In 2001, Nelson Mandela visited a Regent Park elementary school in Toronto and told hundreds of children gathered in the gymnasium about their responsibilities and the future.
“When you are old, many of you are going to be members of Parliament,” he told them. “You’re going to be ambassadors, and represent your country in foreign lands. You’re going to be members of the cabinet. You’re going to be prime minister. You are the future leaders of the world.”
Twelve years later, at an assembly to honour the former South African leader after his death, the school’s former principal, Jeff Kugler, told the children that, now more than ever, they have a responsibility to pass on his legacy. The school, previously known as Park Public School, was renamed Nelson Mandela Park Public School during his 2001 visit.
“We must always strive to remain true to the values that Nelson Mandela represents,” Mr. Kugler said on Friday. “We must continue to build a strong and safe community. We must support those who have less than us both at home and around the world. We must learn about and speak out against injustice, both at home and around the world.”
Many of the students and members of the diverse Regent Park community took part in Friday’s assembly – delivering speeches about how Mr. Mandela had inspired them, singing songs in his honour, and carrying large signs saying: “RIP NM.”
A giant painting of Mr. Mandela hung from the gymnasium wall, next to the words “Madiba” and “empathy” cut out in brightly coloured poster paper.
The assembly began with a moment of silence, followed by singing the national anthems of Canada and South Africa.
About mid-way through, a small group of first-graders stood in front of the room to talk about what Mr. Mandela meant to them.
“We respect Nelson Mandela because he fought for freedom,” six-year-old Hamza read off of a small blue index card.
“He never fought with his hands. He fought with his words,” said Saakeb, also six.
Afterwards, six-year-old Sidra said it was important for her to participate because Mr. Mandela was “a man who tried to stop bad things like apartheid from happening.”
She said apartheid “means when you separate people. It means white people stay in the good beaches. The black people go to the bad beaches and the brown people go to the bad beaches too.”
Jahney, one of the singers who performed the South African national anthem, said she felt “really sad” that Mr. Mandela died.
“He was really important to us, because he stopped racism and apartheid. Some of my friends are white and I like them,” the 9-year-old said. “I want to play” with them.