Click To Play The South African National Anthem Below
The week of June 22, 1990 will always hold a special moment in history for me. That was the week when newly released Nelson Mandela visited America for the first time and stopped by Boston for a visit before heading to New York City, Washington DC to meet with President George HW Bush, and several other cities in the US. Married at the time, my husband was one of the dignitaries on hand to officially greet Mr. Mandela. My three children sat through several rehearsals with the late great community leader Elma Lewis, finally learning all the words to the South Africa National Anthem, "Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika." They sang with a giant children's choir at the Hatch Shell where the Boston Pops strike up a tune every 4th of July.
Thousands Lined The Streets To See Mandela
There were thousands of people lining the streets to get a glimpse of this famous man unfairly locked up for 27 years. He was visiting our city with his stalwart wife, Winnie, his children and grandchildren. His granddaughter would end up calling my son from Europe, once the Mandelas left the United States. The fast friendship of these two pre-teens was a bonus from the trip.
Franklin Park in urban Boston bust to the seams with people waiting for their Mandela. All along the motorcade route people shouted the name Mandela! The late Senator Ted Kennedy used his booming voice to shower Nelson Mandela with praise. It was a magic moment in history where apartheid did not destroy or define the character and courage of Nelson Mandela.
And now 21 years later, he is still a great man. A bit frail, but still a powerful voice of possibilities. This past Monday, July 18, Nelson Mandela celebrated his 93rd birthday. It was a big deal in South Africa, although under-reported in America. More than 12 million schoolchildren sang a special version of Happy Birthday before starting their lessons in South Africa. And now two decades later, there is the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa that coordinated the festivities.
67 Minutes Of Service
In 2009, Nelson Mandela's birthday was declared an international day devoted to public service, and is recognized worldwide by the United Nations. The day served as a call to volunteers to find a good cause for 67 minutes, one minute for every year Mandela spent in active politics.
I visited South Africa for the first time in 2009, and I am still reflecting on the complicated relationships of the people of that great nation. I ran into Winnie Mandela in my hotel restaurant during that trip, and found her to be warm and engaging. I reminded her that I had met her in Boston during her 1990 visit, and she smiled from ear to ear as she hugged me closely.
There won't be another Nelson Mandela in my lifetime or yours who lived long enough to enjoy life after decades of imprisonment, torture, and suffering. At 93 Nelson Mandela still has much to teach us about patience, dialogue, vision and social justice.
Happy Birthday President Mandela. May you live in peace and comfort during the rest of your days on earth. You have given much to your country. You have given much more to the world.
Your Comments, Reflections, and Tributes To Nelson Mandela are Welcome.
For more information visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation at www.nelsonmandela.org