A crowd of more than 15,000 gathered at Tacoma Dome May 13 to hear world-renowned human rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s message of hope in his highly anticipated speaking engagement during the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation’s (GTCF) Be the Spark event. Tutu’s stop in Tacoma is said to be the 79-year-old’s final United States appearance before he retires.
For the past year GTCF, along with PLU, University of Puget Sound and other local organizations, have worked to spark hope in the community by inspiring youth to reach out and share their talents and abilities with the world. Since the announcement of Tutu’s appearance in Tacoma was made, 160 local educators have attended training sessions on South Africa and Desmond Tutu, bringing the curriculum back into their classrooms.
Community support from a variety of organizations allowed 4,000 students from seven school districts to receive scholarship tickets to the event.
During his speech, Tutu reaffirmed that the masses can indeed be the sparks for change in their communities. Although he has become a worldwide figure of peace and justice, his message on Friday was a call for each person to use their own individual talents to “do your own little bit of good,” Tutu said.
“God weeps, and then looks and sees Tacoma, and God sees sparks.”
A LEGACY OF PEACE
Winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, Tutu is most well known as an outspoken advocate for ending apartheid in South Africa.
Born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, Tutu studied at Johannesburg Bantu High School. After leaving school, he trained first as a teacher at Pretoria Bantu Normal College and in 1954 he graduated from the University of South Africa.
After three years as a high school teacher, Tutu began to study theology and was ordained as a priest in 1960. The years 1962-66 were devoted to further theological study in England leading up to a Master of Theology. From 1967 to 1972 he taught theology in South Africa before returning to England for three years as the assistant director of a theological institute in London.
In 1975, Tutu was appointed Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg, the first African to hold that position. From 1976-1978 he was Bishop of Lesotho, and in 1978 became the first African General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. Tutu also holds honorary doctoral degrees from several universities in the United States, Britain and Germany.
Throughout his career as a clergyman, Tutu’s conviction to bring equality and civil rights to all people has remained a beacon of hope to people all over the world who, like him, continue to work for peace.
At Be the Spark, Tutu spoke about the partnership between God and humans, and how people had a unique responsibility to make the world a better place.
“As soon as humans arrived on the scene, God decided he no longer had to do things without the help of a partner,” Tutu said. “When there are oppressors, God didn’t zap them with a lighting bolt. He waited for his human partners,” Tutu said.
He noted that the world is not as it should be
“We spend trillions on instruments of death and destruction, and a minute amount on ensuring God’s children everywhere have clean water to drink and food to eat.”
He reminded the audience that people don’t need to do “spectacular things to make a difference,” and that working together can bring about significant change.
“If that hungry person is to be fed, all of us have to provide God with bread so he can perform the miracle of feeding them.”
Tutu pointed to the atrocities of 9/11, along with the world’s corruption, poverty and ongoing wars, and called for people to become “human partners” with God in order to make powerful changes.
Although he said there is nothing to say in the defense of Osama bin Laden, celebrating in the death of any human being is destructive to the cause of peace.
“Can you imagine what God feels when he sees his children celebrating the death of another of his children,” he asked. “But, when God looks to his people here, he sees the spark of people making the world a more compassionate, a more caring place to be, and he smiles.”
The Be the Spark event included appearances by Governor Chris Gregoire, and performances by “America’s Best Dance Crew” season 3 winner Quest Crew, progressive rock band Ben Union, Pacific Lutheran University students and musicians Charlie Herrmann and Susan Keyl, gospel singer Crystal Aiken and a cappella group PLUtonic.
The audience also heard from youth activist Craig Kielburger who, at 12 years old, founded Free the Children, after reading a headline about a young boy in Pakistan who was murdered for speaking out against child labor.
“This made me so angry that I knew I had to do something,” Kielburger said. “I stood in front of my friends and said ‘I don’t know what, but I have to do something about this.’ Eleven other friends raised their hands and that was the beginning on Free the Children.”
Kielburger’s charity has since helped build more than 650 schools around the world. Kielburger, now 28, called for youth in the community to find their own passions, pursue them, and spread their own messages.