By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Join the DC 37 Black History Committee for the Black History Month special finale at union headquarters – a presentation of the play “Mandela” celebrating the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to New York City.
Because of high demand for tickets, the committee decided to schedule a second show at 4 p.m.
To reserve tickets for the 4 p.m. show, click here or call 718-930-0175 and leave a message.
“Mandela,” written, produced and directed by two public employees, had a limited run in July to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Mandela’s three-day visit to New York.
About five years ago Yolanda Brooks caught a bug, the theater bug, and with retired Firefighter John Ruiz she honed their mutual admiration for Nelson Mandela into a play about the freedom fighter’s historic 1990 visit to New York City. By day, the Public Health Sanitarian protects New Yorkers by investigating complaints about fumes, food poisonings, and oil spills for the Dept. of Health.
“John discovered it in me,” said Brooks, a Local 768 member, who joined the East Harlem Reparatory Theater, where she met Ruiz, who studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute. “I was writing little things for him and he noticed my talent and asked for more. When Madiba got sick, I started to write this to honor him.”
“I came from a household that loved Nelson Mandela so writing about him was easy because of the love and respect we have for him,” Brooks said. “I began researching his life, reading his biography, and that became the play’s foundation. I have a big imagination and I put it to paper.”
In 1990, Dinkins, with help from former AFSCME Secretary Treasurer Bill Lucy and the late Bill Lynch, brought anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela to the United States and made New York City the first stop on his tour.To tell the story right, the playwrights invited Mayor David Dinkins to play himself. “When I finally met with Mayor Dinkins to ask him to be a part of this production, I was on my knees, literally,” recalled Ruiz. “I was so excited that I did not hear his ‘Yes’ the first time, so I kept asking.”
After three months of intense rehearsals, Brooks and Ruiz presented the drama at City Hall in 2013 and won support from Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City Council. Dinkins rounded out a cast that starred award-winning actor Lloyd Goodman as Mandela, and also featured Local 371 member actor Jimmy Garrett.
The production is based on events in Mandela’s life, some joyous, like his marriage to Winnie, and others painful – where they each endured solitary confinement and were denied the right to see their children because of their stand against apartheid.
“Winnie kept the struggle alive while Mandela was imprisoned. She told the world what was happening in Soweto and of the hundreds of political prisons in South Africa,” Ruiz said. “If you think our jails are tough, you haven’t seen a South Africa jail in the 1960s. They were fed porridge with maggots and experienced unspeakable abuses.”
“We incorporated dance and song to give the audience an emotional break from the heaviness of the situation,” Brooks said.
To great effect, the play intersperses videos to convey the heavy hand of South Africa’s oppressive prison system and its unyielding politics. “Mandela” reveals the arc of humanity through the greater convictions Madiba and African National Congress members shared. Though they were ready to die for a cause – a free and democratic society – they were determined to survive the notorious Robben Island prison. Worldwide protests and economic sanctions brought an end to cruel apartheid rule. Mandela went free after serving 27 years of a life sentence. Nelson Mandela won South Africa’s first democratic election to serve as president from 1994 to 1999. He won a Nobel Prize in 1993 and died at age 95 in 2014.
Brooks and Ruiz present “Mandela” to students of all ages at school and in theatres around the city. This summer’s run was at Harlem’s EHRT, where the commemorative drama “Mandela” received three citations from Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City Council speaker, and the Council, which proclaimed July 18, Madiba’s birthday, Nelson Mandela Day.