Friday, July 18 marked the 96th birthday for the late Nelson Mandela. The birthday of “Madiba”, as he was fondly called, has been commemorated as a holiday all around the world. At the Boys and Girls High School in Bed-Stuy, this day was rendered a day of service as a tribute to Mandela’s legacy of service to his people.
Throughout the morning, the hundreds who gathered at BGHS had the choice of participating in any of the five service projects offered. Volunteers were invited to tend to the school’s garden, aid in painting the front fence, landscape the front yard, clean up Fulton Park, or take part in an art project. No matter the project, participants of all ages could be found enjoying the work that they were doing.
The morning of service ended with a final project that took place at a grassy area beside the school: the planting of a tree dedicated to Mandela. Stanley Kinard, the manager of Boys and Girls High School CARE Center, expressed his hope that one day, this plot of land would be home to a grove of trees.
The day continued on with more events centered around the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Participants were also encouraged to take part in 67-minute Peace Walk, each minute representing each of the 67 years Mandela dedicated to serving others throughout his life. Joining in on this walk were dignitaries from South Africa, as well as the former Mayor of New York, David Dinkins.
Winding down the day was a ceremony held on the high school’s renovated football field. The speakers in attendance hailed from both New York and South Africa, and they all had fond memories to share about the great South African leader.
Former Mayor Dinkins recalled the story of how his administration got Mandela to visit New York back in 1990 and how Mandela nearly didn’t have the opportunity to stop by the high school.
“As luck would have it, we were running behind schedule,” said Mayor Dinkins. “So someone said “Well, why don’t we skip Boys and Girls High and go onto the next stop? And Bill Lynch said, ‘Hell no! The people have been waiting.’
“When we pulled up here, the folks were in thousands. It was clear that we had done the right thing.”
Mandela’s visit had a lasting effect on Boys and Girls High School. In addition to naming the football field “Nelson Mandela Field,” a new school bearing Mandela’s name will be opened on site of the high school this coming September.
Commenting on the day, Councilmember Robert Cornegy said, “In the true spirit of Madiba, having a day like today that is about service and service to the community is a testament to who he was and a testament to the fact that we know how to honor our elders and our predecessors.
“So on a day like today when the children got to come out and understand what it means to be in service to your community, I can’t think of a better inspiration than Nelson Mandela.”