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On Nelson Mandela's 95th birthday, celebrating his belief in forgiveness, reconciliation and determination

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Nelson Mandela's 95th Birthday exclusives for Yahoo!
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Nelson Mandela turns 95 on Thursday. Yahoo asked readers and Mandela admirers to offer reflections, appreciations and birthday wishes — each in 95 words or fewer. Below are several we received this week, and here are reactions from Yahoos across the Web.

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"Activist," "courageous," "peaceful," "heroic" and "unbreakable" are a few words that come to mind when I think about Nelson Mandela. My birthday wish to you, is for you to know that there are people who are still fighting for justice and equality, people who still believe we should all live in harmony and be afforded the same opportunities, people who are still willing to sit in prison or sacrifice their life for the same causes that you believed in and fought for years ago. Thank you for being a hero of our time.

Shante J. McCoy, Texas

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As a missionary in South Africa, I lived in Nelson Mandela's birth town of Umtata and visited his house. He was not home during my visit; however, I met him in the face of a woman I taught. I asked her how she could forgive the people of her former government for their oppression of her people. She responded that Nelson Mandela told the people to forgive; and she listened.

To the life of a man who can just speak forgiveness and it happens, happy birthday, Nelson Mandela.

Rodric Johnson, Arizona

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When my mother took me to see Nelson Mandela speak in D.C., I was more concerned with dodging the crush of hot, sweaty, smelly people than I was with the opportunity before me. I remember the face of the passionate woman — a stranger - who sat on the grass next to me as we waited for Mandela, who was hours late. She looked at me intensely and said, "This is going to change your life."

Seeing Mandela speak was — as it turns out — a life-changing experience.

Rachel Roderick, Rhode Island

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Anyone who reaches the age of 95 deserves admiration, but what I admire most about Nelson Mandela is his determination and capacity to forgive. While we may not agree politically, a man who takes a stand for what is right is to be respected, regardless of politics. He demanded justice and equality for all South Africans, and when his imprisonment came to an end, and the goals he fought for were realized, he led by example and worked to ease racial tension and unite the nation. Happy birthday, Mr. Mandela. A grateful world salutes you.

J.D. Lewis, North Carolina

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On a warm July night in 1990, my dad and I saw Nelson Mandela at Concord Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. Five months earlier, Mandela was released from prison after 27 years for fighting apartheid in South Africa. As a 13-year-old girl, I was honored that a global freedom-fighter was visiting my neighborhood. I had a hard time understanding him, due to his accent. But I felt special being in the same room with him. Most of all, I understood that his freedom was miraculous for South Africa and the world.

Eva Gordon, New York

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The one lesson that the world, especially certain American politicians and activists, can glean on the 95th birthday of Nelson Mandela is the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Having become the first freely elected president of South Africa after the fall of the racist apartheid regime, he declined to conduct a campaign of score-settling and reprisals for the pains the black majority suffered for so many years.

Instead Mandela strove to bring the various ethnic groups of the country together, to start afresh, and to try to let go of bitter history.

Mark Whittington, Texas

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In 1997, President Mandela made an address to the ANC about the plight of Palestinians; my hopes for Palestinian freedom became tangible: "But we know all too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

I memorized those words. Learned them on the south side of Chicago. They still echo in my ears.

Mandela not only led a movement to end apartheid in South Africa, but has inspired non-violent activists to begin an official boycott against Israeli apartheid.

Ultimately, Mandela shifted the paradigm in how Palestinians address Israeli tyranny.

Lesson learned.

Vickie Mansour-Hasan, Illinois

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Nelson Mandela has certainly led a life worth reflecting on. From persevering through 27 years in prison to dismantling the effects of apartheid, he has impacted the world immeasurably. The lesson most worth emulating is his passion for equality. I live near Los Angeles now but have lived and traveled all over the world and experienced many cultures. It amazes me how similar we are as a species when we remove our prejudices. Mandela's passion for equality speaks to the best parts of humanity. We should strive to highlight these parts in ourselves.

David Daly, California

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I hope Nelson Mandela's indomitable spirit will enable him to spend more time on this earth. This quote from Nelson Mandela's book, "Long Walk to Freedom," impressed me profoundly: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love." This core philosophy enabled him to endure many years in prison and become president of South Africa. Happy 95th birthday, President Mandela.

Stewart Lodge, Ohio

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I wish a heartfelt and happy birthday to Nelson Mandela. As he turns 95, I think about how the nations of the world struggle to make racial equality for all peoples a reality. Here in the United States, we are dealing with the George Zimmerman verdict. Even with the first African-American president, we have not ended healing our nation of all injustices. If we reflect on what former President Mandela achieved in his lifetime, we can continue to keep hope alive. We can have justice for all peoples.

Gregory Johnson, Michigan

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Like the movie "It's a Wonderful Life," you can't appreciate Nelson Mandela until you see how things would have turned out had he never been born 95 years ago. Mandela stuck to his principles, embraced peaceful political change, a coalition government with whites, reconciliation for human rights abuses, and term limits. Robert Mugabe who opposed apartheid in Rhodesia during the same time, built a cruel dictatorship in Zimbabwe, to the north of South Africa, that targets whites and has destroyed its own economy. Your country thanks you, Mr. Mandela.

John A. Tures, Georgia

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For any student of social justice, Nelson Mandela embodies the truth that it is a slow-moving creature, one that takes patience, one that takes faith. But justice will come.

