Long Islanders joined the rest of the world in mourning the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela who became an inspiration to the world when he overcame racial suppression and united a country.
Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, was 95 years old.
“The world lost an inspirational leader who left an enduring and auspicious mark on South Africa and beyond,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano.
“Today we join with millions of people around the world in mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, a courageous man and a truly visionary leader,” added Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Both Mangano and Bellone ordered flags at all county government buildings to be flown at half-staff until Monday in honor of Mandela’s legacy.
A vigil was held at Hempstead High School Friday, with dozens of students, teachers and community leaders packing the auditorium to pay respects to the anti-apartheid leader. Students raised their cell phones in the air in substitute of candles, and community leaders spoke about how the South African icon touched the lives of so many. The school band was called on to play “We Will Overcome.”
“We wanted the kids to realize there’s still people out there fighting for the things they take fore granted,” Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall said by phone afterward.
Hall hopes Mandela’s death will inspire students and show “them that you can be whatever you want to be.”
Douglas Mayers, president of the Freeport/Roosevelt chapter of the NAACP, visited South Africa six years ago and toured Robben Island, the prison where Mandela was jailed for 27 years for leading the anti-apartheid movement against a racially repressive government.
The tour of the prison, which is now a museum, helped him better understand the suffering the South African people went through as a result of the apartheid, he said.
“He set an example for the world and especially for politicians and leaders throughout the world,” Mayers said of Mandela, who served one-term as president from 1994 to 1999.
Mayers was inspired by how Mandela reached out to his enemies after his nearly three-decade long prison sentence.
“I think the world as a whole is going to miss what he had really showed us,” he said. “How we can overcome obstacles that we never thought we could overcome and reach out to others.”
Mandela’s death was felt all across Long Island.
New York State Sen. Majority co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called Mandela an “enduring symbol of peace and freedom.”
“He was a great humanitarian who persevered through great suffering to lead a historic revolution against racial oppression,” he added.
Nassau Legis. Carrie Solages (D-Elmont) said Mandela was an inspiration for fighting for what he believed in. “May he rest in peace and his legacy live on,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo added: “His struggle to end racism, poverty and inequality began with his fight against apartheid, continued through his service as the first black President of South Africa and is now passed on for the world to continue. We will not soon see again, nor should we ever forget the profound example of humanity that Nelson Mandela embodied.”
The South African government announced that Mandela will be buried on Dec. 15 in the Eastern Cape village of Qunu after a 10-day period of mourning.
“We’ve lost our greatest son,” South African President Jacob Zuma told the country Thursday when announcing Mandela’s death.