I was 18 years old, serving as a page in the House of Commons in Ottawa, when Madiba was released from prison and made Canada the first stop on his tour to thank the world for pushing to end apartheid. He and wife Winnie came to address parliament. There were two black pages and we both were determined to see, touch, meet Madiba. It felt like such a momentous occasion and he was a symbol of overcoming oppression, of the possibility of equality and justice for black people. We pages had formed an honor guard in the hallway leading to the chamber and as Madiba and Winnie walked up to us, the two of us gave them the fist-raised black power solute. They looked surprised at first, then smiled big smiles and returned the salute. We were thrilled. And a little nervous that our highly irregular actions might have some consequences for us. In the end, the Speaker and head of protocol understood the significance of the moment for two young black Canadian teens, and invited us to attend a reception with the Mandela’s where we were able to meet and speak to them. It was unforgettable.
-Melanie Ash, a Vancouver native who now works as a lawyer in New York City. She is pictured here, second from the left, with Mandela in 1990.