By Mike Hellgren

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—The world is mourning the loss of an icon of freedom. Nelson Mandela is being remembered as a leader who fought against apartheid in South Africa and then went on to lead his country and inspire the world.

Mike Hellgren spoke with Marylanders inspired by Mandela.

Mandela’s legacy stretches well beyond South Africa, influencing so many here in Maryland.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings remembers speaking to Mandela in 2005. What stuck out was the South African leader’s candid comment about how he felt leaving jail.

“’I knew I was free, but I couldn’t be completely free unless I forgave those who oppressed me,’” Cummings recalled. “He’s probably the only person who could have brought the country together through forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Cummings says Mandela’s impact was so great because of his humility.

“Someone so powerful and effective to be as humble as he was and to know that he touched the janitor or he touched the king in the same way,” Cummings said. “I feel blessed that I lived during the time that he lived, that I was able to see him accomplished and now to celebrate his life even in death.”

Former Maryland Congressman and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume considered Mandela a close, personal friend and says despite Mandela’s recent illness, his death is still a shock.

“I was in a bad place when I got the news for a few hours. You know no one is going to live forever, but it’s the finality of death that hits all of us,” Mfume said.

Mfume remembers how word of his anti-apartheid protests outside of Baltimore’s City Hall got all the way to Mandela’s jail cell.

“He wrote a note saying ‘Thank you so much.’ In big letters, he wrote ‘DO NOT GIVE UP,’ which I always thought was ironic ’cause that’s what I wanted to say to him,” Mfume said. “The simple eloquence of his example was enough from the jail cell to the day he is buried to inspire presidents, popes and the common man.”

Cummings says Mandela was a man of principles.

“You can protest. you can sacrifice, but at the same time, if you’re persistent and have faith you can be victorious,” Cummings said. “The idea that if we stand on our principles, there is a better day coming.”

“What President Mandela did was he made us realize that we are all one because we have more in common than we have apart,” Cummings said.

“He’s going to be missed by all, not just black but also with white people as well,” a Maryland woman said.

“Such big shoes to fill for a man who spent so many years fighting for what was right. He spent so many years in prison, lived as long as he did and made a difference in not only South Africa but the world,” another woman said.

Marylanders hope the lessons Mandela taught throughout his life will be learned by future generations to come.

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