- Category: Community
- Written by Meres J. Weche
A special ceremony took place last Thursday in Toronto to honour former South African President Nelson Mandela. The day marked the ailing anti-apartheid icon’s 95th birthday and the UN-recognized Nelson Mandela International Day. The Regent Park neighbourhood came alive with community members, local artists and dignitaries who converged at Nelson Mandela Park Public School. The celebrations, which ran from 1-6pm, included a live steaming applause ceremony beamed via satellite from several cities across the globe, live music from artists such as Juno Award winner Lorraine Klaasen, and family activities.
“Because Nelson Mandela is also an honorary Canadian citizen, we decided to organize something special in this city to celebrate his life and to wish him a happy birthday” said Lloyd McKell, vice-chairman of Toronto’s Honouring Mandela Committee and veteran Toronto School Board educator and advisor.
McKell, a Trinidad and Tobago native, became an anti-apartheid movement supported as a University of Toronto student in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He had South African friends and fellow students who were exiles from apartheid regime. “I began to learn about the system of political oppression in South Africa and that resonated and lived with me. That stayed with me all these years” as he further commented.
He became involved with others in calling for Canada to impose sanctions on Canada and demanding the release of Nelson Mandela. When the ANC (African National Congress) was finally released in 1990, he came to visit Canada about four months later. Lloyd McKell was part of the committee that welcomed him to Canada. Madiba, as Nelson Mandela is affectionately known, came to Toronto to visit the Central Technical School where he spoke to students.
Mandela was later invited to come to Canada in November of 2001 to receive his honorary Canadian citizenship. At that time McKell, who worked at the Toronto School Board, had been part of a group that proposed to rename Toronto’s oldest public school, Park Public School, in honour of Nelson Mandela. So on November 17th, 2001, Nelson Mandela came to Toronto for the official renaming ceremony of the newly named Nelson Mandela Park Public School. McKell recalls the day:
“He made a very emotional speech to the kids. What I remember very much about the speech is that he told the kids he was so happy to be there among them. He told them that he loved them all as if they were his grandchildren.”
McKell said tears were flowing down his and the children’s eyes sitting there on the floor. “Many of those children came from countries where their parents had a very difficult time with civil wars and so on. Many of them came as refugees, so to have this great man tell that he loved them as if they were his own grandchildren was very moving and emotional for them,” he added. Today, the Nelson Mandela Park Public School’s students continue to aspire to live by the values which have defined Nelson Mandela’s life and that is the values of courage, of truth, of integrity, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, and compassion. “All those things in his life are valuable lessons for children” as McKee concludes.
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