Jacksonville hosts U.S. Nelson Mandela International Day

Jacksonville hosts U.S. Nelson Mandela International Day
Tukwini Mandela, Khalil Osiris, Melissa Nelson and Makaziwe Mandela

The Nelson Mandela International Day observation held July 18-19 in Jacksonville actually began more than 30 years ago when prison inmate Khalil Osiris became pen pals with Dr. Makaziwe Mandela, daughter of the late South African President Nelson Mandela. Osiris wrote to Dr. Mandela telling her that, inspired by her father, he was spending his time in prison earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University. He promised her that when he was released, he would travel to South Africa and work in prisons and schools to honor the heroic courage of her father, President Mandela. In 2011, he fulfilled that promise.

As a result of the lasting bond formed between Khalil Osiris of San Marco and Dr. Makaziwe Mandela of South Africa, Jacksonville became the site of the 2019 Nelson Mandela International Day observance. Further cementing that bond, Kevin Gay, founder and CEO of Operation New Hope, traveled to South Africa with Osiris in May 2019 to meet with Dr. Mandela and introduce her to the organization’s prisoner reentry program called Ready4Work, which has gained national attention because of its impact in reducing recidivism.  

Betty Flinchum and Khalil Osiris
Betty Flinchum and Khalil Osiris

After learning of the cooperation between Osiris’s company, Reflecting Freedom, LLC (sponsored by Pam and Michael Oates of Ortega) and Gay’s Operation New Hope, Dr. Mandela eagerly accepted their joint invitation to come to Jacksonville. In fact, at the Kickoff to Freedom gala July 17, Dr. Mandela quipped that coming to Jacksonville was a “no brainer,” adding that her father would have been so proud of the good work of social justice being done by Operation New Hope.

Held in the U.S. Assure Club East of TIAA Bank Field, the gala was attended by nearly 500 guests. Hosted by First Coast News Anchor Jessica Clark, the evening featured an opening prayer by The Temple’s Rabbi Elizabeth Bahar, a spoken word presentation, “Rise Up Like Mandela,” by Roderick Borisade, an address by Osiris, and a South-African themed dinner with entertainment by Ramona the Band. Following dinner, honored guests, Dr. Mandela and her daughter, Tukwini, inspired the audience with their positive message of international unity and entertained with their personal and intimate memories of Nelson Mandela.  

The first-ever House of Mandela Reflecting Freedom Awards were then announced, each of the four honorees receiving a unique four-paneled piece of Nelson Mandela’s artwork featuring his handprint in four different shades of color, symbolizing how the work of many different hands can change the world. 

Dr. Makaziwe Mandela with Curtis Hazel and Kevin Gay
Dr. Makaziwe Mandela with Curtis Hazel and Kevin Gay

Receiving the House of Mandela Reflecting Freedom Award were Kevin Gay, CEO/Founder of Operation New Hope (Community Impact); Dr. Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of KIPP Schools Jacksonville (Education); State Attorney Melissa Nelson (Public Service); and Darnell Smith, Florida Blue’s market president for the North Florida Region (Corporate Impact).  

In honor of Nelson Mandela’s 101st birthday coming up on the following day, July 18, the gala ended with birthday cake presented by Peter Racine of the Jaguars Foundation, and a closing prayer by Dr. Nicholas Louh, of St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church. All proceeds of the gala evening went to Operation New Hope.

Tom and Hazel Donahoo
Tom and Hazel Donahoo

Nelson Mandela International Day continued on July 18 at Jacksonville University with President Tim Cost’s presentation to Dr. Mandela of the Presidential Global Citizen Award. She gave a rousing speech to those assembled in JU’s Terry Theatre. Freedom, Forgiveness, Unity, Compassion, Education and Kindness were her mantras, and she emphasized her deep concern, as a global citizen, for a “fractured world, where differences are actually enhanced.” Noting that it is the differences and diversity that enrich the world, she challenged all to follow Nelson Mandela’s lead in harnessing the good in each person and working together to build a better society. She encouraged “little acts of kindness” and a renewed media focus on “good stories.” She spoke of her father’s strong belief that no one is born hating another person and that if we can be taught to hate, we can be taught to love.

Wrapping up the three days of international events, Dr. Mandela and her daughter, Tukwini, traveled to St. Augustine on July 19 with Osiris and Gay to help launch Operation New Hope’s Ready4Work reentry program in St. Johns County. Mistress of Ceremonies Caren Goldman, executive director and founder of Compassionate St. Augustine, introduced Mama Blue, who sang both the U.S. National Anthem and the South African National Anthem.  Following the Pledge of Allegiance, St. Augustine City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline presented a proclamation and letter from the mayor, Pastor Ron Rawls gave a prayer and Gay welcomed the large gathering at 83 Washington Street in St. Augustine’s Lincolnville area, where the new program will be located. Dr. Mandela and Osiris spoke to the gathering as well, he speaking of his 20 years of incarceration and his realization of self-empowerment, and she repeating her inspirational message of unity and kindness. Mama Blue ended the ceremony with a rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice & Sing.” A private reception followed at the Lightner Museum, with remarks by Goldman, Osiris, Mandela, Gay and Smith.  

With Operation New Hope now building a stronger community in St. Augustine as well as in Jacksonville, and both Osiris and Gay having become international board members of the House of Mandela Family Foundation, the stage is set for limitless global growth and emulation of Nelson Mandela’s example around the world. Noting that Dr. Mandela earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology, Osiris ended his remarks each time with the words of another famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

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