'Mandela Gave Us a Goal': All Races Come Together

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was well past Jamey Carter's bedtime, but the 9-year-old Inglewood boy was caught up in the excitement sweeping through the Coliseum Friday night.

Wearing his "Inglewood for Mandela" T-shirt, Jamey thrust his fist into the air and chanted with the crowd: "Man-del-a! Man-del-a!" And then, not to be outdone by the thousands of others in the audience, Jamey pumped his fist, cupped his hands to his mouth and let out a "Whooah! Whooah!"

That's when Nelson Mandela--the 71-year-old South African anti-apartheid activist, former political prisoner and just plain superstar--suddenly appeared before the podium.

"I got a rush when he finally came onto the stage," said Jamey's mother, Bernita. "But my son seemed more excited than I was."

Friday night's crowd included 1,600 Inglewood residents like Jamey and his mother who had taken buses to the Coliseum to hear Mandela as he visited Los Angeles on his eight-day U.S. tour. City officials arranged for the buses and handed out free T-shirts, but they did not have to provide the excitement.

Long before Mandela took the stage, the hyped-up crowd of 70,000 was dancing to rap music, swaying to jazz and cheering to a rousing call for racial harmony by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Mandela, released in February after 27 years in South African prisons, was greeted with a thunderous ovation when he finally appeared onstage at about 11 p.m.

"He's a great man," said Ray Snowden, past president of the city's Chamber of Commerce. "There are not many people who could have gone through what he went through."

Added Sam Vargas, 19, who gave Mandela several standing ovations during his talk: "I don't live in Africa, but I understand the people. That's why I'm here. I may be white, but any race can support Mandela."

Mildred McNair, a longtime community activist, trekked almost four miles to the Coliseum from Rancho Cienega Park in a youth-sponsored march earlier in the day as temperatures soared into the high 80s. She compared it to civil rights marches in the 1960s.

"I would have been here if it were 20 degrees hotter," she said. "I marched with Dr. (Martin Luther) King in the '60s. I'm marching again because this is an important day in the history of all African Americans. We're showing our support for our kindred across the sea."

McNair later said she was overwhelmed by Mandela's speech, in which he told his listeners to unite across racial lines.

"It was like a spiritual experience," she said of seeing and hearing Mandela. "Words cannot express what Mandela did to me, and what he's doing to the whole nation. I was talking to whites, Asians, Hispanics and blacks, and he was bringing us all together."

McNair, dressed in a flowing, blue African dress, also praised Mandela's anti-drug message in which he urged the young to learn "that the solution (is) not to escape reality by resorting to drugs."

She said that gauging the long-term impact of Mandela's visit will be difficult.

"Mandela's going to fly out of here," McNair said. "The question is, what is he going to leave behind?"

Sitting in the back of one of 31 Inglewood-bound buses on the way home from the speech, Keith Rogers, 20, said the calls for unity against racial oppression from Mandela and Jackson might make a difference.

"The thing that got to me the most was seeing everyone standing with their fists in the air," he said. "What we saw tonight was the chance of a lifetime. We saw something we can take to heart."

His friend, Kevin Lockridge, 19, added: "It's one thing to hear the words. It's another to actually act. I think Nelson Mandela gave us a goal: All races have to come together."

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