Mayor Gray signs a condolence book for Nelson Mandela at the South African embassy.
Mayor Gray signs a condolence book for Nelson Mandela at the South African embassy.

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Mayor Vince Gray vowed Friday to ensure that Nelson Mandela‘s legacy lives on in the District, saying he would work with the public schools to incorporate lessons about the former South African president’s accomplishments and the principles he stood for into the local curriculum.

“We will make sure Nelson Mandela’s legacy is an inspiration,” he said. “Our children can learn about the extraordinary way he lived his life.”

Gray spoke alongside South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool at the country’s embassy—-the spot of mass anti-apartheid protests in the 1980s. Nicole Lee, the current president of TransAfrica, an advocacy organization that organized many of the protests, also spoke.

“I remember the resolve, I remember the inspiration that he conveyed to the people,” said Gray, who was working in D.C. in the nonprofit sector at the time.

Mandela died Thursday at the age of 95. After being imprisoned for 27 years for fighting white minority rule, he led the country out of apartheid and became South Africa’s first black president in 1994.

Talking to a sea of cameras and reporters, Gray said people in the District can relate to Mandela and his work, because without statehood, D.C. still hasn’t achieved full equality. After the press conference he wrote a message in a condolence book.

“In honor of and response for one of the greatest human beings to ever have lived. Thank you, Mr. Mandela,” the mayor wrote.

Outside the embassy, people paid respects to the late leader, leaving flowers in front of a statue of him. The statue was just unveiled in September and is an exact replica of the statue that stands outside the gates of the jail where Mandela was imprisoned.

“Mandela represents the century full of great people,” said Ibrahim Oweiss, a Georgetown economics professor who was paying his respects. “He believed in humanity.”

Photo by Perry Stein