I got out of my car. He got out of his car. He didn’t see me coming, but I knew exactly who he was. I reached out my hand and in a language he is familiar with, I greeted him. Sawubona baba. ‘Hello my father,’ were the few words that came out of my mouth in Zulu (although he Xhosa, he speaks Zulu), as I held his hand in mine. Startled. Stunned. An understatement of how he reacted to my knowledge of the Zulu language. He certainly knew that I was not his son, but he knew that I was his son. In his tradition, an elder is everyone’s father and a child is everyone’s child and this man has certainly been a father to millions of children.
I was on my way to get on a plane to campaign for President Obama. He was on his way to somewhere else. For twenty years, I have wanted to shake this man’s hand. I wanted to say, siyabonga kakhulu. Thank you very much. Finally, I got my chance on the curb outside of the Delta terminal at LaGuardia airport.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. His work not only rid South Africa of its evil Apartheid government, but fathering a transition in a country that committed itself to a healing process that we have never witnessed before in the history of this world, has inspired my entire view on life. I remember watching in 1994, South Africa vote in its first democratic elections. I remember the lines. The lines of thousands of people. Many of them waiting for days to cast their ballot. The world had never seen anything like this. They just stood there and waited until they could vote for their hero. Madiba, as he is known by so many who adore him. Nelson Mandela would become the first democratically elected leader in South Africa. We witnessed in 1994 the definition of what one man/one woman, one vote means. We witnessed the sacrifice of the South African people to elect a man who believed in 100 percent of its people. Who would forgive those who hated him. Who would unify those who voted him. Who would represent the future of his country to the world. I remember the lines. Lines of thousands of people. Similar lines that we now see throughout America.
Lines in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, Nevada and so many other states in our union. Lines of young and old, black, brown and white, rich and poor, Christians, Jews and Muslims…lines we must wait in to vote for the future of our country. We wait on these lines with pride and joy, as we know that when we exit the voting booth, there is a feeling that encompasses our body that is electrifying. We participated. We connected. We delivered.
So, in the name of Mandela and Tutu…Martin and Malcolm…Coretta and Betty…Lilly and Rosie…Derrion and Trayvon….Cesar and Dolores…John and Bobby…Eleanor and Michelle…we will wait in line. We will wait in line for as long as it will take. We will not waver, we will not leave the line, because we know that too much is at stake. And when we wake up on November 7th and Barack Obama is still our President, we will thank the South Africans for showing us how it’s done.
I let go of his hand and he just laughed. Still baffled by my ability to speak a few words of Zulu. All I could do was smile. He just didn’t know how much it meant to me to finally shake his hand. Amandla!
Michael Skolnik is the Editor-In-Chief of GlobalGrind.com and the political director to Russell Simmons. Prior to this, Michael was an award-winning filmmaker. Follow him on twitter @MichaelSkolnik