing.  His story and moral courage has changed countless lives forever. As he once said, ‘the true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.’  State and federal lawmakers across the U.S. looked to Mandela as an inspiration when crafting laws that mandated divestment from South Africa’s cruel Apartheid regime.  I had the privilege of serving as Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates when we passed such legislation.  Years later, our Nation is still striving to follow in Mandela’s footsteps and fully realize his dream of peace and equality for all of mankind.  ”

City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young also released a statement, saying:

“On behalf of the City of Baltimore, I would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to President Mandela’s family. Mr. Mandela’s courage was in stark contrast to the oppressive government that he peacefully resisted. Upon his release from nearly three decades of wrongful imprisonment, Mr. Mandela could have been consumed by bitterness and hatred, but instead forged a path of forgiveness in an attempt to mend his nation’s racial divide. His legacy will forever endure and inspire men and women for generations to come.”

Congresswoman Donna Edwards said:

“The world has lost an activist who battled apartheid, a fighter who overcame his own imprisonment, and a leader who formed modern South Africa based on equality for all. Nelson Mandela embodied the knowledge that our vision for a better world is best accomplished through non-violence, dialogue, and reconciliation. His lasting legacy is the belief that we must live free ‘in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’

“It is my hope that as we mourn the passing of this great leader, we pursue courageously that vision and turn his legacy into a reality for all. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and the people of South Africa as their nation mourns the loss of its greatest son.”

And Congressman Elijah Cummings said:

“Around the world, Nelson Mandela served as a symbol for peace, progress, and unity in the face of hatred and discrimination. He sacrificed 27 years of his life behind bars, harnessing immense personal and spiritual strength to bring his country through the oppression of apartheid. Above all, he refused to resort to violence, and never returned the vicious and hateful assaults of which he was so often a victim.

“With Mandela’s passing, we have all lost an exemplary model of the kind of person we should all aspire to be – selfless, loving, and dedicated to justice for every man and woman. The legacy he leaves behind is not just the liberation of South Africa, nor the impression made during his time as President, but freedom and opportunity for all. My heart and prayers are with his family during this time of loss.”

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