The Nelson Mandela Foundation Approves BSMAA’s Annual Mandela Humanitarian Award Event

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Vira Jones, Founder & Executive Director of the Bedford Stuyvesant African Museum of Art, left, with Sello Hatang, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa.

The Bedford-Stuyvesant Museum of African Art (BSMAA) has received an official letter from the South African-based Nelson Mandela Foundation sanctioning its annual event as the “Madiba” Humanitarian Award: Celebrating the Legacy of Nelson Mandela. Ruth Carter, the costume designer for the Black Panther movie, will be honored at the fourth annual event, Saturday, October 13th at the Brooklyn Museum from 7 to 9 p.m. This year’s theme is: “Education: A Forceful Weapon Empowering the World’s Children.”

“This year is very special,” said Vira Lynn Jones, the foundation’s founder and executive director. “Nelson Mandela would have been 100. BSMAA has planned an incredible party with music and entertainment to celebrate the life and legacy of this incredible man.”

Jones went to some lengths to get in touch with the right people to make this year’s tribute a great and legitimate one. She was directed to Sello Hatang, the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Chief Executive.

“Mr. Hatang even approved BSMAA’s request to commission an artist to create a bust of Nelson Mandela that Waterford Crystal in Ireland would produce. “Since it would be given as an award and not sold, we were given the foundation’s approval.” Prominent Brooklyn artist Otto Neals has been working on a rendering.

BSMAA has held its Annual Nelson Mandela Humanitarian Award event since 2014.

During their September 2017 meeting, Mr. Hatang explained that the Nelson Mandela Foundation had licensed the brand name the “Nelson Mandela Humanitarian Award” to the United Nations. Every five years, the General Assembly selected two laureates, a woman and a man, who have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity by promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations while honoring and paying homage to Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy. Namibian ophthalmologist Dr. Helena Ndume was selected as the first female recipient because she has dedicated her life to treating blindness and eye-related illnesses in her country and throughout Africa. The male recipient was a former President of Portugal, Jorge Fernando Branco, who has dedicated his efforts to restore democracy in his country.

“I told Mr. Hatang I felt the United Nations list would select many prominent and world-renowned individuals for its award. There were so many people on the grass-roots level making incredible contributions toward humanity and they never receive the recognition they deserve. Nelson Mandela was a very humble man and I know he would have embraced these people,” she said. “I also reached back to 1990 and explained Mr. Mandela’s historical visit to New York.”

“I explained to him that the late South African President’s first stop in New York was not to rub shoulders with celebrities. He traveled to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. He visited the Boys and Girls High School where the athletic track and field is named after him. I also told him there was another school, the Mandela High School for Social Justice, located inside the building.”

Vira remembered Mr. Hatang sat forward in his chair, laughed and said, “You can call it the ‘Madiba’ Humanitarian Award: Celebrating the Legacy of Nelson Mandela. The name ‘Madiba’ is a very endearing term for Mr. Mandela in South Africa. When I return to South Africa, I will instruct the staff member in charge of writing official letters to e-mail you an official letter.” A month later, Vira received the e-mail.

“When the letter arrived in my e-mail, you would have thought that someone was killing me in my apartment. I ran through each room while screaming because I was so excited. I was fist-bumping the walls with my hands,” said Vira.

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