Faced with commitments that directly affect South Africa, Nelson Mandela has canceled his appearance next month at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions' 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
"It's a great disappointment," said Dr. Levi Watkins, a cardiac surgeon who is the driving force behind the King celebration at Hopkins. "I still have great faith that we'll see him in Baltimore" one day.
Watkins said "just his presence would've been an inspiration."
Mandela, 73, is the leader of the African National Congress, which fights apartheid in South Africa. He was released from prison in early 1990 after serving more than two decades for his efforts to end South Africa's rigid system of racial segregation.
Mandela was to appear at Hopkins Dec. 4. To accommodate him, Hopkins had scheduled the event a month early.
Watkins said ANC officials from New York visited him at his home Saturday and told him that Mandela's schedule just wouldn't allow him to come to Baltimore.
Mandela was faced with commitments that more directly affected his nation and serious conflicts in his schedule resulted, Watkins said.
"Obviously, I was taken aback, but I sort of understand the situation," Watkins said.
As a result, the King celebration will occur as normal in January. Details concerning a new guest speaker haven't been finalized, Watkins said.
According to Watkins, Mandela's appearance would not only have honored the memory of King's efforts in the struggle for civil rights in America but it would also have acted as a symbol of hope against the growing racism in the United States.
Watkins mentioned how David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan member and ex-American Nazi, would have become governor of Louisiana if blacks had not turned out in great numbers to vote against him recently.
"I am absolutely convinced that this community, nation is on a backward trend," Watkins said. "I thought a figure like [Mandela] could bring . . . action and make it [the nation's] business to get things straight racially."
Mandela would have been "a tremendous symbol of what we could be about," Watkins said.
Mandela cancels visit to city