Free the Children’s Marc Kielburger and students from the Toronto Catholic District School Board Dec. 12 to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Toronto students honour the ‘last great statesman’

  • December 19, 2013

TORONTO - One week after the death of Nelson Mandela, the Toronto Catholic District School Board and Free The Children came together to honour the man dubbed the world’s last great statesman.

“This is one of our last great social justice leaders ever who literally changed the course of humanity,” said Mark C. Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children and master of ceremonies for the event. “This is the ending of an era of these great people who changed humanity so we need to take time to pause and reflect on that. But it is also an opportunity to take the baton, albeit in a very small way, for all of the rest of us to keep that legacy alive.”

On Dec. 5, Mandela, the anti-apartheid crusader who became the first black president of South Africa, passed away from a prolonged respiratory infection at his home in Johannesburg surrounded by family. Seven days later at Toronto’s St. Joseph’s College School, about 450 students, along with recording artists Shawn Desman, Nelly Furtado and Kardinal Offishall, gathered to mourn Mandela.

“What I love about Mandela is that he was able to come out of prison and he was able to see the things that he was fighting for come to fruition,” said Offishall. “Mandela taught a lot of people in my community how to carry yourself in a certain way. He left an amazing legacy that we can hold on to and make our own and in our own ways make the world better in the ways that he believed in.”

As a young student Offishall not only met Mandela but also performed for him with his group at the time YBP (Young Black and Positive) when Mandela visited Toronto after serving almost three decades in jail. The experience touched Offishall so much that he ended up naming his first son Dela as a tribute to the man.

Now Offishall is dedicated to being a Mandela of tomorrow through his rapping and hopes to inspire others to act in a similar fashion.

“He has inspired so many people and hopefully through all the rapping that I do I get to inspire some people too,” he said. “We have the rest of our lives to thank him but the way to honour him is by reading about what he did, studying his quotes (and) learning the greatness that he bestowed upon others. Just being the best person that you can be, that is the best way to honour Nelson Mandela.

“Every single day you have the opportunity to be a better person.”

The event was also attended by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley who, like Offishall, called on the students to carry themselves in a loving, forgiving and humble manner even when facing adversity as Mandela did.

“Choose in your heart of hearts to reconcile with whoever has hurt you in your life, whatever bad thing has been done to you by another person, reconcile in your own heart with that person,” said Onley. “They don’t necessarily have to reciprocate in order for a change of your heart to take place but you must take that first step. The Scripture says we must forgive one another for our sins and we are even given a warning that unless we forgive others God will not forgive us.”

Two Maasai Warriors, Wilson Meikuaya and Jackson Ntirkana, also spoke about the importance of Mandela to the people back in their native South Africa.

“We are here today to celebrate Nelson Mandela and his legacy,” said Meikuaya. “Nelson Mandela is Africa’s favourite son and a wise grandfather. He will always be remembered for what he did for his people and his nation.”

A second set of South African voices, those of a young elementary class, were to reinforce this message via a Skype conversation with St. Joseph’s student Alisha Suri, but a poor connection made their voices relatively inaudible. Despite this the power of Suri’s words, who visited South Africa this summer with the Toronto Children’s Choir, was not lost.

“Not only did Nelson Mandela touch and make a difference to the people of South Africa he reached out to people all over the world,” she told the South African students on behalf of the entire Toronto Catholic student body. “We will continue to hold Nelson Mandela in our hearts as he has done so much for the world.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.