Holi festival 2013. Photo by Olivia Drake MALS ’08.

Odede ’12: Mandela saved my life

[Kennedy Odede ’12]Kennedy Odede '12 shares his personal connection with Nelson Mandela in this opinion piece for CNN. Kennedy is a 2013 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and the president and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities.

I have never met Nelson Mandela, but we have had many conversations.

In my family's tiny shack in Nairobi's Kibera slum, my one-way exchanges with the great man kept me going. Mandela survived 27 years of prison; maybe I would make it out, too.

Even as the shadow of AIDS spread, I saw no reason not to die young, because I had nothing to live for.

It was Mandela who saved my life.

A visiting American gave me two books. I had never gone to formal schools, but I had learned to read and write with the help of a kind priest. The American gave me a collection of speeches by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom." It was Mandela's book that spoke to me. I couldn't put it down. Here was someone whose life I could somehow picture.

Read more here…

Image: by Nick Lacey

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