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He dispersed other tips about exercising daily and eating right, which I again took to heart and practice to this day.

As we all know, Mr. Mandela went on to become president of his country and finish the job of dismantling apartheid. Unfortunately, South Africa is still a hard and divided country and, to many, Mr. Mandela was only the beginning of a long process that will take decades to heal and empower the disenfranchised of South Africa.

As a symbol in prison, Mr. Mandela had the power of a martyr. His spirit of resistance to the bigoted regime was inspiration to all those that longed to overthrow oppression.

Many have labeled Mr. Mandela a terrorist for the activities of his youth with the co-founding of the Umkhonto we Sizwe, a militant group that attacked government installations. Mr. Mandela resorted to such tactics only when the South African government continually met peaceful protests with deadly force.

He tried civil disobedience. He attempted to turn the other cheek time and time again. Eventually, he concluded that only fighting for freedom would end the oppression. He pledged to fight for democracy, peace, harmony and equal rights for all peoples of the nation.

Those are not the anthems of a terrorist. You never heard Osama bin Laden use such rhetoric or attempt all possible peaceful means before resorting to violence aimed at the government he resisted.

Those are the principles of a freedom fighter, which Mr. Mandela — like George Washington — was. It was that image that fueled the anti-apartheid movement — resistance by any and all means.

But then a new man emerged from prison, one preaching love and forgiveness — Gandhi more than Malcolm X. He was such a guiding light to the world that South African leaders had no way to stop him.

As I said, many were privately and publicly disappointed in what Mr. Mandela was able to accomplish in moving those subjected to the worst of racism toward economic and social freedom. The myth met the man. Impossible expectations were placed upon him. The glorious revolution would not happen and the evil tyrants would not be strung up. They were exonerated. Even though apartheid ended, racial harmony did not descend upon the nation.

Faced with reality and Mr. Mandela’s own humanity, disappointment and disillusionment set in.

But we should all recognize the truth of the matter. Even though a martyr can be more powerful than a man, sometimes the man can be greater than his image. Despite his human failings, and yet because of them, Mr. Mandela was just such a man.

As Mr. Mandela is now being mourned by his native South Africa as well as the rest of the world, I cannot help but reflect on how much he genuinely meant to the world. He transcended race and progressed upon his own ability to move on. He truly was a prophet.

On a personal level, one of my greatest keepsakes is a signed note of gratitude from Mr. Mandela and Winnie that I keep framed on my office wall. That note was written on a page from my passport, the passport that acted as a shield from hate. It reminds me to never rent space in my heart or head to the hatred and bitterness.

How fortunate I was to be there and live through that time. To meet the man called Mandela was the experience of a lifetime.

Armstrong Williams is the author of the book “Reawakening Virtues.” Join him from 4-5 a.m. and 6-7 p.m. daily on Sirius/XM Power 128. Become a fan on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.