MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – Hearts hung heavy in Mount Vernon on Friday, as the lone high school named after South African civil rights icon Nelson Mandela mourned his death.
Mandela, who was the face of South Africa’s struggle against racial oppression, died in his native country on Thursday at the age of 95. He is renowned for spending nearly 30 years as a political prisoner for his anti apartheid activism.
Although New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that a new high school, in Brooklyn, would bear Mandela's name next year, Nelson Mandela/Dr. Hosea Zollicoffer High School on Gramatan Avenue currently stands as the only high school dedicated to the activist in the country, according to Principal Ralph Burts.
“Frankly, we lost one of the great moral leaders of all time,” he said. “We’re the only high school in the U.S. named after him, which is fitting, because just like he struggled, our children are struggling.”
Burts sent a text message to his fellow administrators to alert them of the passing of one of the world’s greatest activists.
“Mandela has transitioned; however, his legacy has transcended. He will live among the MZHS school community,” he wrote.
While Burts said that although he and the community as a whole were still mourning the loss, the only high school bearing Mandela’s name will host a celebration of his storied life. On the day of Mandela’s funeral, the school will have an essay contest for students, guest speakers, a traditional African dance and potluck lunch.
“It’s been a tough day reflecting. I was 6 years old when he was in prison, and I remember listening to the stories,” Burts added. “I understand the struggle he faced. I can see similarities between his struggles and the struggles of our children.”
South Seventh Avenue resident Derrick Williams said that in his death, Mandela’s legend may grow even larger as people are reminded of the struggles he faced.
“The world lost one of its great leaders, and will never be the same again. Hopefully, now that he’s at rest, people will look back on his incredible life and be inspired,” he said. “Rest in peace, Nelson Mandela. You’ve earned it.”
Mount Vernon Mayor Ernest Davis said that Mandela’s lost will be felt locally, nationally and internationally.
“Nelson Mandela dignified strength, hope, perseverance and idealism that affected not just Africa, but the whole world. Africa has gained strength because of his challenge to the apartheid system,” he said. “His triumph over adversity has effected worldwide change. His victory in the fight for the right of every man to enjoy justice resonated globally.”