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By Juliann Weston
Upon entering the sanctuary of Mt. Olive Baptist Church of Hackensack on the evening of Dec. 12, one knew that something very special was taking place. The sounds of African music set the tone to honor the legacy of anti-apartheid leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died seven days earlier in Johannesburg. He was 95.
The local memorial service was the brainchild of the Rev. Gregory Jackson, who believed that Mandela’s “life and struggle in South Africa should be celebrated by all.” Mandela served 27 years in prison fighting apartheid and was elected president of South Africa in 1994.
“I believe we are the products of our time,” said Jackson.
Yahaya Kamate and Troupe led an African drum and flag processional announcing the beginning of the memorial service, which included a pulsating drum performance by the group and the choral praises of the Mount Olive Baptist Church Choir, whose members wore traditional African attire.
Guests were treated to video clips of Mandela speaking at the historic Riverside Church in Harlem in 1990 and President Barack Obama addressing the crowd at Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa.
Clergy traveled from all parts of Bergen County to attend the service. Guests included the Rev. Frances Manning-Fontaine (New Hope Baptist Church); the Rev. Vernon Walton (Mt. Calvary Baptist Church); the Rev. JoAnn Hilton and the Rev. Jonathan Whitfield (Trinity Baptist Church). County Executive Kathleen Donovan and Freeholder Tracy Silna Zur were also on hand to pay homage to the iconic activist.
“He is one of the most striking people I have ever seen in my life and watched. I don’t have the ability to do what that man did and I will forever be in his awe. It was an honor to be here tonight.” Donovan said.
Congregants stood in solidarity as they sang the national anthem, the Negro National Anthem and the South African National Anthem. They spoke about Mandela’s belief that the pursuit of peace has no color, no age or class restriction and no gender slant. They remembered Madiba, the name of Mandela’s tribe, as a man who dedicated his life to achieving equality for all.
“We have to cultivate the new Nelson Mandelas,” said Bergen County NAACP President Anthony Cureton.
“We need to continue to spread the message that one person can make a difference.”