Many around the world are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of the true giants of the 20th and 21st centuries. The former South African president passed away on Thursday afternoon at the age of 95.
Mandela's health had been in decline for a long time. Earlier this year, he spent several months at a hospital battling what was called a "recurring lung infection." Yet, in his younger years, Mandela became a global icon for his work to end apartheid in South Africa.
After spending 27 years in prison for his cause before his release in 1990, Mandela helped negotiate the end of apartheid and became South Africa's first democratically elected president in 1994.
Now, he leaves behind a remarkable legacy of justice, sacrifice and forgiveness -- and remains an inspiration to millions across the globe, including those who met him in Minnesota.
Sharon Sayles-Belton met Mandela a couple of times while she was mayor of Minneapolis, and she told Fox 9 News he lived a full life and filled it with more fighting against injustice than an army of others did in theirs.
"My first reaction is that I was sad because we lot him," Sayles-Belton said.
Even though it's been more than a decade since the two last melt, Sayles-Belton told Fox 9 News the world lost a parent with Mandela's passing.
"I feel like everybody lost a father, someone who cared for everyone, who looked out for everyone, who would stand up for all that was right," she said.
Sayles-Belton met the global statesman and Nobel Peace Prize winner when President Bill Clinton invited him to the United States in the early 1990s. She also introduced him when he came to Minnesota to be honored by the NAACP 13 years ago.
"He was a commanding force," she recalled. "He was the kind of person you believe. He is larger than life, but you also believe, at the same time, you feel a connection to him -- an emotional connection."
In the mid-1980s, Mandela's 20 years as a political prisoner inspired an all-star call to arms to boycott the South African resort called Sun City.
VIDEO: Artists United Against Apartheid - Sun City on YouTube
The Minneapolis City Council even divested itself of South African currency to put pressure on the country to end its practice of legal segregation.
"His fight for justice and equality touched the hearts of people around the world, including mine," Sayles-Belton said.
In the end, Sayles-Belton says Mandela was a symbol of hope and peace for a generation, but she believes he will leave a lasting legacy around the world.
"It doesn't matter he was in South Africa. He was worldly. He was a global statesmen," Sayles-Belton insisted. "He called on all of us to pay attention and do what's right, and we need more voices like that. So, this is a loss for everyone."
Fox 9 News also spoke with former Hennepin County Judge LaJune Lange, honorary counsel to South Africa in Minnesota.
"His legacy is that through peace and reconciliation, you can overcome differences," Lange said.
She met Mandela in the late 90s and says she is planning a memorial service for him in the Twin Cities that will coincide with the national memorial service for the iconic leader.
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