Labor, peace, education and faith leaders in the central San Joaquin Valley reacted with sadness Thursday to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela. He was 95.
They looked back on the life of a man who was dedicated to ending apartheid and building a multiracial and democratic South Africa, and who emerged from a prison cell after 27 years with malice toward none. Mandela had been in failing health this year due to a recurring lung infection.
Dolores Huerta, who co-founded with Cesar Chavez the National Farm Workers Association that later became United Farm Workers of America, saw Mandela speak in Oakland in 1990.
She said there were parallels between Mandela's style of leadership and that of Chavez.
"They both believed in the idea of reconciliation and not having a vendetta against people who were against them," Huerta said Thursday from the Bakersfield office of the Dolores Huerta Foundation. "Mandela spoke about forgiveness, nonviolence and peace. And that is what Cesar did."
Sudarshan Kapoor, a professor emeritus in social work at Fresno State and a community voice for nonviolence, said Mandela's death is a "great loss, a loss of a great man."
"He was so much loved by people, not only in South Africa, but all across the world," said Kapoor, who founded the Fresno State Peace Garden, a collection of statues that honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Chavez and social worker Jane Addams.
"He was an inspiring personality who spent 27 years in prison and came out with no animosity or bitterness of white people who put him in prison," Kapoor said. "It's rare to find a person like him, who was tortured and mistreated in prison, and come out as a symbol of peace and understanding."
The Rev. Bruce McAlister, pastor of Saints Community Church of God in Christ in Fresno and an officer with the West Fresno Ministerial Alliance, said Mandela demonstrated a sense of sacrifice that never wavered.
"He was a man who had a great deal of love for his community and wanted to see them free," he said. "He was willing to sacrifice much of his life by being incarcerated. He reminded you of someone committed to a cause and refused to change the course of what he was committed to.
"History will forever record him as one who made a difference on the world scene, who impacted lives in South Africa and in America, for the cost of freedom. We will forever be grateful for what he did for us."
Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson said Mandela was a strong advocate for education.
"Mr. Mandela knew that education was the key to changing lives and in fact one of his most well-known quotes focuses on education: 'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.' He was a strong believer in being a life-long learner and will be truly missed.
The Rev. D.J. Criner, pastor of Saint Rest Baptist Church in southwest Fresno, said he was in a meeting when he received a text about Mandela's death.
"I felt a wave of emotions, even though I didn't know him," he said. "Everybody across our globe feels they had a connection with him -- small eyes, huge smile. We lost someone who stood for peace and to stop race discrimination."
Criner said his grandmother, Emily Glover, had a favorite Mandela quote: "I stand to end race discrimination and in every manifestation that it is seen. It is not about a dark-skinned individual, but any individual discriminated, based on his race. I will fight until that ends."
Criner said, "For 95 years, he was fighting in the most racist country. God's will was so amazing. He allowed someone to bring peace through nonviolence.
"It's a sad day, but an exciting day -- he is with the Lord."
Bee Staff writer Robert Rodriguez contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 441-6304.