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Chicago honors Mandela's life, legacy

By Starla Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Dec 27, 2013 - 6:32:59 PM

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Bishop Ocie Booker, Prelate of the First Jurisdiction Illinois Church of God in Christ delivers remarks. Photos:

CHICAGO ( A cross-section of the city participated in an ecumenical gathering of clergy, community leaders, politicians and officials to honor former South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Frigid temperatures and snow did not keep away those wanting to pay honor and show respect to a man whose sacrifice, work and unrelenting strength inspired so many. 

A diverse audience packed Beloved Community Christian Church of God in Christ to honor Nelson Mandela.

“I wanted us all to embrace the redemptive power of struggle. We shouldn’t misread what was going on in that cell in Robben Island during those 27 years,” U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) told The Final Call in discussing why the event recognizing Mr. Mandela was so important. Robben Island was the prison where Mr. Mandela was held unjustly for 27 years by the oppressive minority White-ruling South African government regime. Mr. Mandela, 95, died Dec. 5. The anti-apartheid crusader visited Chicago in 1993, two years after his release from prison, where he met local leaders, in-cluding Rep. Rush.

The Dec. 15 event, “The People’s Memorial Tribute to Nelson Mandela: Celebrating a Life and Legacy,” was held at Be-loved Community Christian Church of God in Christ, where Congressman Rush also serves as pastor. The program oc-curred the same day of the former Nobel Peace Prize recipient’s burial in South Africa.

God was preparing Mr. Mandela to transcend and to be a beacon for all of humanity because of his struggles for justice before, during and after his imprisonment, said Rep. Rush.

The evening program included remarks and reflections from Chicago-area diplomats representing Pakistan, Ireland, Japan, India, Indonesia and South Africa.

Several leaders and activists paid tribute to Nelson Mandela including: (Front row, L-R) Student Minister Nuri Muhammad, Bishop Ocie Booker, Congressman Bobby Rush, Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, Hatem Abudayyeh, Ahmed Rehab, (Back row), Alie Kabba (far left), Dr. Carol Adams (in hat) and next to her, Congressman Danny K. Davis and Cliff Kel-ley (far right).
“How does one bring forward who Madiba was?” asked Vuyiswa Tulelo, consul-general for South Africa, using Mr. Mandela’s Xhosa clan name during her remarks.

She told the audience Mr. Mandela was at ease and could go “toe to toe” with dignitaries as well as the common man and woman. “How will we carry forward that legacy?” asked Ms. Tulelo. His memory and work continue.   It is important to not only remember what Mr. Mandela said and what he stood for, but to carry on his work, she said.

Several speakers reminded the audience that while Mr. Mandela exemplified reconciliation and forgiveness toward the White apartheid-era tormentors that killed and oppressed his people, he was a revolutionary. He refused to denounce those that stood with him in condemnation of apartheid while others remained silent. Even those considered enemies of the West.

There was massive pressure for Mr. Mandela to disavow and ignore his allies, Hatem Abudayyeh of the Arab American Action Network told the audience.

“He refused to do so. He even went so far as to call the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO his comrades in arms,” said Mr. Abudayyeh. Many of the governments that now praise Mr. Mandela were nowhere to be found during the height of apartheid, he noted.

“We’ve heard hours and hours of accolades from the press and government officials 10 days ago, but those were few and far between when Mandela was in prison and he needed them the most. But the principal people from your community were there for him from the beginning,” Mr. Abudayyeh said to applause. Mr. Mandela was revered in the Arab world and if there was an election held during the 1990s, the Black South African leader “would have been elected president of all the Arabs as well,” he added.

Alie Kabba, president of the United African Organization, thanked Rep. Rush for hosting the event and called Mr. Man-dela an exemplary example for African liberation and freedom.

Former Illinois Governor George Ryan made his first public comments after being released following six years in prison after a 2006 conviction on fraud, conspiracy and racketeering. As governor, Mr. Ryan opened an Illinois trade office in South Africa and met Mr. Mandela in 2000. He told the audience it was a telephone call with the South African leader that impacted his decision to lift the moratorium on the state’s death penalty. 

Musicians performed on drums and flute at Mandela tribute in Chicago.
Dr. Carol Adams, president and CEO of the DuSable Museum, was program emcee and Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) and talk radio show personality Cliff Kelley of 1690 WVON-AM were also in attendance. 

“The purpose of today is not just to celebrate a life but to bring out the Madiba in you,” said Dr. Adams.

Nation of Islam Student Minister Nuri Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 74 in Indianapolis spoke on behalf of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. It is not Mr. Mandela’s birth or death dates that are important, explained the young, fiery student minister.

“We came to talk about a man that left a big, bold, dash in between those two dates that represents the life and legacy that this great man lived,” he told the audience. The principles great ones live their lives by is what must be remembered, Mr. Muhammad continued.

The principles of perseverance, fortitude, wisdom, forgiveness and reconciliation exemplified by Mr. Mandela are what we must draw on to ensure his memory and work lives on, added Mr. Muhammad.  But he warned of those who try to revise and change the history of great Black leaders once they are gone, misrepresenting them. 

“Nelson Mandela was more than a politician, he was a true freedom fighter that fought for reconciliation yes, forgiveness yes, but he was about freedom, justice and equality. He wanted to see the land stolen from Black South Africans right back in Black South Africans’ hands,” added Mr. Muhammad.

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