A choir sings Nelson Mandela’s praises. Mandela has a smile plastered on his face. It’s hard to imagine after what he went through. He spent 27 years behind bars doing hard labor all because he tried to bring equality for blacks and whites in South Africa. He’s now an inspiration to many here in the Stateline.
"The thing that I respect him mostly about is he just didn't allow the system to break him," said Victory Bell, former Rockford alderman.
In fact Mandela flourished in it, eventually becoming president. That's something Bell can relate to as Rockford's first African American alderman.
"When you're the first in any area there’s a lot of things, that you have no road map to follow and so he really did an outstanding job and he was an international leader, not just for South Africa," Bell said.
"There's always got to be hope, and I think he gave not just Africa but the entire world a sense of hope,” said Ann Thompson-Kelly, 7th Ward Alderman for the city of Rockford.
She wants that hope for future generations. Thompson-Kelly grew up with Mandela as her hero, but she believes local kids aren't getting the same exposure to role models like him..
"Here in Rockford that always seems to be the issue that we have to debate the educational system… We have to educate children on all history, not just some history," said Thompson-Kelly.
Bell adds that Mandela's example can be an inspiration to Rockford as a whole.
"Take his principles that he used in terms of helping people, in terms of believing in people in terms of doing what you can do to bring about positive changes,” said Bell.