JOHANNESBURG (CNN) — I’ve been to Africa many times in my career, but nothing could have prepared me for a trip that would turn into this moment.
As the energetic crowd of South Africans and numerous world leaders surrounded me Tuesday inside Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, I wanted to minister through song and lift my heart toward the memory of Nelson Mandela.
But just days before, I would have never thought I’d be there, performing in the rain, participating in history.
It was a moment I’ll never forget.
About six months ago, my team booked me for a run in South Africa. We were scheduled to hit Johannesburg, Durban and Kimberley. I was very excited to come minister to the people of South Africa and as soon as I landed on Thursday, I became so grateful to be in the presence of these amazing people within this beautiful country.
Upon arriving at the hotel, I sat glued to the TV as the news broke of the passing of Africa’s favorite son and global role model.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity to embrace a culture most African-Americans never experience, I asked to go to Mandela’s home in Johannesburg.
As I arrived, there was a huge crowd outside. I stood in the streets and danced with my people, hugged my people and tried my best to embrace their loss.
Honestly, I wish I could have learned more about him when I was younger. I wish that I was more familiar with how it felt when Mandela was released from prison when I was 24. I could have learned a lot more about forgiveness.
For only a heart modeled after God’s hands could embrace the same hands that embarked pain.
So standing in the rain today, preparing to perform right before the President of the United States addressed the world, I took a deep breath, said a prayer and reminded myself “this is not about me.” This is for all of the men and women who’ve passed on and never saw this dream come true for their homeland.
I imagined them embracing him, the souls of the beaten, the hurt and the martyrs who finished their race before Tata’s and welcomed him home like a proud soldier. My mom is there in that number as well, and I hope that I, too, made her proud today.
My 13-year-old son wants me to teach him everything about Mandela when I come home. He better get ready, because his dad has now been to class!
I pray my presence on stage today will reflect the love I have for this country. I know their struggle, but I also know that they will have victory as long as they embrace the heart of their hero.
Editor’s note: Nine-time Grammy Award-winning gospel artist Kirk Franklin performed at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, where he sang his hit “My Life is in Your Hands.”