By Anna Sekula Posted July 21, 2009, 10:55 AM EDT
NEW YORK The Nelson Mandela Foundation and 46664, a nonprofit organization dedicated to AIDS and HIV awareness, are hoping to make July 18, Nelson Mandela's birthday, an internationally recognized holiday. However, last week's push to make the day official wasn't just limited to one event on Saturday, when Mandela turned 91. Instead, the fund-raising effort included a gala dinner, an art installation, and a week's worth of volunteer activities, culminating with a concert this past weekend.
In support of the series, government officials, actors, and entertainers attended one or more of the events, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former President Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, Gloria Gaynor, Aretha Franklin, and Forest Whitaker. Even Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the first lady of France, strapped on a guitar for a musical performance.
The series of events was more than just an attention-grabbing ploy for funds: It was also intended to underscore Mandela's ideals by encouraging community participation in educational, environmental, health, poverty, and social enterprise organizations. To that end, the foundations brought in Concentric Communications to organize several public activities, which included teachers reading to children in Washington Square Park; volunteers planting, weeding, and cleaning up Jackie Robinson Park; packaging fresh produce for City Harvest in Union Square Park; serving hot lunches for the AIDS Service Center; and packing donated books at the Housing Works Bookstore Café.
Beyond that, Vanderbilt Hall was the site of the art installation, which highlighted Mandela's life and messages for social change, as well as the Wednesday-night dinner and auction hosted by Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, and Clinton. The Saturday evening concert was not the first time 46664 had presented a lineup of famous musicians in the name of Mandela—previous concerts in England, South Africa, and Norway included Brian May and Andrea Corr, Annie Lennox, Ludacris, and Peter Gabriel—but it was the first time the nonprofit had assembled performers in New York. Held at Radio City Music Hall, the event gathered dozens of musicians for an extravaganza that included a duet of “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper and Lil' Kim, a “Man of the World” tribute by Yvonne Chaka Chaka and the Soweto Gospel Choir, and a Stevie Wonder-led finale of “Happy Birthday.”
The event series pulled in 500 throughout the week at the volunteer drive, hosted approximately 300 at the gala, and entertained more than 5,000 at the concert.