Friday, February 26, 2010

Vol State students hear message of reconciliation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On February 22, a group of Vol State students journeyed to Murray, Kentucky to hear the message of reconciliation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In support of its mission to “internationalize the curriculum,” the International Education Committee of Vol State committed funds and time to transport the group to Murray State University. They heard Tutu, the retired Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa speak for over an hour on the topic of reconciliation and harmony. He expounded on human interpersonal relationships, whether it is between spouses or individuals of diametrically opposing political viewpoints (e.g. black South Africans vs. white supporters of apartheid).

Tutu briefly mentioned in his opening comments the recent historic commemorations in his native country. The noteworthy events were twofold: the release of Nelson Mandela from prison (11 February 1990) and the legalization of apartheid opposition parties by then president of South Africa, F.W. deKlerk. Reconciliation by African National Congress (ANC) members paved the way for universal elections in 1994 – when Mandela was elected president – without widespread retribution and reprisals by blacks against whites. Tutu noted that many blacks had reason to take revenge on whites because of the murders perpetuated by them with tacit government support. And although some violence did occur, Mandela, Tutu and others spoke to harmony and a general amnesty. They knew a new South Africa could not be born if the new leaders of the “Rainbow Nation” kept fighting old battles.
Tutu also spoke about international issues such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting them as “illegal and immoral,” and the continued tit-for-tat violence between the Israelis and Palestinians. At this mention, approval poured forth from the crowd in the form of applause.
Tutu also related the story of Amy Biehl, an American working to register voters in South Africa for the coming election. At this time in South Africa (1993) there were still many blacks who held anti-white views. These radicals had a saying, “One settler, one bullet.” This meant that they wanted to remove whites from the new South Africa, even if it meant they had to kill them. Amy Biehl, unfortunately, was in the line of fire. While traveling with three black friends, her car was stopped and she was beaten and stabbed to death. As Tutu pointed out, it might strike someone as odd that Biehl’s parents would want to meet with the perpetrators, not to condemn them but to forgive them. Tutu stated that Biehl’s parents could have coupled their loss with revenge, but that would of course waste their lives as well. Instead, he noted that her parents started the Amy Biehl Foundation to develop political prisoner rehabilitation programs, literacy training and instruction in job skills. The Foundation now employs some of Amy’s killers.
In the end, Tutu’s message was for today’s youth to love one another, to be idealistic and to dream big. He didn’t want us to continue to be intolerant and sow the seeds of hatred in the form of racism, homophobia and religious violence. I believe that message came through loud and clear for those in Murray State’s Regional Special Events Center. Hopefully, this message will reverberate in a new generation and around the world. Change is within us all, and to quote the Archbishop: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

-- Keith M. Bell, associate professor
Pictured left to right: Vol State students Adam Johnson, John Clark, Amber Bond, Rachel Sexton and Maggie Homolya. The dais in the background is where Tutu gave his speech. [Photo credit: Keith Bell]

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