On Wednesday New Jersey via Newark at Metropolitan Church gave tribute on the life of Nelson Mandela. It was a jubilant event, which included singing, traditional african drumming and dancing by Zawadi’s School of African Dance and Drums. The event was festive in celebrating the life of Madidba, the man, his life and his legacy. The tribute brought those in attendance at the Church to their feet. The soul of South Africa has been heard, from its songs to its spirit: Praising and celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela there and here in New Jersey, a special place in the struggle to break Apartheid. The ceremony drew a crowd of hundreds, who filled two levels of this historic church.Also on display, was a painting of Mandela,by Newark native Bradford Brown.
An emotional Paster David Jefferson, provided New Jersey special relation with Mandela and the South African struggles. He said, “We are here to honor this man of distinction, but also highlight the New Jersey connection, the state institution that lead the way in galvanizing America’s to stand against Apartheid. There is so many things that you can say about a man that lives for 95 years, struggle in the face of extreme adversity and oppression, yet kept his dignity, his faith, his joy and taught us all the power of God’s true forgiveness. He was born July 18, 1918 and died December 5th 2013, and in between lived an extraordinary life that took him from “Prisoner to President”. His life and legacy is a model for young people today. That simply said, is doesn’t matter what color you are, its what on the inside that compiles you to rise. His struggle against Apartheid is a well documented, but there were many who stepped out to help when it was not so popular. In the face of losing billions of dollars, but we recognized that freedom never has a price tag. Men like Governor Kean, Assemblymen Willie Board, Larry Ham and others lead the way to divesture, and thereby breaking the financial back of South Africa. So we tribute, Nelson preached his own services, because his long walk to freedom. In 1985 then Governor Tom Kean signed a bill, introduced and sponsored by the late NJ Assemblymen Willie Brown, to divest 2 Billion dollars of state pension investment from companies doing business with South Africa. No Other state had done and no other state did it for some time. The business community was very much against it. I got a call from the Reagan Administration telling me please don’t do it, Kean told Jefferson. It was a tough move and the right one and I didn’t regret it then and I certainly don’t regret it now.”
Senator Tom Kean Jr, attended the celebration, and made these remarks, “Nelson Mandela was a extraordinary figure that made a global difference. Now my father, while you have have heard when he was governor in the 80′s, insured that there was a unique connection between NJ and the people of South Africa, nearly 30 years ago August 21st, 1985, my father made probably he most boldest step while in office. Sign the bill to divested from companies doing business in South Africa. A $2 Billion dollars investment, at the time he. There are moments in human history, where the gravity of an evil, is so clear, and the cost of its continuance is so clear, and so great that the government at every level, must use all it tools to combat it. Apartheid was such evil. And with that action NJ student demonstration, and all people of south african striving for a better future, now a day its commonplace to here and now. New Jersey was the first to divest, University had not done it. NJ was out there alone, “The Tip of the Spear”. We did something big, something important, something that matter, A Republican governor, a democratic legislator sponsors like Willie Brown, sat outside my father office every day until my father signed the bill. They knew they could come together to change the course of history.
I recalled Bishop Demond Tutu wrote my father, in later years, that it was NJ’s actions that caused the South African government to realize, there would be financial and economic consequences if they continued Apartheid. Nelson Mandela, served 27 years in prison. However, once he became President, that is when the world saw his true metal. Abraham Lincoln, once noted “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. And what did Nelson Mandela do with this power, it wasn’t retaliation, it was not revenged. He rather healed wounds, he brought a country together, his government dismantle apartheid, institution racism, poverty and inequality. He taught us through his example, that giving people their human rights is to challenge the very man. An inspiration to all of us to follow his lead.
There were several prominent speakers Deborah Gregory, President of the Newark branch of NAACP, was the final speaker, and she gave the audience a unique perspective of the prison and home of Mandela and its connections to Newark. She recalled, “In 2010, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa, during that travel, I had the opportunity to go to Robbin Island, and visited the ceils upon where Mandela and other dissidents were in prison. That symbol for me symbolized the truth and triumph of the human spirit.
Photo of President Obama in Robbin Island jail, where Mandela was held.
Robbin Island was known to them as the university, they studied English, African Art, Geography, Math, they were and made a distinction between the academic studies offered and then political education that was not offered. Despite these inhuman conditions, the prisoners used a cave, that was made out of stone, they would sneak in to read and hold political debates, and teach the history of the ANC, and engineer a strategies that they would send to the outside world.
Mandela knew that the struggle would not be short and easy. Not content with Americas policy to maintaing the status quo, progressives like Larry Ham and others continued to bring attention to this struggle. I too am a proud participant of the people that came out in support, who marched in making a difference. Community leaders and politician working together for a common greater cause. It was like an example the community holding the government accountable. As I visited Mandela’s house in Soweto, I was absolutely excited to see on the wall of his house a proclamation from Newark New Jersey’s from mayor Shape James. That when I knew we were special. To quote from Mandela, can be seen in South Africa, “Ridding poverty is not a gesture of charity, it is an act of justice. It is a act of protection of a fundamental human right, the right of dignity and a decent life.”
An important man was remembered, honored, celebrated, never to be forgotten.