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Moving tributes fill Mandela celebration on the South Side

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright speaks during memorial service for NelsMandelRainbow Push Coalitiheadquarters Friday night. | Alex Wroblewski/For Sun-Times Media

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright speaks during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela at Rainbow Push Coalition headquarters on Friday night. | Alex Wroblewski/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 15, 2014 6:20AM



Four South African children — black and white — stole the show, at a celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela that drew about 1,000 people to Rainbow PUSH on Friday night.

The Chicago Children’s Choir’s moving musical tributes, filled with anti-apartheid anthems, followed a close second. The event was keynoted by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ and at one time President Barack Obama’s controversial spiritual advisor.

“I wish I could have met Nelson Mandela, but all that I can do now is live my life according to the ideals he suffered for,” said Francois Cooper, a young white South African grade school student, one of the four who spoke to the group.

And while noting she was born three years after Mandela was freed from his 27-year imprisonment, Snovuyo Dingwayo, a black South African teenager, spoke of being blessed never to have known apartheid.

“Nelson Mandela’s name means everything to us. He conquered hate, using tolerance, she said. “We can never really know what he went through in that prison cell, but I am grateful. Today, my future is determined not by the color of my skin, but by the hard work I am willing to put in.”

And the tributes flowed, at a celebration attended by dignitaries from Gov. Pat Quinn and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun.

Ministers of every prominent black church filled the South Side facility — PUSH founder the Rev. Jesse Jackson was in South Africa for Mandela’s private funeral — along with prominent community leaders and a large contingent of Chicago’s South African community.

Wright, in a 45 minute address, urged the crowd to never forget what Mandela suffered. He also gave tribute to Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Mandela, and urged the crowd to carry forward his legacy.

“We express our love and gratitude to Madiba for all he tried to do for our world,” Wright said. “But articulating our grief is one thing, demonstrating it is another. It is up to us . . . let us march on.”

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