FORT GREENE — When Alexa Burneikis, a world music producer from Brooklyn heard the news of Nelson Mandela's death, she wept, paused and, pulling herself together, headed straight for Madiba.
The Fort Greene restaurant named for the anti-apartheid, Nobel Prize-winning leader who died Thursday at age 95 has been a gathering spot for South Africans since it opened in 1999. So, it was a natural location for New Yorkers to gather, sing songs and reflect on Mandela's legacy.
"After 30 seconds, I ran here," said Burneikis. "I think [Mandela] is one of the greatest men to ever walk the earth."
Denis Du Preez, 37, the general manager of Madiba and brother of the owner, said the restaurant is named after Mandela's clan name to honor "his messages of love and unity."
"We came from a white family. Thank God our parents didn't see right and wrong in color. They saw we all bleed red," he said. "Nelson Mandela validated that for the rest of the country."
Mandela felt a strong kinship with the people of New York and came to the city during a world tour after spending 27 years in a South African prison for opposing the white government's brutally-enforced segregation policy.
Just months after being released in 1990, Mandela visited the city with his wife, Winnie, to raise money for his cause.
Thousands flocked to Harlem's African Square at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, lining the streets to hear him speak about injustice, racism and hope.
Mandela sold out Yankee Stadium, selling tickets for between $5 and $25, where he donned a baseball cap and told the crowd, "I am a Yankee."
At Madiba, dozens of people gathered to sing African songs and light paper lanterns that floated up into the sky.
"I was glad I was here," said Carl Lokiski, 40, who moved to Brooklyn from Zimbabwe. "It's comforting. He's one person who made me hopeful for humanity."
As the final paper lantern drifted up into the air, someone in the crowd said, "There goes Nelson."