Building bridges, not walls

Rev. Naomi Tutu, at right, with Kennesaw State's Erik Malewski, chief diversity officer, and…

Georgia (Oct 31, 2014)Rev. Naomi Tutu, right, with Kennesaw State's Erik Malewski, chief diversity officer, and Iyonk Strawn-Valcy, education abroad director  Rev. Naomi Tutu, at right, with Kennesaw State's Erik Malewski, chief diversity officer, and Iyonka Strawn-Valcy, education abroad director


The Rev. Naomi Tutu urges using faith to promote global change

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct. 31, 2014) -- She has unmistakable name recognition even with the younger generation, and her message both challenges and inspires the listener to make the world a better place — a message that clearly has been passed down in her family.

She is the Rev. Naomi Tutu, a celebrated human rights activist just like her Nobel Peace Prize-winning father, retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She brought her message, “The Power of Faith to Promote Global Change,” to the Dr. Bobbie Bailey & Family Performance Center for faculty, staff and students at Kennesaw State University.

The noted author, educator and business owner was invited to give the lecture as part of an event co-sponsored by Kennesaw State’s American Democracy Project, the Institute for Global Initiatives and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Organizers said her appearance and message at the University was timely based on local, regional and world issues that speak to the role faith plays in conflicts between people.

During the hour-long forum, Tutu wove stories of being black and Christian growing up in apartheid South Africa. She said that even though South Africa was declared a Christian nation, it did not translate in how she was treated — “less than human.”

In many ways, she said, the people around her felt her African background and Christian beliefs were a contradiction. It was not until after her 50th birthday that she started examining how her two worlds intertwined.

 “When I turned 50, I did the African tradition of visiting your ancestors’ graves to say, ‘Yeah! I made it to 50,’ and then I went to the church where I was baptized,” she said.

Tutu said her journey of discovery began with her grandmother imparting important life lessons through the sharing of African Proverbs. One of her favorites was: “In a time of flood, the wise build bridges and the foolish build walls.”

She often missed the point because of her “literal mind,” which responded, “If there’s a flood, get out,” she said.

Now she sees the wisdom of reaching out and building allies and relationships in times of crisis and concerns.  She said that is not always easy because people from all faith traditions have been socialized to start with a label and to demonize, oppress and sow violence and hatred amongst those who might be different in race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.

The most radical thing people can do is to reach out to another human being and acknowledge their intrinsic worth, said Tutu, noting that such a bold move creates the opportunity to gain wisdom about the world looking through the lens of another person’s experience.

“The most confident in their faith are the least likely to feel threatened about others,” she said. “They are willing to hear, to talk, to share and to argue, and if necessary, at the worst … to walk away.”

Tutu is currently a graduate student at Vanderbilt University of Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., and continues her work with the PeaceJam Foundation, which seeks to inspire a new generation of peacemakers by connecting high school and college students with Nobel Prize laureates. She said her connection to these influential leaders of different faiths illustrates a model everyone can follow.

“We as individuals are called to connect with other human beings,” she said, pointing out the friendships and relationships among Nobel laureates Shirin Ebadi, The Dalai Lama, Betty Williams and Máiread Corrigan Maguire. She said all these people are confident in their faiths and find a common connection in their desire to make the world a beautiful, healthy and safe place for other human beings today and for those to come.

“The wise build bridges, not walls,” she concluded.

After a standing ovation, Keisha Hoerrner, interim dean of University College and co-chair of the American Democracy Project, said she had the opportunity to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak in the 1980s at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta when she was a college student and experienced a “Tutu transformation moment.”

“It changed the course of my life and I am glad for you all to have the opportunity to have your Tutu transformation moment,” Hoerrner said.


Carla Barnes

Photo by David Caselli



A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit