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Businessman Gilbert Udoto heads up Mandela commemoration event

Albany State University will host communitywide celebration of South African leader's life

South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela died peacefully at home at the age of 95 on Thursday, plunging his nation and the world into mourning for a man revered as a moral giant. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

South African anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela died peacefully at home at the age of 95 on Thursday, plunging his nation and the world into mourning for a man revered as a moral giant. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

ALBANY — Businessman Gilbert Udoto speaks in a lilting voice that retains the rhythms of his Kenyan ancestry, but always, even in times of stress, with a preternatural calm.

Yet Udoto becomes all but effusive as he talks of late Nobel laureate and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died Dec. 5 at age 95.

“People ask how one man can make the world better,” Udoto said during a conversation at his iconic Odyssey Records business in the East Albany Shackleford Shopping Center. “Nelson Mandela changed the world. When he walked out, free, after 27 years of wrongful imprisonment and spoke a message of forgiveness and wisdom, of inclusion, it was true providence.

“When (typically majority black populations that had long been ruled by minority whites in Africa) obtained their freedom, there were many who chose violence against their oppressors. Mandela said, ‘We’re going to vote, and everyone can vote.’ He was intelligent enough to know that (South African) whites could offer things that poorly educated blacks did not understand. He did not want white domination (that had been in place during South Africa’s notorious apartheid system), but he did not seek black domination either. There was a spirit that came over him.”

Udoto and several African natives who teach and own businesses in Southwest Georgia have scheduled an impromptu commemoration of Mandela’s life, which will be held Saturday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Albany State University’s ACAD Auditorium.

The celebration is free and open to the public.

“This will not be a time of mourning,” Udoto said of Saturday’s event. “There will be singing and dancing; there will be joy. This is a time to celebrate this great man’s life.”

Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard are scheduled to give opening remarks at the celebration, and Sherwood Baptist Church Pastor the Rev. Michael Catt will offer an opening prayer. The American national anthem will be sung by Carla Heath-Sands, and the Dougherty High School Chorale will follow with the South African national anthem.

Other commemoration events include a Mandela documentary, native South African song and dance, the play “Soweto,” which will be performed by Dougherty High students under the direction of Lisa Love, and comments from speakers Rex Ajayo, Shirley Sherrod and Gloria Gaines. Gaines, a member of the Dougherty County Commission, spent time in South Africa with an Atlanta-based transportation committee that first traveled to the country in 1993 to help teach the new government leaders how to provide services to its citizens. Gaines returned to South Africa several times, most recently last summer.

“This event is, in particular, for our children,” Udoto said. “I want the children to come and learn about the man Mandela was. They don’t understand struggle. To them, hardship is if they don’t have the right telephone or a TV in every room. They can’t comprehend a man coming up in a country that had no electricity and later having such a dynamic impact on the world.