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A portrait of Nelson Mandela is seen as people take their seats before a screening of Long Walk to Freedom, a film about the South African leader’s life,­ put on by the Nelson Mandela Public School at a theatre in Toronto on Dec. 5, 2013.MARK BLINCH/The Globe and Mail

Ainsworth Morgan went to elementary school at Nelson Mandela Park Public School when it was known as Park P.S., in the middle of Toronto's Regent Park, Canada's oldest and biggest government housing project. He was at the school with his two-year-old son, Azell, in his arms when Mr. Mandela came there in 2001 for its renaming in his honour.

And on Thursday night, as vice-principal of Mandela Park P.S., he spoke at a screening of the Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom, organized weeks in advance by the local school board. As chance would have it, the screening was held on the night of Mr. Mandela's death.

"It's a sad day, but it's also a day of joy because we had the opportunity to live when Nelson Mandela was part of our vocabulary," Mr. Morgan told the 300 people in the audience, including parents, students and former students at the Mandela Park school.

The inner-city school serves a diverse population with a score of language groups and national origins represented, and large numbers with South Asian, Somali or Caribbean backgrounds. It is deemed a "model school," meaning it receives extra funding from the school board in recognition of the struggling community from which it draws its pupils. The school starts each day with a Nelson Mandela quote read out over the public-address system.

"We try to live up to his ideals," Mr. Morgan, the 44-year-old son of Jamaican immigrants said in an interview. He recalled Mr. Mandela telling students at the school that they would grow up to be the leaders of the world, and never to give up.

Mr. Morgan told his son, Azell, that Mr. Mandela "is the only person for me living or deceased who has moved me to tears, outside of family. And of the importance of how he lived his life. Never giving up. Fighting for what you believe in. Hard work. The importance of education."

Keanna McGowan-Morris, 14, a former student at the school, described Mr. Mandela as an inspiration, "because of all the stuff he did for black people."

Kai Gordon, mentoring co-ordinator for Pathways to Education, a support program for students, described Mr. Mandela as an example, important in Regent Park and elsewhere, that when young people have conflict they do not need to respond with aggression.

Jason Kandankery, the principal, said Nelson Mandela means "we try to instil a sense of hope and purpose in the children. They have the ability to make the world a better place."

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