There's no doubt Nelson Mandela had a major impact on South Africa, but local leaders say his influence has been felt right here in the Lehigh Valley.

"Mandela is the founding father, he's the Abraham Lincoln or the George Washington, if you will, of the modern South African nation," explained Dr. James Peterson, director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University.

Nelson Mandela passed away Thursday at the age of 95. Peterson says the world lost a hero.

"We should be celebrating his life right now," he shared. "No one should be sad about the passing of Nelson Mandela, what we should be is taking up his charge."

He says Mandela's commitment to equality is a lesson everyone can learn from.

"His leadership style is something that everyone from MLK to Barack Obama can appreciate, understand and learn from."

"Just remember how he worked to bring together peace for people, no matter what color or what economic strata," added Bethlehem NAACP President Esther Lee.

Both she and Peterson agree Mandela will always be a global symbol of sacrifice and
reconciliation. It's a message that goes beyond the borders of South Africa, and one that we should learn from right here in the Lehigh Valley.

"I think now as a nation and as a global society we've got to work on how do we commemorate and celebrate his life, and how do we teach the principles of his leadership to another generation," Peterson said.