New Orleans musician remembers meeting Nelson Mandela in South A - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

New Orleans musician remembers meeting Nelson Mandela in South Africa

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NEW ORLEANS - Nelson Mandela inspires leaders and peacemakers around the world. His influence reaches Southeast Louisiana in the form of music.

"I had a chance to meet President Mandela in 1998, my first visit to South Africa," said President and Cultural Ambassador of the New Orleans South African Connection Damon Batiste.

Batiste met Mandela and his family on his first visit of what would be 75 trips to South Africa.

He has kept in touch. Recently, he sent a candle that represents New Orleans musicians to Mandela's grandson.

"To tell Nelson Mandela and the family, we want you to live forever," said Batiste.

Mandela's presence continues to impress Batiste as if the encounter was just yesterday.

"Just the presence, if Nelson Mandela gives you an aura or vibe, you don't forget it," said Batiste.

Batiste said even Mandela's physical stature was majestic.

"He was a very tall man, and he had big hands because he was a former boxer," said Batiste.

Now, Batiste runs the nonprofit New Orleans South African Connection, which helps to spread cultural experiences remotely and physically by working with the airlines and ports.

He credits the spirit of his work to Mandela.

"His legacy will never be forgotten. That's for sure," said Batiste.

Mandela's name is already inscribed in history text books, and Xavier University President Dr. Norman Francis says, the lessons Mandela provided will always be cherished.

"When he made changes, his changes were based on treating each other as human beings. I still am amazed about it. I don't think if you would imprison me for a year I'd come out and say, 'okay lets see how nice I can be to you.' That's almost inhuman," said Francis.

Francis says Mandela's personal and political charisma touches leaders across the world.

"I think surely he had a great impact on South Africa, but he had a great impact on the United States and what we were going through and are still going through in terms of understanding that together we can do much, but separately we can do nothing," said Francis.

Now together, admirers pray and remember the extraordinary life of a man who remains a hero and friend to so many.

"I'm sure there's many people crying right now, even though it's eight hours ahead of us in South Africa because my mother called me. It's like a 9/11 moment. Where were you when you found out Nelson Mandela passed away?" said Batiste.

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