July 18, 2013
By Shonassee Shaver and Shannen Hill
The ‘Los Angeles Free South Africa Movement’ put together a weekend of festivities on July 12 and 13 at Leimert Park and First A.M.E. Church to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, which is on July 18. The weekend was filled with dance and laughter as the black community came together to honor the iconic activist. Special guests, such as Congresswoman Maxine Waters and actor Danny Glover, spoke on the life and times of the renowned former South African President.
“As we celebrate here, we celebrate the extraordinary life of a man dedicated to justice and democracy,” said Glover.
The celebration kicked off at First A.M.E. Church Friday evening. It is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles and Nelson Mandela visited the church during his time in Los Angeles. Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, of First A.M.E. Church, expressed his admiration of Mandela and his importance to humanity throughout the night.
“He has impressed me as someone who has gone through great sorrow and great trouble, yet did not have a bitter heart towards those that oppressed him,” said Boyd. “Instead, he came out to ask the rest of the world, to free the entire world of prejudice and racism. He’s an incredible man.”
Plenty of stories and laughs were shared throughout the night as guests approached the microphone to speak about their friend.
“His life has been a life that shows what commitment is,” said Ayuko Babu, founder of Pan African Film Festival.
“He taught me how to balance idealism and practicality.”
On Saturday, Waters also orchestrated the Mandela celebration in Leimert Park. Actress Dawnn Lewis from ‘A Different World’ and actor William Allen Young from ‘Moesha’ co-hosted the event.
African American and African cultures came together to honor the freedom fighter whose beliefs and values for his people coincided with the African American civil rights movement. Drummers, dancers and masked entertainers saluted Mandela in their performances. ‘The Shaluza Boot Dancers’ performed as well as the ‘Lula Washington Dance Company.’ Street Poets performed spoken word as well, while singer Skyler Labat entertained the crowd with her beautiful voice.
Black actors, politicians and community leaders came out to support and speak on how Mandela influenced them. Many of the guests, including Ayuko Babu and Waters, had a strong connection to Mandela and worked towards the release of his imprisonment.
“I worked very hard to get him released from prison,” Waters recalled. “I authorized my legislation in the California State Assembly where I introduced to divest state pension funds from business in the apartied government of South Africa. I organized the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum ceremony, welcoming Mandela to Los Angeles in 1990. There were over 90,000 people there to see him.”
Hollywood actors also spoke on Mandela’s influence.
Actress Marla Gibbs from ‘The Jeffersons’ and ‘227’ praised Mandela as “our teacher, master and leader next to Jesus. He has unconditional love for us. He started from the bottom and rose to the top.”
Actors Beverly Todd, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Glynn Turman were also in attendance.
“We have to establish a linage connection that in our hands, we can’t wait and expect to dictate the importantance to our leaders,” said Turman best known for his roles in ‘A Different World’ and ‘Cooley High.’ “We have to hold up what we think is important.”
Not only were there Hollywood actors in attendance this weekend, but also South African and Black pastors.
Reverend Clyde W. Oden Jr., of Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church, stated “he is God’s gift. It would be ungrateful to not celebrate that gift. He is a spiritual gift and we’re grateful to have this great man in our life time. He has come so far. He is not a rumor, a myth, nor a cartoon, but a real person. He walked with us, inspiring us.”
The Black community gathered to celebrate a man who has inspired people to keep the movement for equality going. Other Nelson Mandela festivities included celebrations at First Church of God in Inglewood and the Watts Labor Action Committee. (Photos by Troy Tieuel)