As I reflect on the life of a great man, Nelson Mandela, I am remembering June 29, 1990 when I heard him speak in Detroit, MI at the then Tiger Stadium. His appearance in Detroit was one of many efforts to generate funds to eradicate apartheid in South Africa.
I was a Police Sergeant, just confirmed in my rank, and assigned to supervise a unit of eight officers on the "Mandela Detail". Nelson Mandela was scheduled to speak to a multitude of people, in the stadium who were eager to see the man that defied his country and endured 27 years of incarceration.
In writing this strictly from memory, I recall it being a fair weathered afternoon and evening as everyone there was in a celebratory mood. My officers and I were detailed (assigned) to a left field, upper deck position. Our objective was to provide security and a uniformed presence at the event. As we patrolled the assigned areas, I remember being stimulated by the energy of crowd. They were singing, chanting and chattering with expectations. I, of course enjoyed the pre-speech entertainment of recording artists, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin.
The excitement and anticipation in me grew as the announcer introduced Nelson Mandela. This man of indescribable strength and character walked slowly to the podium. The cheers for this great man were exhilarating and deafening. I found myself unconsciously standing at attention throughout his speech. I smiled at his humorous antidotes but beamed with pride at what this man represented. The respect that I had for him was reinforced by the love and respect he received from this standing room only crowd.
The words he spoke were riveting. I re-visited those moments time and time again. This man changed history. He changed centuries of abuse and misuse of an oppressed people. My ancestors. This one man made the world pay attention.
I stood alone enjoying every moment. Other than communicating with my Officers, there was no conversation. As the masses of people celebrated and cheered, I settled into a solemn state of mind. I wanted to cry, because I knew I had just witnessed something that had just made a mark in history. I wanted [needed] to have something to possess, some object from this event to commemorate being in the presence of this GREAT MAN! I preserved my official credentials and a button purchased from a vendor to remind me that I Was There!
click the link to watch highlights of Nelson Mandela's speech - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk1XaW8N2wc