Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte on Wednesday joined many around the world in celebrating Nelson Mandela Day.
July 18 is an international holiday aimed at recognizing the life and legacy of the late South African President Nelson Mandela.
The international community first celebrated the holiday in 2009 on Mandela’s 91st birthday.
“The Mandela Day campaign message is ‘Nelson Mandela has fought for social justice for 67 years. We’re asking you to start with 67 minutes,’” said Bichotte, who represents the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn, New York.
“We would be honored if such a day can serve to bring together people around the world to fight poverty and promote peace, reconciliation and cultural diversity,” added Bichotte, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, the first ever Haitian American from New York City to be elected to the New York State Assembly.
Bichotte, chair of the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), noted that Mandela led the battle against Apartheid in South Africa, a system of racial segregation and discrimination, which remained in place until 1994.
During the early 1960’s, she said Mandela worked with the African National Congress “in an effort to resist the draconian Apartheid laws.
“Eventually he, and several other freedom fighters, went on the run,” Bichotte said. “In 1962, the South African security forces finally located Mandela and arrested him. He was subsequently sentenced to a life term of imprisonment on Robben Island Prison in 1964.”
In 1990, after 26 years in prison, Bichotte said Mandela “walked out to the streets of South Africa a free man.”
“Four short years later, Mandela became the President of the country that had imprisoned him for all those years,” she said.
“Until his death in 2013, Mandela dedicated his life to the pursuit of social justice and equality for all,” Bichotte added. “Nelson Mandela Day celebrates the legacy of this man’s extraordinary life and calls upon the international community to dedicate itself to a day of service.”
In also paying tribute to the first democratically-elected President of South Africa and iconic civil rights leader, the United Nations on Wednesday celebrated Nelson Mandela’s legacy for humanity and reflected on the lessons he left behind.
“He stands today as a beacon for universal values — peace, forgiveness, humility, integrity, passion, respect and service,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. “Madiba showed us that these are not just words or vague ideals but concrete actions that we can all take.”
In his tribute, the UN chief quoted the anti-Apartheid leader’s declaration that “’overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.’”
“Let us act on Madiba’s words,” Guterres said. “Let us recall all the promises we have made — in the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda – and let us commit to honor our pledges.
“Let us work for the better world we know can exist,” he added, calling on the world to “persevere with commitment and conviction.”
The UN said the President of the General Assembly, Miroslav LajÄák, focused on the lessons that Madiba — as Mandela was affectionately called in South Africa — taught the world on the importance of dialogue, peace and tolerance.
“He showed us that dialogue and negotiation should be pursued relentlessly — no matter how deep the divides, or strong the hurt,” he said, regretting that “too often we have let peace slip through our fingers. And we have waited until it was gone, to act”.
“The prophet is no longer with us, but his teachings are,” LajÄák said. “And we need them — now, more than ever.”
He denounced the current global rise in intolerance, hate, inhumanity, racism, prejudice and discrimination, according to the UN.
“We cannot be silent in the face of them,” LajÄák said. “We need to push back harder — and to speak out louder than ever.”