Friends of the Anacostia Community Museum came together Jan. 14 to remember the legacy of two Black leaders in an event featuring focusing on the leaders of tomorrow.

Just before they entered the Baird Auditorium at the National Museum of Natural History on Jan. 14, a young usher greeted attendees with a pleasant smile, saying “Welcome to the 29th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Program. Here’s a program, and if you would come with me I will walk you to your seat.”

The event, entitled “Lifting the Torch: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela,” included remarks from the director of the Anacostia Community Museum, Camille Giraud Akeju, and greetings from the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, G. Wayne Clough.

“The passing of South African legend Nelson Mandela this past year reminds us of his enormous courage, leadership, his passion, selflessness, and love for humanity,” Clough said. “He set an example for all of us, as did obviously Martin Luther King Jr.”

The program included a presentation by 12-year-old seventh grade student Kayla S. Rosemond, who presented an original poem entitled “Mandela, A Courageous Soul.”

Rosemond, who has written poems for the last two years, said she was inspired by Mandela’s powerful legacy. She presently attends Charles Hart Middle School, where she carries a 4.0 grade point average.

“Mandela was so powerful. He is such an important icon to a lot of people, and I wanted the poem to reflect his legacy and his life.”

The keynote speaker for the evening was Nicole C. Lee, president of TransAfrica. Lee’s topic, “Lifting the Torch: The Legacy of Nelson Mandela,” touched on the similarities between the lives and legacies of King and Mandela.

“For me, the connection between these two men and their vision has never been clearer.”

Lee said, noting that both men tried to change both local and national circumstances in their respective countries.

Among the similarities she cited: “Both King and Mandela were educated, despite the evil of the apartheid system each one of them faced.”

Mandela led the struggle to end the apartheid regime of South Africa and create a multi-racial democracy. Through his activism, Martin Luther King played a pivotal role in the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. King was assassinated in April 1968 and Mandela recently died.

Their struggle, she said, is not over.

“Our world is filled with inequity and discrimination,” Lee said.

After her speech, Lee participated in a brief question and answer session. She was joined by Dr. Sylvia I. B. Hill, a professor of criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia.

Lee said she hopes individuals feel empowered to change the circumstances in their own lives. She added that she hopes people will join others in their community to change local, national, and global issues, like King and Mandela did.

“I want people to feel renewed and inspired because our world needs like-minded people to get together and really try to change some of the ills and situations that we face,” she said

The night ended with a dynamic South African traditional dance performance by Lesole’s Dance Project. 


Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO