True Blood’s Alfre Woodard has certainly been inspirational in many of the parts she played, but it seems the she is inspired by Nelsan Mandella and two weeks before Nelson Mandela’s 93rd birthday on July 18, she sat in her home in Santa Monica, California, reminiscing about the first time she met him.
Already an activist and a leading voice against apartheid, Woodard introduced Mandela at a fundraising event in 1990 during his first trip to the United States after his release from prison.
“By the time I got on stage, I literally started to hop around … I could not stop the electricity in my body,” she said.
“So I went and I wrapped my arms around him, and I said to him in his ear, ‘Oh Madiba, Madiba. How are you? Have you eaten? Have you slept?’ And it became a really funny thing because ‘Nobody has asked me that, Alfre, in my entire travels,’” Woodard said with a laugh. “So that sort of became the basis of our relationship.”
Long before they met, Woodard’s passion for social justice in South Africa had been growing since she was a student at Boston University.
By 1989, she joined a handful of artists and actors, such as Danny Glover and Mary Steenburgen, to found what is now called Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA). They used their celebrity platform to shine a light on apartheid and lobby for sanctions against the regime.
“Once apartheid was crushed … one of the things Madiba said to us was, ‘You’ve helped us in our struggle to defeat apartheid, but right now we’re facing another formidable foe — and that is the HIV/AIDS pandemic,’” she said. “So we’ve morphed through the years of how we’ve wanted to be of assistance.”
ANSA shifted its mission and in 2005 created an orphan care program called “It Takes a Village” to help around 3,500 AIDS orphans in South Africa.
While working to combat the disease, Woodard’s relationship with Mandela has grown both as an activist and a friend.
She remembers receiving an invitation to a state dinner at the White House when Bill Clinton was president — not from Clinton himself but from Mandela, who was being honored there.
“We were in the receiving line … and he sees me about three people away and he leans over and he goes ‘Alfre, Alfre! Remember me? It’s Nelson,” she said. “And I said, ‘Madiba, I don’t think anybody will ever forget you and certainly not me.”
Other times, their dinners were less formal.
To read the rests of this interview, go to: cnn.com
Watch this video below, where Alfre talks about her frienship with Mr. Mandella: