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Boston to celebrate legacy, life of Nelson Mandela on July 18

Martin Desmarais | 7/17/2013, 11:30 a.m.
Boston will gather to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela on his birthday, July 18, at 5:30 p.m. ...
Former South African President Nelson Mandela will be celebrated with an event on July 18 at the Old South Church in Boston. The event is being held in conjunction with Nelson Mandela Day. AP photo/Simon Dawson

Boston will gather to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela on his birthday, July 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Old South Church in Boston.

The event will feature guest speakers Gov. Deval Patrick, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and a representative from the South African Embassy, as well as a video tribute to Mandela, reading of his inspirational words by local youth and several musical tributes.

Organizers of the event, which is free and open to the public, expect as many as 500 people to turn out.

In conjunction with the celebration, which falls on the United Nations’ designated Nelson Mandela Day, volunteers are encouraged to join others around the world in donating 67 minutes to a favorite charity or local community organization.

According to Mary Tiseo, executive director of South Africa Partners, which is one of the main organizers of the event, the 67 minutes is representative of one minute for each year of Mandela’s activism: from his start as a political leader and human rights attorney, then a prisoner of conscience, and later an international peacemaker and the first democratically-elected president of a free South Africa.

While Nelson Mandela Day has been celebrated around the world since 2009, Tiseo said this is the first time Boston has had a large celebration in conjunction with Mandela’s birthday.

“We are all conscious of Mr. Mandela’s health and his age and this is a very big birthday,” said Tiseo. “It is his 95th and the South African embassy in Washington D.C. was encouraging people to celebrate.”

“I think it is going to be a really uplifting event, with the themes of social justice and equality and partnership and international cooperation”

— Mary Tiseo

Additional highlights of the celebration will include songs and music from South African native and Berklee School of Music student Byron Noemdoe, the St. Stephen’s Youth Program, Old South Church Minister of Music Harry Lyn Huff and The Willie Sordillo Trio; a candle ceremony led by state Rep. Byron Rushing; presentations by Temba Maqubela, headmaster of the Groton School and board member of South Africa Partners, as well as Marti Wilson-Taylor, co-chair of the South Africa Partners board.

“I think it is going to be a really uplifting event, with the themes of social justice and equality and partnership and international cooperation,” Tiseo said. “This will be a real celebration of Mr. Mandela’s life and legacy.”

Tiseo’s hope is that the celebration this year will be the start of an annual event in Boston. “He is an example that we can all learn from and we can all be inspired by,” she said. “He is a unifying force. We hope people will want to gather every year on his birthday.”

Massachusetts has historically been a strong supporter of democracy in South Africa. The July 18 event in Boston draws upon a rich history of local support for a free South Africa dating back to the 1960s, she added.

Mandela visited Boston in June 1990 on his eight-city tour of the United States, just four months after his release from prison. While in Boston, Mandela attended a rally at Madison Park High School, a luncheon at the JFK Library hosted by the Kennedy family, a rally and concert on the Esplanade — which drew more than 300,000 people — and a fund-raising dinner at the Fairmont Copley Hotel.

Mandela praised Massachusetts for being the first state to pass legislation that instituted sanctions against companies doing business in South Africa. He went as far as to say, “When one day our history is rewritten, the pioneering role of Massachusetts will stand out like a shining diamond.”

For more information, contact South Africa Partners at (617) 443-1072 or visit www.sapartners.org.