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Public Memorial Planned for Nelson Mandela

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A public memorial for the late South African leader Nelson R. Mandela will be held Sunday, Dec. 15 at a South Side church whose pastor is U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL).

The 4 p.m. event will be at the Beloved Community Christian Church of God in Christ, 6430 S. Harvard St., where Rush is the pastor. Funeral services are set for Sunday in South Africa, but on Tuesday a memorial for Mandela, who died last week at age 95, in South Africa was held and President Barack Obama was among the speakers.

“Given the sweep of his life, the scope of his accomplishments, the adoration that he so rightly earned, it’s tempting I think to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men,” President Obama said Tuesday at the memorial. “It is hard to eulogize any man -- to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person -- their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul.”

Debra Johnson, a spokeswoman for Rush, said the celebration, hosted in cooperation with the United Africa Organization in Chicago and various African and all other immigrant communities, will feature drummers, dancers, gospel choirs, poetry, testimonials and notable speakers from across politics, the arts, civil rights, religion and international affairs.

The congressman, whose district includes the Chatham community, said Mandela was a leader for America to look up to especially Black America.

“Nelson Mandela was a global freedom fighter who brokered peace accords not just in South Africa, but in Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world,” said Rush.

Rush said he considered Mandela a friend after he help host a 1993 visit to Chicago for Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for treason. The congressman said he would not be attending the funeral but wanted to pay tribute to Mandela, a man he described as one of the greatest world leaders of all-time.

“He was also a man of the people, which is why so many have come forward since his passing to share their encounters with him. This tribute is a fitting celebration to the life of a man who worked tireless for the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed,” added Rush. “This won't be a sad occasion, because his was a life well lived. We’re going to show the world how much Illinois appreciated Mr. Mandela.”

Mandela became the nation’s conscience as it healed from the scars of apartheid.
His defiance of white minority rule and long incarceration for fighting against segregation focused the world's attention on apartheid, the legalized racial segregation enforced by the South African government until 1994.

In his lifetime, he was a man of complexities. He went from a militant freedom fighter, to a prisoner, to a unifying figure, to an elder statesman.

Years after his 1999 retirement from the presidency, Mandela was considered the ideal head of state. He became a yardstick for African leaders, who consistently fell short when measured against him.

Local leaders acknowledged that filling Mandela’s shoes is a daunting task when you consider the size of his feet when it came to his humanitarian efforts.

“I am saddened by the passing of President Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first Black president, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and one of the greatest human rights leaders of all time. He was the iconic leader of one of the most powerful liberation movements in the world in the fight against racial apartheid,” said Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown. “[These days] South Africans enjoy freedom and greater opportunities because of his courage and tenacity. And Mandela’s compassion for others continued into his retirement, when he committed his time to working on behalf of charitable causes for children. We have lost one of the greatest humanitarians the world has seen, but Mandela’s spirit and life’s work will be remembered forever.”

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