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The Rev. Canon Nontombi Naomi Tutu, missioner for racial and economic equity at the Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville, will be the featured speaker at the 117th annual commencement exercises of Barton College at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 11.
The third child of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Nomalizo Leah Tutu, Naomi Tutu witnessed firsthand the challenges her father faced as he opposed the South African apartheid regime. Her father’s efforts were recognized by the world with his Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
The challenges of growing up black and female in apartheid South Africa have been the foundation of Naomi Tutu’s life as an activist for human rights. She shares that those experiences taught her “that our whole human family loses when we accept situations of oppression and how the teaching and preaching hate and division injure us all.”
Douglas N. Searcy, president of Barton College, said he is delighted to have Tutu as commencement speaker.
“The depth and breadth of her international experience, as she has faithfully championed diversity and reconciliation throughout her ministry, provides a unique perspective for her to share with our campus community,” Searcy said.
“Her work informs and inspires us as Barton College continues to respond to the world’s need for educating insightful and ethical leaders. We look forward to her sharing a message of hope and a vision for the future, as she encourages our graduating seniors to use those skills developed during their Barton experience to bring positive change to the world around them.”
While born in South Africa, Naomi Tutu has had the opportunity to live in a number of communities and countries. She was educated in Swaziland, the United States and England, and she has divided her adult life between South Africa and the United States. She earned a diploma in Anglican studies at Virginia Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School, a Master of Arts in international development and development economics at the University of Kentucky with minors in international politics and diplomatic affairs, a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and French at Berea College and a Diplome de Langue et Civilisation Francaises Degre Semestriel at the Universite de Paris, Sorbonne.
Tutu notes that growing up the “daughter of …” has offered many opportunities and challenges in her life. She said perhaps one of the greatest challenges she has struggled with is the call to ministry. From early in her life she would say, “I have my father’s nose, I do not want his job!”
Even as she carried her passion for justice into other fields, the call to preach and serve as an ordained clergyperson continued to tug at her. Finally, in her 50s, she responded to the call and went to seminary.
Tutu’s professional experience ranges from being a development consultant in West Africa to being program coordinator for programs on race and gender and gender-based violence in education at the African Gender Institute at the University of Cape Town. In addition, Tutu has taught at the University of Hartford, the University of Connecticut and Brevard College in North Carolina. She served as program coordinator for the historic Race Relations Institute at Fisk University and was a part of the institute’s delegation to the World Conference Against Racism in Durban.
She started 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 and colleges and universities about her experiences growing up in apartheid South Africa. Since that time, she has become a sought-after speaker.
In addition to her speaking and preaching, Tutu has established Nozizwe Consulting. Nozizwe means Mother of Many Lands in her mother tongue, Xhosa, and is the name she was given by her maternal grandmother. The guiding principle of Nozizwe Consulting is to bring groups together to learn from and celebrate their differences and acknowledge their shared humanity.
As part of this work, she has led truth and reconciliation workshops for groups dealing with conflict. She has also offered educational and partnership trips to South Africa for groups as varied as high schools, churches, hospices, K-12 teachers and women’s associations. These trips emphasize the opportunities to share stories and experiences.
Tutu is the recipient of four honorary doctorates from universities and colleges in the United States and Nigeria. She is an ordained clergy in the Episcopal Church. Tutu is the single mother of two daughters and a son.