President Obama, Will Smith, Alicia Keys And More Honor Nelson Mandela’s 100th Birthday

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A global centennial celebration is underway in honor of Nelson Mandela. President Barack Obama, Will Smith, Common, Naomi Campbell, and T.I., are just some of those who took time to commemorate what would have been Mandela’s 100th birthday on Wednesday (July 18).

During a keynote speech at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, in Johannesburg, South Africa Tuesday (July 17), Obama spoke about Mandela’s influence on the lives of millions. “At the outset, his struggle was particular to this place, to his homeland – a fight to end apartheid, a fight to ensure lasting political and social and economic equality for its disenfranchised non-white citizens,” said Obama. “But through his sacrifice and unwavering leadership and, perhaps most of all, through his moral example, Mandela and the movement he led would come to signify something larger. He came to embody the universal aspirations of dispossessed people all around the world, their hopes for a better life, the possibility of a moral transformation in the conduct of human affairs.”

The activist, philanthropist, and former South African president, whose 27-year political imprisonment put him at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement, was born in the small village of Mvezo, in 1918. As a young man, Mandela studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand, before beginning his work as co-founder and eventual leader of the African National Congress Youth League.

Mandela’s vocal opposition to apartheid led to him being arrested and convicted for “statutory communism” in 1952, though he received a suspended sentence. In 1964,  Mandela was sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to sabotage the government. Over a period of nearly 30 years, demands for Mandela’s release grew into a worldwide movement, and he was freed in 1990.

Four years later, Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. He held office until 1999.

Mandela’s post-presidency legacy centered around the Nelson Mandela Foundation, combatting HIV/AIDS in South Africa, and other philanthropic efforts, in addition to appearing at speaking engagements around the world.

Throughout his life, Mandela received more than 250 awards and accolades, including a Nobel Peace Prize, and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. The United Nations declared July 18 international “Mandela Day” in 2008.

Mandela died in 2013, at the age of 95.

Check below for tributes from Obama, Common, Alicia Keys and more.