From Saturday July 18 to Friday July 24, Council Member Robert E. Cornegy (36th District, Brooklyn), staff and interns joined the Nelson Mandela International Day of Service Planning Committee, the South African Consulate and community leaders in a weeklong celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life and service.
Each day, Cornegy’s office encouraged the community to come and celebrate with different activities to highlight the various aspect of Mandela’s life. July 18 was the day dedicated globally to recognizing Nelson Mandela’s birthday and his impressive body of work throughout the years he spent fighting for human rights. During Mandela Day, participants spent 67 minutes in service to help others who are less fortunate and/or to improve the community. The 67 minutes represents the number of years Mandela fought to end apartheid in South Africa.
This year, the planning committee decided to have a weeklong celebration. Although most organizations and committees celebrated “Madiba” for only a day, Cornegy’s office decided to extend the celebration because they felt that one day was not enough. Throughout the week, all the events took place at Boys and Girls High School. BGHS has a significant history with Nelson Mandela. When the internationally renowned icon was released from prison in 1990, his first stop in the U.S. was Brooklyn, and he visited BGHS.
On the first day of the event, a birthday celebration featured a ceremonial libation by activist-educator Stan Kinard, and dancers from the Dwana Smallwood Preforming Arts Center presented a spectacular dance routine. After the dance performance was the first feature of the Nelson Mandela Film Festival.
The film “Hidden Colors” is a prominent documentary about the untold history of people of color around the globe. Attendees were encouraged to participate in an open discussion of the film. Youth from the community led the discussion. City Council intern Arianna Page introduced the film and the panelists, which included students Shevona Robinson and Megan Darsinville from BGHS and Tyree McCuthin from Bedford Academy, along with Katherin Haywood from Brooklyn Job Corp.
Monday July 20, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., instructor Assata Naliah from Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy Inc. held a South African freedom dance class. Ifetayo Cultural Arts Academy Inc. is an art and cultural organization that educates the youth and families in Brooklyn. “Overall it was an amazing experience.” Page said, “I enjoyed learning the South African freedom dance that was taught by Ms. Assata.” Participants who learned the freedom dance were expected to lead it during the Friday ceremony.
The dance class was followed by the film festival showing of Spike Lee’s “School Daze,” a movie about an undergraduate trying to join a fraternity at a Black university. The film highlights issues dividing the Black community.
Tuesday July 21, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Kwaku Afire from the Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation hosted a drum class. After the drum class was the film festival showing of “Amandla,” a revolutionary documentary on how music was used in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Wednesday July 22, a vocal class was held to teach the South African National Anthem. After the vocal class was the film festival showing of “Sarafina,” a movie about a young South African who was struggling for freedom during apartheid. After the showing was a youth panel discussion of the movie’s actual meaning. The panel included youths from Leave Out Violence-U.S., the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice, Soloman Debaters and the New York City Council internship program .
Thursday July 23, the BeBop Theater Collective and STooPS held a poetry slam. The youth, adults and elders were all participants in the poetry slam. The BeBop Theater Collective was founded by Sami Chester, who also hosted the Thursday event. This collective is a theater in which all participates are able to express themselves artistically. STooPS is an event that promotes social interaction among artists, homeowners and residents in Bed-Stuy.
Friday July 24 was the final day of the weeklong celebration. This day is the Nelson Mandela International Day of Service, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Events included service projects, a community fair, sports activities, art projects and performances. The service projects included tree planting, creating an edible garden and cleaning up the landscape. “As a member of the Bed-Stuy community, I was so ecstatic to landscape outside BGHS,” Matthew Holliday, a City Council intern said. “It was my first time doing service for this community and I felt empowered. It made me understand Mr. Mandela’s teachings even more.”
After participants completed their 67 minutes of service, they were allowed 30 minutes of fun activities. The fun activities included basketball, fitness activities, an education session and art projects. During the day of service, remarks were made by former Mayor David N. Dinkins, Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. and the South African Consulate General.
“It was a wonderful occasion that I was more than blessed to be a part of it,” said City Council intern Tahilah Moore. “It was an amazing experience to see the accumulation of our events flourish. We have the youth and the community members come out and engaged in various service projects. I hope we inspired them to go beyond the 67 minutes and serve everyday.”
As attendees were leaving, many pledged to serve their community in any way they could.