NEWPORT BEACH — Amy Biehl would have turned 28 next week. Her parents say she would have taken the occasion to look back on her life and consider the miraculous changes she worked toward--before going right back to work helping others.
But Biehl's life was cut short 19 months ago by an angry mob in South Africa, just months before the historic elections she worked so hard to see, and years before she accomplished all she could have done.
Her legacy, therefore, has fallen to those who knew her, those who loved her and those who she touched during her brief life. It has fallen to the Amy Biehl Foundation.
The foundation was established by Biehl's parents after the Fulbright scholar from Newport Beach was stoned and stabbed to death by a mob chanting anti-white slogans as she drove black friends home in a township near Cape Town, South Africa, on Aug. 25, 1993. Biehl was in South Africa studying women's rights and educating voters before the nation's first all-race elections.
The goal of the foundation is to continue Amy Biehl's "grass-roots" efforts, including aiding poor and disenfranchised people in South Africa and the United States, said Peter Biehl, Amy's father.
"Everything she did was from the ground up," Peter Biehl said. "Each of us is highly committed to seeing that her work is continued."
The foundation received its tax-exempt status at the end of February and has collected about $50,000 so far, Biehl said. It has a number of fund-raising projects in the works, including a benefit concert in San Francisco's Great American Music Hall on April 27.
It also has given two small gifts to the Amy Biehl Memorial Community Center in South Africa's Happy Valley township, where Amy did much of her work, and to a food program for the poor managed by St. Gabriel's Church in Guguletu, where she was killed.
Additionally, the foundation has also teamed up with Global Partners, a U.S.-South African corporation, to sell several hundred thousand original ballots from the South African all-race elections last year.
The South African government confiscated the ballots, which were stolen before the election by people trying to disrupt it, and sold them to help offset the election's costs, according to M.R. Rice, vice president of Global Partners.
The foundation last week presented Hendrik de Klerk, the newly appointed South African consul general, with one of the ballots.
Rice said the historic ballots represent everything Biehl tried to accomplish during her years in South Africa, and their sale should help further her memory.
"For every ballot that was made, there was a life paid for it," Rice said. "It represents the thousands and thousands of lives that made it a reality."
While the foundation will likely generate a lot of money from these and other fund-raisers, Amy's parents said they do not expect the organization to grow too large.
"Most of the people who have contributed to the foundation are not big-money people," said Linda Biehl, Amy's mother. "They're just people who care."
Peter Biehl added that "in South Africa, $100 is like $350" in the United States, and "a $100 grant can really mean a lot."
"You don't have to be a huge foundation to do what we want to do," he said.
Just as Amy was "fiercely committed" to South Africa, her parents said, the foundation will continue working with people there, especially women, who still suffer more severe economic and social hardships than men despite their new voting rights.
Peter Biehl said the South African culture is particularly discriminatory toward women, and "to be a black woman in South Africa is about as low a glass ceiling as one could confront."
Besides continuing Amy's work in South Africa, the foundation will support projects in the United States designed to bring help to those who need it, her parents said. The recipients will probably include some battered women's shelters.
"These kinds of things give us the opportunity to do things Amy would have loved to see done," Biehl said. "We'd rather have Amy here, but since that's not possible, we'd like to be doing this for the rest of our lives."