MIAMI – Some top Hispanic political leaders were conspicuously absent from a memorial service held at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Miami Dec. 12 honoring the life of South African human rights icon Nelson Mandela.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado were not present at the two-hour event. Neither were several Hispanic members of the two commissions.
But, according to organizers, it did not appear the leaders were snubbing Mandela in a repeat of the disrespect shown him in 1990.
Attorney Marlon Hill, one of the organizers, told South Florida Times Wednesday that the memorial was put together at very short notice. Gimenez was busy dealing with the shooting of two police officers and Regalado and Miami city commissioners were at a meeting. Gimenez sent Deputy Mayor Lisa Martinez to represent the county, Hill said, and she presented a proclamation marking the occasion. He acknowledged no effort was made to
invite Mayor Philip Levine and members of the Miami Beach City Commission. “Rather than push the political, we pushed for the community,” Hill said. “We spent our time ensuring the community components were in tact, rather than the political. Politics follows community, not the other way around.”
Hill said the event was a collaborative one of like-minded civic leaders who wanted to memorialize Mandela’s life, memory and legacy.
“There was overwhelming support to make sure this happened,” Hill said.
Mandela died in Johannesburg on Dec. 5 at age 95. He was buried on Sunday in his birthplace Qunu in the Eastern Cape Province with solemn rites and official grandeur.
A group of five Cuban-American mayors, including then Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, criticized Mandela for not condemning Fidel Castro’s human rights violations in Cuba. Mandela thanked Castro for supporting him and his African National Congress in their struggle against the racist system of apartheid and for his freedom from prison. The Miami City Commission responded by rescinding a proclamation welcoming Mandela to the area. The human rights icon was in Miami Beach to be honored at a meeting of the labor movement, a stalwart supporter. Miami Beach did not extend a welcome to him either.
That snub set off a tourism boycott led by attorneys Marilyn Holifield and H.T. Smith and other black legal and civic leaders that lasted about three years and cost Greater Miami an estimated $100 million in lost revenue.
At the memorial, Holifield read Mandela’s inaugural address when he became president of South Africa in 1994. In that speech, Mandela spoke of continued healing and reunification and called for an end to disparity. Holifield did not speak about the boycott. Visibly moved by the memorial, she said, “I’m honored to be asked to participate.”
The event attracted several hundred adults and children from Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Through oratory, song, dance and reflections, many remembered the man who rose from 27 years as a political prisoner to become leader of his country.
Some left work and classes early to get to the center for the hastily called tribute. Busloads of children from an after-school program at the Mourning community center in Overtown scrambled for seats just before the program started.
At the Arsht Center, Miami physician Nelson Adams III hailed Mandela as a “son of the soul of our community.”
“We’re here to memorialize a life well lived, [through] 95 years of ups and downs, sunshine and rain, joy and sadness,” Adams said, giving the occasion for the two-hour tribute. He added words of thanks to God: “We want to pause to say thank you for allowing Nelson Mandela to share with us his giftedness and witness.”
Several civic leaders and students eulogized the South African leader by reading passages from Mandela’s books, letters and speeches written in pivotal periods of his life.
Dave Lawrence Jr., president of the Early Learning Childhood Initiative Foundation and a former publisher of The Miami Herald, read passages from letters Mandela wrote to two of his daughters during his imprisonment in 1969 after the death of their brother Thembi in a car accident.
Lawrence reflected on how imprisonment affected Mandela’s personal life, a less-acknowledged aspect. “Imagine the extra pain of not seeing or playing with your children. Imagine the sacrifices for the freedom of his country,” Lawrence said. “Imagine that life, love … the lonely years. Hold that example close to our souls.”
Clergy representing the spectrum of faiths offered prayers ofconsolation, uplift and reflection. The Rev. Dr. Walter T. Richardson, pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond Heights in south Miami-Dade County, noted that Mandela continues teaching the spirit of endurance even in death.
“Thank you for his uncompromising soul. Help those in our community who are filled with stubborn pride. Thanks for new alliances,” Richardson said.