The Day After--Lasting Impact Predicted


A 72-year-old man, with a rumpled shirt and sleepy eyes stood on the lawn of City Hall Saturday, quietly reflecting on what had happened there the day before.

"It was inspiring," said Juan Hernandez, one among thousands Friday who watched anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela speak from the steps of City Hall. "They all came together, black white, brown and yellow. That shows you what one man can do."

After weeks of planning, preparation, and anticipation, Nelson Mandela had come to Los Angeles. And in less than 24 hours, Mandela was gone, off to complete his whirlwind U.S. tour in Oakland, and then on to Ireland.

But he left some lasting impressions. The morning after he addressed 70,000 chanting, fist-waving fans in a speech at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the 71-year-old activist took an early morning stroll around the Biltmore, surrounded by a phalanx of security officers. He chatted with a few homeless people along the way, according to hotel manager David Flack. And before heading to the airport, Mandela shook hands and waved at the crowds who had gathered in the hotel lobby to see him off.

Saturday, those gathered at the places near where he had stopped in Los Angeles--from the homeless sleeping in a square across the street from his hotel, to a UCLA student working at the Coliseum--talked about how his presence had made them feel, and what impact, if any, his historic visit would have on their city.

Douglas Brown, 30, said Mandela's impact was tangible.

"I know South-Central Los Angeles, for one day, had a sense of pride," said Brown, the swimming pool manager at Rancho Cienega Park, the meeting place for hundreds of students who marched to the Coliseum Friday in honor of Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle.

"There were people in the park yesterday who traditionally don't get along but yesterday they weren't going to ruin that moment," said Brown, referring to different sets of gang members who came to the park. "They didn't have their jeans hanging down, their rags hanging out. For that day they had on Mandela shirts. You couldn't tell what set anybody was from."

But the fact remained that a surprisingly small crowd--estimated by some to be no more than 4,000 people--turned out to greet Mandela in Los Angeles' Civic Center, less than the number of people who gathered to see him last week in a Brooklyn schoolyard.

It's apathy, said 68-year-old James Thomas, a retired city employee. "Folks just don't care, and those who do often take care of strangers before they take care of home.

"The people want to donate money for the cause over there quicker than they'll donate to a cause here," said Thomas, as he sat on a park bench near the Coliseum, musing and munching on an ice-cream cone.

Mandela "is working for better conditions for his people in his homeland, see," said Brown, who added that he supported his efforts. But "the way I look at it, there ain't too much he can do for the people here."

Kimberly Menefee, 30, sat on the City Hall lawn with her boyfriend and said she thought people would be inspired--but only for an hour or two. "They ain't going to care after that. People can talk a lot of stuff but they don't always want to act on it when the time comes."

But Deron Thompson, a 23-year-old UCLA student working at the Coliseum said he had never seen so many people inspired as he did sitting amid the assembled crowd that had come to hear Mandela speak.

"It's something you can always look on and say 'I was there,' " said Thompson who attended Mandela's Coliseum speech with his sister and a group of friends. "You could feel the energy. I think it'll make people go out and do something, change things. It just lifted them to hear what he was saying."

Yellow banners, soon to fade, still hung on the streets of downtown Saturday, announcing a day after the event that Mandela was coming to town.

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