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Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Mandela honored, mourned across L.I.

The death last week of Nelson Mandela, the leader of the successful struggle to end apartheid and South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, has led to a worldwide outpouring of sorrow, respect and remembrance for a man whom many considered one of history’s great heroes — a liberator of his countrymen, exemplar of forgiveness toward his oppressors and champion of human dignity.

After South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, announced Mandela’s death last Thursday, reports poured in from Johannesburg, Brooklyn, and many other places around the globe of vigils mourning Mandela’s passing. In Hempstead, local officials gathered Friday afternoon at Hempstead High School for a quickly-arranged program celebrating Mandela’s legacy. Speaking to hundreds of students in the school’s auditorium, several gave speeches citing Mandela as an inspiration to fight for justice and serve one’s community.

Former Hempstead Mayor James Garner, who met Mandela multiple times in New York and South Africa and in 2002 was a U.S. delegate to the United Nation’s World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, unfurled onstage a South African flag that he said Mandela gave him. The vigil also included the Hempstead High Chorale singing the South African hymn “Siyahamba,” the Rev. Joe Brown of Hempstead’s Faith Baptist Church Cathedral singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” and the Hempstead High Concert Band performing “We Shall Overcome.”

After the vigil Garner said he found it “incredible” to talk to Mandela and described him as “very nice in person.” Garner also recounted visiting Mandela’s Robben Island prison cell and the Island’s limestone quarry, gaining a first-hand sense of how inhospitable both were.

Millions who never got to meet Mandela have also in recent days expressed admiration for the South African leader.

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