After a rainy morning, the sun broke out in Frederick, Maryland, the venue for an enriching and educational Mandela Day program.
The United Nations formally declared July 18th, Nelson Mandela’s birthday, as a day to honor South Africa’s late President and anti-apartheid icon through volunteering and community
I spoke in Frederick on a four-person panel that discussed Mandela and sports and music as cultural conduits for unity. Sitting beside me was Kathy Sledge, of “Sister Sledge,” whose 1979 hit song, “We Are Family,” gave a dance beat to family unity:
“We are family / I got all my sisters with me / We are family / Get up everybody and sing / Everyone can see we’re together / As we walk on by / (FLY!) and we fly just like birds of a feather.”
“We Are Family” is a song brimming with optimism, and when I said it also was the theme song for the 1979 World Series baseball champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Kathy Sledge smiled and nodded her head in agreement.
Nelson Mandela once said, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world,” and in my mind’s eye, I can see him dancing to “We Are Family” the same way he danced to Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga.”
Nelson Mandela also viewed sports as a unifying force. Here’s a Mandela quote that I read at the Frederick conference:
“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
In terms of breaking down racial barriers, two other panelists mentioned Nelson Mandela presenting the trophy to South Africa’s white captain, Francois Pienaar, after the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg.
The mostly-white crowd at Ellis Park cheered loudly in what’s being described as one of the greatest moments in the history of sports. I pointed out at the conference what Mandela was wearing in the stadium – a Springboks rugby jersey and ballcap.
While some Presidents might be dressed in suit and tie for such an occasion, Nelson Mandela used his attire to be part of, not apart from, in a show of sports unity and solidarity.