It saddened my heart to hear of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Dec. 26. Let me give this tribute to the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Anglican cleric whose good humor, inspiring message and conscientious work for civil and human rights made him a revered leader during the struggle to end apartheid in his native South Africa. This is my own personal story.
Under the tutelage of journalist Adrienne Washington, longtime columnist for another newspaper, I and several other community writers got to share articles we had written. It was my pleasure to be one of those selected to write articles. Some of my column topics included the death of Michael Jackson and his religious faith as a Jehovah’s Witness; Buddhism history and traditions; and others. But the article that I will remember forever was a column I wrote for World AIDS Day. The Lord had given me orders to call for an interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Anyone who knows me realizes how challenges gets me going. With excitement, I began to make phone calls to Johannesburg, South Africa, trying to find a way to speak with the archbishop. Long story short, my efforts paid off. When I finally got his secretary on the telephone, after several phone calls and discussions, she said, “The archbishop said God told you to interview him, so he cannot say no to you.”
The archbishop was such a gentle, soft-spoken “man of God.” He answered my questions about how AIDS was so rampant in South Africa, and it was a delight. My column was given the entire page, with a photograph of President Barack Obama placing the Medal of Freedom around his neck, a very special photograph that The Washington Times had added at the top center of my article. When I saw the byline “By Lyndia Grant,” I was filled with pride.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said the churchman’s death marked “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans.” Archbishop Tutu had helped bequeath “a liberated South Africa,” he added.
Tutu was one of the country’s best known figures at home and abroad.
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world,” Ramaphosa said.
For six decades, Tutu — known affectionately as “the Arch” — was one of the primary voices in exhorting the South African government to end apartheid, the country’s official policy of racial segregation. After apartheid ended in the early ’90s and the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela became president of the country, Tutu was named chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation called Tutu’s loss “immeasurable.”
“He was larger than life, and for so many in South Africa and around the world his life has been a blessing,” the foundation said in a statement. “His contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies.”
Tutu’s civil and human rights work led to prominent honors from around the world. Former U.S. President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Obama called Tutu a “mentor, a friend, and a moral compass” in a statement after his death.
“Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere. He never lost his impish sense of humor and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries,” Obama said.
In 2012, Tutu was awarded a $1 million grant by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation for “his lifelong commitment to speaking truth to power.” The following year, he received the Templeton Prize for his “lifelong work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness which has helped to liberate people around the world.”
Most notably, he received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, following in the footsteps of his countryman, Albert Lutuli, who received the prize in 1960.
“His courage and moral clarity helped inspire our commitment to change American policy toward the repressive Apartheid regime in South Africa,” President Joe Biden said in a joint statement with first lady Jill Biden. “His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages.”
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email email@example.com or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.