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Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons

Michigan State University and the MSU Museum helped civil rights leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela celebrate his 90th birthday with a special exhibition “Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons” first opened in July 2008 at the Nelson Mandela National Museum in Mthatha, South Africa, Mandela’s birthplace in the Eastern Cape Province.

That exhibition is still on view in South Africa, and now a U.S. version comes to the Michigan State University Museum. A national tour is also in the works after its U.S. debut at the MSU Museum Jan. 17, 2010.

The inspiration for “Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks” came from the hundreds of children around the world who have written letters to two individuals–Nelson Mandela of South Africa and the late Rosa Parks of the United States–who are internationally known for their work in human rights.

“Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks” uses those letters to illustrate the shared values and goals held by Parks and Mandela: courage and hope, the struggle for freedom, the power of knowledge and education, faith and spirituality, pathways to and the price of freedom, and action and reconciliation.

“The exhibit also encourages visitors — especially youth — to understand and be tolerant of diverse cultures and traditions, become aware of the ongoing struggle for human rights around the world, and recognize ways to honor individuals in their own families and communities who–like Mandela and Parks–have contributed, in large and small ways, to making a better world,” notes MSU curator of folklife and cultural heritage C. Kurt Dewhurst, one of the exhibit’s organizers.

Recently, Gregory Reed (MSU B.S., 1970), the personal lawyer of Rosa Parks, announced a planned gift to the Michigan State University Museum of a collection of letters children wrote to Parks. Reed, through his Detroit-based Keeper of the Word Foundation, works to protect the legacies of authors, artists, and activists.

“Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks” was developed when the MSU Museum and the Nelson Mandela Museum were awarded a grant from a new program of the American Association of Museums, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, designed to strengthen connections between people in the U.S. and abroad through museum-based exchanges.

MSU and the MSU Museum have a deep history of cultural heritage partnerships in South Africa and this exhibition, as well as a new curatorial fellowship between the MSU Museum and the Mandela Museum, are the latest.

“Through projects like this and others, Michigan State University Museum can use its resources to generate awareness and understanding of local and global issues related to natural and cultural diversity and to create meaningful, experiential opportunities to address those issues,” adds Marsha MacDowell, MSU Museum curator of folk arts and professor of art and art history.

Opening Reception and Gallery Tour
Speech Choir performance by Act for Justice, “Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks,” using children’s letters to Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, Jan. 18, 2010, 4-6 p.m., MSU Museum in conjunction with “30th Anniversary Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” at Michigan State University.

This exhibition at the MSU Museum is made possible by a Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant from the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives at Michigan State University. The exhibit runs through January 3, 2011.
Featured multimedia:
MSU Today/Big 10 Network, “Mandela-Parks Exhibit

Video profile with Nelson Mandela Museum/MSU Museum Curatorial Fellow, MSU graduate student Rachel Laws.

Graphics courtesy of Oryx Multimedia, South Africa

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