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July 19, 2008

QUNU, SOUTH AFRICA – US Presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, sent a personal birthday greeting to Nelson Mandela at the launch of Dear Mr Mandela…Dear Mrs Parks: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons, an exhibition at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mr Mandela’s home village of Qunu.

“What an extraordinary privilege it is to take part in this birthday celebration. In part because of what Nelson Mandela means to South Africa; in part because of what you mean to the world, and in part because of what you mean to me.

‘You see, I wasn’t born into a political family. I was not active in student government and high school. But when I was in college, there was one issue which moved me for the very first time in my life to become politically active, and play a small leadership role in my community.

“The issue was apartheid and as a young college student I became involved in the divestment movement in the United States. I remember meeting with a group of ANC leaders and hearing of their struggles and their leader, Nelson Mandela.

“When I visited South Africa a few years ago, I had a chance to go to Robben Island and stand in your cell, and I reflected on your courage, your foresight and conviction, and on your fundamental belief that we do not have to accept the world as it is; that we can remake the world as it should be.

“That’s what led you to take your long walk to freedom. That’s what led you, and people in the United States like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, to tear down the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding they saw around them and to help build a world that was more free, more equal and just.

“This is the story of 90 remarkable years that we celebrate today. But celebrations and simple words of admiration are not enough. They’re not enough to honour a man who’s brought hope to a world often filled with despair; who’s brought so much love to a world so filled with hate and who’s shown us how much we can achieve when we have the courage to be our better selves.

“No, the way to truly honour you, Nelson Mandela, is to act each and every day in our own lives to do our part for our fellow human beings and to live up to the example you continue to set each and every day.

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