Monday, January 17, 2011

Mandela, MLK Remembered At Brockton NAACP Breakfast

Story and photos by Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—When South African native Rev. Lehlohonolo Henrietta Montjane was a student at Salem State on Feb. 11, 1990, she had just finished class and caught a glimpse of TV and a massive media storm over something.
Looking to see what it was, to her delight and surprise the world was watching as Nelson Mandela was freed from a South African prison after 27 years.
“I said, ‘Wow—God you mean you heard my prayers all these years,'” Montjane said recounting the day when Apartheid—segregation and legal disenfranchisement for black South Africans—was forever changed when Mandela walked out of prison holding his wife Winnie’s hand and raising a fist into the air after 27 years of imprisonment. (Montjane pictured above with Kym Raphino and below with Richard Kpolar)
Montjane chuckled that it may have taken nearly 30 years, but God finally answered her prayers and those of millions of her countrymen—black and white.
“God is a good God, but God doesn’t work on our timetables…God works in God’s time,” she said.
Montjane, pastor at United Methodist Church in Brockton and Whitman and whose name Lehlohonolo translates to "lucky" or "blessed" was the keynote speaker for the Brockton chapter NAACP’s 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast held Saturday morning, Jan. 15.
Born in Soweto, South Africa in 1965, Montjane weaved and interlinked the biographies of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela—a historical and personal talk that showed the similarities of the two men, their differences and how both their works changed her life forever.
Montjane earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Salem State University in 1988, a master’s in social work from Boston University’s School of Social Work. She returned to South Africa and earned a diploma in business development from the Witwatersrand Technikon, South Africa in 1995.
Montjane said in 1994 on her return visit to her homeland, she and her parents, Rev. Dr. Norman and Rev. Dr. Margaret Moshoeshoe-Montjane voted as free citizens for the first time in their lives.
Her parents, she said, were 56 and 58 years old. Montjane was 29.
“Oh, what a great day,” Montjane said with a huge smile. “We woke at the crack of dawn to vote,” she said.
She said Mandela’s work in South Africa has opened doors for many non-whites in her native country, and Martin Luther King’s work allowed her to come to the U.S. and be an accepted leader in her chosen vocation even if she had to spend 11 months in Maine on the Canadian border—a rural area marked by wildlife and cold weather.
“God is a humorous God,” Montjane said laughing, noting she was always cold while there.
Gary Bailey, Assistant Professor at Simmons College School of Social Work, who served as master of ceremonies during the breakfast, said Montjane’s work as a member of the United Methodist Church and as a social worker is amazing, especially her work as an advocate for women—or sheroes—and children living with HIV/AIDS.
“Rev. Lehlohonolo is a phenomenal human being,” Bailey said. Bailey noted social workers like Lehlohonolo and Gabe Zimmerman--an aide to U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and a licensed practicing social worker who was one of six people killed during a shooting aimed at Giffords last Saturday, Jan. 9 by a gunman in Tucson, Arizona—are often unsung heroes.
Bailey, Chairperson of the National Social Work Public Education Campaign for the International Federation of Social Workers, said he had the painful obligation of having to send a condolence message to Zimmerman’s family.
“We had one of our own die in the line of duty that day,” Bailey said.
During Saturday's breakfast there were several musical selections and a prayer when all attendees formed a circle and held hands. (Photo above)
Doris Campbell, who has organized the breakfast for years, and Ossie Jordan, (Pictured below pointing) who hosts a cable TV show highlighting issues in the city and the work of the NAACP and its members, received plaques and thanks for their dedicated service.
Other speakers during the breakfast included, U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch, state Representative Michael Brady and Mayor Linda Balzotti, who noted the Tucson shootings where so many young, active and involved people were killed or hurt is somewhat similar to the assassination of Martin Luther King, April. 4, 1968.
“The assassination took him much too young and much too soon,” Balzotti said.
She said people in public service often disagree with one another and often angrily, but for the most part do not end disputes at the point of a gun and recalled the non-violent demonstrations and protests advocated by King that led to the landmark Civil Rights Act, which not only opened the doors for black Americans, but also women.
“I’m the city’s first female mayor,” Balzotti said. “If it wasn’t for the work of Martin Luther King I might not be standing here today,” she said.
Rev. Montjane, after the breakfast was hugged and thanked for her speech that not only brought together the lives of two strong political leaders, but reminded attendees that with love and non-violence social injustice and equality can be reached.
“If you went around the room and cut each one of us we would all bleed red,” Montjane said. “Racism is a social construct,” she said.
(Pictured at right, Brockton area NAACP President Edward Downie, and wife Alma. Their three grandchildren are pictured above)

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