Pittsburgh joins world in honoring Mandela

Actor Danny Glover leads tribute to South African leader in Larimer church


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Nelson Mandela's life and legacy were celebrated with words, music, drums and dance Sunday at a communitywide event in Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Larimer.

The three-hour tribute was illuminated by prisms of color from the sanctuary's stained glass windows, as well as the star power of actor-activist Danny Glover, the keynote speaker, who knew the late South African president well.

In his deep, unmistakable voice, Mr. Glover lionized the leader who liberated South Africa from apartheid and who lent his moral authority to many other causes of social, economic and political justice.

"On the world stage he was uncompromising and fearless," Mr. Glover said in an interview about the man he played several times on the big and small screens. "He knew there were other stages where the struggle would continue after him."

Mr. Glover, the son of postal workers and union organizers, has been to South Africa many times and is chairman of TransAfrica, founded by black Americans in 1977 to work toward dismantling apartheid. Today, it seeks justice in places around the world.

Those ongoing struggles were noted by religious, political and labor leaders who spoke. They evoked Mandela's example of resolve despite 27 years in prison, his forgiveness of his jailers and reconciliation with those who oppressed him.

"Nelson Mandela was and is a wonderful lesson in redemptive suffering," said Mount Ararat's pastor, the Rev. William Curtis.

Sala Udin, longtime civil rights activist, invoked Maya Angelou's poem on Mandela's passing: "No sun outlasts its own sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn."

The United Steelworkers cosponsored the event. Its international president, Leo Gerard, spoke of his union's early involvement in the campaigns for sanctions and disinvestment in the apartheid regime. "Racism is raising its ugly face again in America," he said, citing voter ID laws that will disenfranchise minorities and concerted efforts to undermine Barack Obama, the nation's first black president.

"We must make sure our president is successful," he said to applause from the nearly full house.

Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, cited organizing campaigns at Neville Island, UPMC and Duquesne University as examples of economic justice inspired by Mr. Mandela's life.

"We sometimes feel alone in these struggles," Mr. Shea said. "So I will keep Nelson Mandela's lessons in my breast pocket, close to my heart, for every one of these battles until I've taken my last breath."

Rabbi Donni Aaron of the Jewish Community Center said that many Jews who want a peaceful end to Israel's Jewish-Palestinian conflict have taken heart from Mr. Mandela's example. "We wish we could find a leader like Nelson Mandela to be a voice of hope, love and generosity," she said. With his focus of the Jewish values of justice and mercy, she said, "he was a better Jew than many of the right-wing Zionists in Israel."

Dave Hickton, U.S. attorney for the Western District, called Mandela "one of my heroes."

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that the late leader "was a man who lifted us all up."

Hip-hop artist and activist Jasiri-X performed a rap he composed in honor of Mandela: "Listen to what the drums say, we are all gonna be free one day."

The event, also sponsored by A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention, included performances by Elie Kihonia and UBUNTU African Drummers and Dancers, the Mount Ararat Choir and bass player Dwayne Dolphin.

Also speaking were: emcee Lynne Hayes Freeland; Nicole Lee, president of TransAfrica; the Rev. Thomas Smith of Monumental Baptist Church; Sylvia Wilson, newly elected to the Pittsburgh board of education; University of South Carolina professor Joseph Jordan; and Fred Redmond, international vice-president of the United Steelworkers.


Sally Kalson: skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.


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