His life is an example of the rolling tide, how the beginning of something can be so incredibly different than the way it ends. He was meant to disappear, forever, on Robben Island, a footnote to South Africa's history, or a martyr like Steve Biko, killed in custody.

Instead, a river of strength, he carved a path of change through the rocky resistance of a nation.

Isa-Lee Wolf, Illinois

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While many celebrate the ailing luminary's life, a question — one of reflection — comes to my mind: In the post-apartheid era, has his vision of racial equality been realized or deferred?

South Africa grappled with apartheid, while the United States had its Civil Rights movement. One only has to look at the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman backlash, Paula Dean fallout and the racist remarks on the "Big Brother" TV show to answer the question about Mandela's dream. I'd argue there's work to be done.

Bradley Ryder, Florida

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In my lifetime, there are a handful of people who shaped the world as we know it today, having such a profound impact that almost everybody's lives have been personally affected. Some are for the better, while some have had a lasting negative impact. None, however, has had a worldwide influence as Nelson Mandela. He is a man who spent 27 years in prison for his beliefs. He tirelessly fought for South African equality, eventually becoming president in that country's first truly democratic election. His successful campaign for equality has been felt throughout the world.

Robert Ramstetter, Ohio

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Nelson Mandela reminds me that I am not alone. Without corrupting his values, shying away from his morals, or wavering in a fight, Nelson Mandela dedicated his life for the betterment of others. In a world where different is only good after it has inspired a wave of followers, Mr. Mandela selflessly chose to be singularly different and, because of it, generations who have not yet been born will thank a man they have never met.

Laura Parker, Virginia

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On Thursday, the world will celebrate 95 years of a life that has been full of ups and downs, of triumphs that no one will ever forget, and of tragedies that will forever mark the kind of man he is. South Africa's first black president is currently hospitalized due to reoccurring lung infections, but the last report given on his condition indicated he is critical but stable at this time. We here in South Haven, Mich., extends our prayers to him and his family on this important day.

Jessica Riddle, Michigan

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I learned from Mandela a lesson that changed my life. I learned to never give up no matter how hard the opposition may seem. Fight for what you believe and never settle for anything less than the best. He paved the way for Barack Obama and other African-American leaders. Seeing someone battle to save not just his people, but the ideas that can save his people, is a monumental driving force for anyone looking to be a factor of change in the world.

Georgia Rushing, Louisiana

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I first heard of Nelson Mandela when he was elected South Africa's first black president in 1994. As a seventh-grade honor student, I was amazed by his accomplishments. I learned that he was an anti-apartheid revolutionary and attorney, imprisoned for 27 years prior to being elected president. He has inspired me from half a world away to never believe that anything is impossible. To His Excellency, Nelson Mandela, happy birthday and prayers to get well soon!

Leslie Sinclair, South Carolina

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Nelson Mandela has proved to the world that no matter how poor your health condition is, you can move on with your inner strength and courage. His inner strength has given the entire world the lesson of facing life's challenges bravely. With his utter determination and confidence, he is willing to travel some more miles yet, without getting exhausted. We respect you whole-heartedly for that. We admire you for your vigor and integrity, and we wish you a very happy 95th birthday, Mr. Mandela.

Pamela Morris, Georgia

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Nelson Mandela is one of the most influential and admiral people to have ever walked this planet. He fought against the apartheid to bring it down and to bring freedom to black South Africans.

I studied Mandela while I was in school and respect him greatly. He was one of the greatest civil rights leaders to ever live.

He is a big inspiration to me and motivates me to never give up on a situation, even when I feel like I can't get through it.

Joseph Rodriguez, Florida

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Nelson Mandela, you are a man who has endured the ebb and flow of life like no other. Your steadfast bravery in the midst of once-segregated South Africa, your selflessness, and your love for humanity serve as the blueprint in which we all should follow. You are a living legend. I wish you a very happy birthday from Atlanta.

Vicky Herrington, Georgia

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As you approach the dawn of your 96th year, my wish for you is that you are able to reflect on the magnitude of who you are and what you have done. Because you came into the world, the entire course of humanity was changed. You gave us all a reason to be better. I can only hope we continue down the path you have paved for generations to come. Happy birthday.

Naomi MacRoss, New York

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I admire Nelson Mandela and consider him a great role model. He forgave those who imprisoned him for 27 years. He moved forward, serving humanity with integrity and without bitterness. He's lived 23 years after his release. And he used those years well.

I wish Mr. Mandela the best life can give him. He deserves his 95th birthday. I pray he recovers from his illness and lives the rest of his life in peace. May God continue to bless you, Nelson Mandela, and happy birthday!

Cheryl E. Preston, Virginia

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In 2000, I was in Sydney, Australia, setting up a program for a client who was attending the Olympics. Although stressed out, I visited the Taronga Zoo. My mood did not improve, a security guard kept us from moving forward into the exhibit. About five minutes later, a golf cart with a waving and jubilant Nelson Mandela breezed past us. Like magic, his charisma just brightened up my dark mood and instead of misery, I felt joy. This moment is what I will always associate with Nelson Mandela. Happy, happy birthday Nelson Mandela!

Georgia Makitalo, Minnesota

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I learned of Nelson Mandela in the late 1980s as a young boy, younger than 10, when I was learning about other two non-violent leaders: Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. He had been just released from nearly 30 years of imprisonment for protesting apartheid. He continues to inspire non-violent activism, critical thinking, equality, liberty and justice for all. Happy birthday, Mandela, and thank you for inspiration.

Damien Johnson, Missouri

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