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Celebrating “the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world,” New York City “takes world center-stage” on June 18th when it hosts the inaugural Mandela Day. The celebration, launched by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the humanitarian group, 46664, urges people around the world to take time on the 18th to volunteer in a social service activity. Organizers are encouraging the public to carry out tasks as simple as visiting the sick, to tackling broad social issues, like fighting poverty. Why? Because July 18 is living legend Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday. The organizers hope to make the celebration an annual event, not a party, but an opportunity to opt in.

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first nationally-elected president, spent 27 years in prison as a result of his membership with the national liberation organization, the African National Congress, and their determination to end South Africa’s white minority rule, which had constructed a system that some compare to the Jim Crow South in the U.S. The comparison, while useful is, however, flawed, because South Africa was much worse. The country was not only strictly segregated but also based upon an intensive level of systematic economic exploitation not seen in the U.S. since the theft and extermination of Native Americans. For 67 years Mandela, now retired, devoted his life to combating injustice in his country; today Mandela Day organizers encourage people around the world to devote 67 minutes to make their imprint on the world.

On Saturday, New York will host an extraordinary concert at Radio City Music Hall, featuring Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Will.i.am, Wyclef Jean, Queen Latifah, Josh Groban, Baaba Maal, and many other artists. Comedian Whoopi Goldberg will host the event. Organizers will stream the concert globally, via a free video Flash Player called Livestream. Also, for a small fee, viewers can access the concert electronically in high resolution, full-screen mode. For viewing details visit www.mandeladay.com. All proceeds from the concert and the pay-per-view will benefit the Mandela organizations:

Ø 46664 is a campaign that bears Mr. Mandela’s prison number and champions his humanitarian work,

Ø The Nelson Mandela Foundation promotes the values, vision, and work of Nelson Mandela,

Ø The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund is a rights-based and child-centered advocacy organization,

Ø The Mandela Rhodes Foundation provides scholarships designed to develop leadership capacity in Africa.

Celebration organizers and supporters are encouraging this annual effort both as a fundraiser for the organizations, and as important, to promote this international day of service – an essential message, particularly for these times. While Wall Street appears to be slowly rebounding from its dramatic collapse last year, for most of us the economic situation remains gloomy. Analysts predict that over 100,000 non-profits will close this year and likely more in the private sector. Nationally unemployment hovers at 9.5 percent, and we know that in the African American community the numbers are at least double, if not higher. Across the nation youth unemployment is at 27 percent, as high school students compete with unemployed adults. This recession and the collapse of the housing market has seen the largest loss of Black wealth in over 50 years; the situation is likely to only get worse before it gets better.

Any international effort designed to remind us of our individual power, and that challenges us to focus, if only for a moment, on making social change, is an endeavor that we should all observe and support. So this Saturday, take 67 minutes of your time and invest it in your community. In the long term this is the only investment that will bear substantial fruit.

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