This past Monday, UMD and the Twin Ports marched in recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. The historical significance of the march has been chartered over many decades in Duluth with support from the University. UMD students, faculty, and staff participated in all of the activities with the UMD banner fluttering above the heads of the crowd. They gathered at Washington Center and marched to the end of the route, joining in a variety of activities afterward in memory of King’s service to the nation. Among the presentations, UMD student Jireh Mabamba shared how his upbringing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and then fleeing to South Africa connected him with not only Martin Luther King, Jr., but with Nelson Mandela’s teachings as well.
Mabamba, now a freshman majoring in business, was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the fifth of six children. In 1994, Mabamba was born a few months after Mandela was elected as the first black president of a democratic South Africa. The hospital staff nicknamed Mabamba after the president. “They called me Nelson Mandela; that has given me inspiration for my whole life,” he said.
During his childhood and throughout his country, rebels were capturing boys to become child soldiers. Mabamba’s father, a minister, spoke out against the rebels and the family was forced to seek refugee status in South Africa. Because Mandela led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy, South Africa became a safe place for Mabamba’s family. Mabamba gives high praise to both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
“I may not be alive today if it hadn’t been for Mandela,” said Mabamba. “King’s work 50 years ago made it possible for me to pursue a higher education in the U.S. Mandela and King both made a world where we are not judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. These two leaders changed the world. Neither one of them sought revenge. They chose compassion over hatred. They taught peace, non-violence, truth, and equality.”
In conjunction with the day’s events, the MLK Holiday Committee focused on connecting the legacy of Dr. King with the life and work of Nelson Mandela who passed away in December. Mabamba shared the stage at the rally with educator Dr. Rogier Gregoire, UMD Professor Chang’aa Mweti, and a variety of local speakers and performers. These events held on January 20, 2014 honored both leaders and called attention to the work that still needs to be accomplished in order for the dreams of both men to be completely realized.