June 2, 2023

Nontombi Naomi Tutu to Keynote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m., Dodd Auditorium, reception to follow in Trinkle Hall Rotunda.

The challenges of growing up black and female in apartheid South Africa led Naomi Tutu to her present role as an activist for human rights. Her experiences have taught her how much we all lose when any of us is judged purely on physical attributes. The third child of Archbishop Desmond and Nomalizo Leah Tutu, Naomi Tutu was born in South Africa and has also lived in Lesotho, the United Kingdom, and the United States. She was educated in Swaziland, the U.S., and England, and she has divided her adult life between South Africa and the U.S. Growing up the “daughter of” has offered her many opportunities and challenges. Most important of these has been the challenge to find her own place in the world. She has taken up the challenge and channeled the opportunities that she has been given to raise her voice as a champion for the dignity of all.

Tutu has served as a development consultant in West Africa and a program coordinator for programs on race, gender, and gender-based violence in education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. She has also taught at the universities of Hartford and Connecticut and at Brevard College. Tutu began her public speaking as a college student at Berea College in Kentucky in the 1970s when she was invited to speak at churches, community groups, colleges, and universities about her experiences growing up in apartheid South Africa. Since that time she has become a much sought after speaker for groups as varied as business associations, professional conferences, meetings of elected officials, and church and civic organizations. In her speeches she blends the passion for human dignity with humor and personal stories.

Tutu has also led truth and reconciliation workshops for groups dealing with different types of conflict. Together with Rose Bator she presents a workshop titled “Building Bridges: Dealing with Issues of Race and Racism.” The two also lead women’s retreats through their organization Sister Sojourner. They are also writing a book, I Don’t Think of You as Black: Honest Conversations on Race and Racism.

Tutu is a consultant for two organizations that reflect the breadth of her involvement in issues of human rights, including the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence, founded by renowned author Riane Eisler, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Betty Williams, and the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In this empowering keynote speech, Naomi Tutu combines Dr. King’s dream of the “Beloved Community” with the teachings of a South African proverb, speaking to the need to understand how our actions – or inactions – affect ourselves and all with whom we come into contact. Rather than focus on what separates us, Tutu encourages us to focus on our shared humanity in order to build a just world. Both the “Beloved Community” and the proverb share an underlying theme: the importance of not dehumanizing those with whom we are in conflict and instead concentrating on what we have the power to change.

The Celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will also include a week-long community service challenge at UMW. All students, faculty, and staff members will be charged with serving the greater Fredericksburg community.

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.