He was known as the Father of Africa, but the influence of Nelson Mandela reached much further than the shores of the Africa, an influence and legacy that was on display Friday night at the Lowell Community Charter Public School where the African Cultural Association of Greater Lowell and members of the community celebrated the life of the freedom fighter and icon known affectionately as Madiba.
“We have all lost a strong voice for peace and justice in the world,” said Mayor Patrick Murphy. “In his life, Nelson Mandela struggled for no less than the freedom of his people, at great cost to himself and his family. Jailed away for three decades, he later prevailed in the end to Apartheid, and began as president to heal a nation divided by its history of tyranny and oppression.
“It is perhaps tempting for some to bury that struggle with its fallen leader, to extricate it from part of a wider, deeper, living pursuit of justice throughout the world,” Murphy continued. “It’s always worthwhile, then, at times like these, to not only celebrate how far we have come because of the efforts of people like Mandela, but also to remind ourselves of the work undone.”
In addition to Murphy, other elected officials who attended the celebration included State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Middlesex North Register of Deeds Richard Howe Jr. and City Councilor Rita Mercier.
Although there was sadness in the room as the community mourned the December 5 passing of the former South African President at the age of 95, the prevailing feeling throughout the auditorium was one of hope, appreciation and celebration embodied in the performances of the LCCPS Percussion Ensemble, singers Daniela Deny and Samone Cobb, the Osibi Drumming and Singing Group of Lowell and the Singo Dance Group from Vermont.
African Cultural Association President Levenia Furusa reminded those assembled of one of Mandela’s most famous quotes “lead from behind and let others believe they are in front.”
“Viva Mandela!” she yelled to a chorus of “Viva!” from the crowd.
Donoghue spoke of Mandela’s remarkable influence, illustrated by the number of world leaders who flocked to South African this week to memorialize him, as well as the tens of thousands who stood in the pouring rain to pay their respects.
“He lived his entire 95 years with dignity,” she said, adding Mandela’s lived life with grace and foregiveness despite the injustices done to him and his people. Despite the adversity he faced, Mandela continued fighting for “equality, dignity and justice for all.”
On December 31, 1999 at the turn of the Millennium, Mandela visited the prison cell at Robins Island he had called home for so many years and lit a candle, Gordon Halm told the crowd.
“The light of the candle symbolizes freedom,” Halm said. Tonight let the light shine upon him. That light in the cell — may that light continue to shine upon our lives.”