ATLANTA – A gala tribute Wednesday to honor the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a pageant of song, praise, and dance that also included a surprise.
The presidents of Emory University and Clark Atlanta University announced a new program to continue Tutu’s life’s work in the city he called his “second home.”
The Archbishop Desmond Tutu Legacy Program will be operated jointly at Emory’s Candler School of Theology and Clark Atlanta’s W.E.B. Du Bois Center.
Details of the partnership are still being finalized, but both presidents said each institution will draw upon its strengths. At Candler, faculty and students will interface with communities. Clark Atlanta will do research.
“This legacy program in honor of Bishop Tutu is to bring two centers, one at Clark Atlanta, W.E.B. Du Bios Center, and the Justice, Peacebuilding, and Conflict Transformation program in the Candler school together for joint study, graduate student experiences, and thinking about the future,” said Emory President Gregory Fenvess.
Clark Atlanta President George French said the two institutions are committed to funding a long-term collaboration that will “look to tackle the social justice issues of our community between these two institutions.”
“We’re looking to raise quite substantial funds. We have an overall goal, an aspirational goal, of $1.3 million to kick off the program,” French said.
Tribute organizer Carl Ware said the Clark Atlanta-Emory partnership will be ground-breaking.
“This is unique as it is the first partnership between Emory University and Clark Atlanta University and will create a lasting legacy in education and preparation for those who will follow his teaching of reconciliation and restorative social justice,” Ware said.
Ware, then a senior Coca-Cola executive, and Tutu made history in the mid-80s when they persuaded the Atlanta-based company to divest its assets from South Africa until apartheid ended, and said the alliance will manifest itself as “scholarships, fellowships, teachings, exchanges, and a true partnership, the first between the two historical Atlanta institutions.”
The event included tributes from global civic and religious leaders and musical performances by Morehouse, Clark Atlanta, and Candler students as well as the South African Ndlovu Youth Choir.
But the Rev. Naomi Tutu, one of the Archbishop’s four children, said the most poignant moments for her were the tributes by Atlantans who knew and loved her father.
“It was very moving for me to hear the tributes to my dad. Having spent time with him when he was here in Atlanta and knowing how much he really did feel that this city was a second home,” Rev. Tutu said.
“And it is really wonderful that this wasn’t going to be just an event to memorialize daddy, but to speak about what we can do to continue this work for justice and peace in our world.”
Tutu lived in Atlanta when he was a Visiting Professor at the Candler School of Theology from 1991-1992 and again from 1998-2000. The Nobel Prize Laureate died on December 26, 2021, in Cape Town, South Africa at the age of 90.
Rev. Tutu, a priest at Atlanta’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church, praised the two universities for creating an ongoing program.
“To have this partnership between two historic universities here in Atlanta – Emory which is a predominantly white institution and Clark Atlanta, a historically black university – is exactly the kind of work that would have, as daddy loved to say, warm the cockles of his heart. That this idea of coming together as institutions from different backgrounds, but remembering our shared humanity, and building on the legacy for generations to come.”
Andrew Young, a former mayor of Atlanta, Ambassador to the United Nations, and civil rights icon, said Archbishop Tutu was unlike any religious leader he has known.
“I’ve known– I might have known 25 or 30 Bishops. 10 Archbishop’s maybe,” Young said, “but none was like Desmond Tutu in the sense that, he explored the power of joy and humility.”
“I mean, how he would laugh and joke, not only in the midst of the suffering of the people, but when he had cancer and his own suffering he was just as humorous about that. And so, his familiarity with death, as part of life, was one of the reasons why he could remain joyful in the midst of all of that suffering. And he made other people laugh. He wouldn’t let us feel sorry for ourselves.”
Sue Haupert-Johnson, Bishop of the United Methodist Church in North Georgia and a member of the event planning team said Atlanta needs to double down on its motto.
“Atlanta has always been known as the city too busy to hate. And it prided itself on that. [But] Atlanta needs to get busier because the hatred has crept in. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I am inundated by political ads, day in and day out. And the level of hatred, the level of vitriol, the level of pitting us against them, the divisiveness, it just needs to stop. It’s tearing us all apart.
I happen to believe that God created us all and we have more in common than we do that divides us,” Haupert-Johnson said. “Why don’t we focus on what unites us, what we value, the well-being of our children, the well-being of our communities, and live into a better way. And I think Desmond Tutu reminds us that is the point.”
Sam Nunn, who served for 24 years as United States Senator from Georgia, was among those attending the tribute. He said for him, Tutu was a beacon of hope.
“Bishop Tutu was a very special person,” Nunn said. “I knew him for years. Every time I was with him, whether it was in the United States or South Africa or elsewhere, I came away feeling inspired. I came away feeling that the world had hope. I came away feeling that even in despair, you can retain your dignity and sense of humor. Bishop Tutu was a wonderful, wonderful leader. And an inspiration to mankind.”
Nunn said Tutu’s life is an example of how to break the nation’s current atmosphere of hate.
“Talk to each other, respect each other, treat each other with dignity. Disagree when you need to but do it with civility and do it with humor and do it with grace. That’s what Bishop Tutu showed us by example,” the 84-year-old former senator said.
The Rev. Lynne Washington, priest in charge at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Atlanta, said that the speakers “reinspired” her.
“Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood and I had posted a picture of Archbishop Tutu and I at Bishops Court in South Africa,” Washington said. “I wasn’t going to come today, but the Holy Spirit said, ‘Come, go.’ And I could not be happier that I came because it has reinspired me.”
Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry said he changed his schedule in order to attend the event where he issued the call to action during the tribute.
“When [Atlanta Episcopal] Bishop [Rob] Wright asked me to come and explained that the occasion was to commemorate Archbishop Tutu’s birthday, not simply as a birthday party, but as a recommitment, rededication to the work that Archbishop Tutu engaged in, I said, I have to come. And so, I rearranged my schedule to be able to be here because the work goes on. The work of following in the footsteps of Jesus in the way of love and justice and compassion and equality for all people. That is the work of the gospel. And that’s what Archbishop Tutu was about. And we must continue that work in our time and in our lives.”
Curry said people everywhere can and should become involved in carrying on the legacy of Archbishop Tutu.
“None of us can do everything, but everybody can do something. And if we do it by following in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, then we will make a difference. Remember, Jesus only started out with 12 and changed the world. And with the power of the Spirit that helped him do that we can do the same in our time here in the Diocese of Atlanta, in the Episcopal Church, in this country, and in this world.”
Noting that next week is Atlanta’s annual Pride Week, Curry said that Archbishop Tutu was concerned for LGBTQ people.
“Well, you know, it is part of his legacy. I heard him preach a sermon on John 12:32 where Jesus says, ‘When I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all people unto me.’ He said, that means all people. Gay and straight, trans, all people. Conservative and liberal, all people. Black and white, brown, all people. When Jesus is lifted up, when God is lifted up, it draws the human family together. And that’s God’s dream and vision for the human family.”
Bishop Wright, who oversees the 117 worshiping communities of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, recalled the first time he met Tutu.
“I met him at Emory University many years ago, I brought busloads of people to meet him.
All the important people had joined us there, but he spent the majority of his time with the youngest among us. They sensed some kind of magnetic warmth and acceptance in him.
He laughed on and on. And we, the important people, learned something that day about quiet, genuine greatness,” Wright recalled.