Human rights activist Naomi Tutu sees hope in restorative justice, reparations

Naomi Tutu, the daughter of Desmond Tutu, is also ordained in the Episcopal Church. (Photo courtesy of YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish)

Human rights activist Rev. Naomi Tutu is coming to the Seattle area with a message of hope.

“What I tell people is that we are unlikely in this country to experience a national program such as we’re seeing in South Africa, but that communities can take the lead in making their communities more just and using a restorative justice model,” said Tutu, who will be in Everett on April 18 to give the keynote for the YWCA Seattle King Snohomish’s Inspire Luncheon.

Tutu’s father, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Desmond Tutu, headed a national restorative justice campaign as the chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission was started in 1996, just two years after the end of the decades of apartheid that oppressed the country’s black citizens.

Naomi Tutu said one example of a community taking on restorative justice is the Greensboro, North Carolina’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It was established in 2004, decades after a 1979 shootout between protestors, the police, the Ku Klux Klan and a neo-Nazi group after a “Death to the Klan” march. Four people were killed and several more injured.

The North Carolina commission modeled their process after the process used by her father in South Africa. It brought together all the stakeholders including the local government, the police, people who were part of the march and or lost loved ones to hear each others stories and experiences of that day.

“I think that that is the first step to restorative justice is a willingness to hear the stories, to speak, to tell your story, but to listen to the story that comes from another perspective, from those who are ‘on the other side,’ if you like,” Tutu said. “Because if we can bring ourselves to recognize fully the humanity of our neighbor, then we can start the process of restorative justice.”

Her vision of equality and equity also ties in with her support for the YWCA Seattle King Snohomish’s work on the global and local level.

“I’m hoping to encourage people to support the work of the YWCA globally, but also locally,” said Tutu, adding, “globally in terms of their commitment to the empowerment of women and the elimination of racism and locally especially in terms of their work around the economic empowerment of women in that community and their support for women experiencing gender based violence.”

Tutu has lived in Nashville for the past 19 years. For her, growing up in South Africa was both fraught with oppression and also with a spirit of love, perseverance and transformation.

She was recently ordained in  the Episcopal Church, following in the footsteps of her father, who was the first black man to serve as the Bishop of Johannesburg and the Archbishop of Cape Town during South Africa’s apartheid era.

As he made his way up the ranks of the Anglican Church of South Africa in the 1960s through 1980s, he continually spoke out against the injustices faced by his fellow black South Africans.

This history has left Naomi Tutu with an important legacy. She acknowledged the blessing and the challenge of her lineage and being known not only for her own work, but for her family ties.

“I feel that I carry the legacy of both my parents, and also the legacy of my grandparents and the legacy in fact of the community that raised me,” Tutu said.

Tutu is the divorced mother of three: Joy who lives in South Africa, Mugi who is currently working on a national campaign to combat Islamophobia, and Mpilo, a college student in Central College in Kentucky. In addition to public speaking Tutu helped to create Nozizwe Consulting in Zaire.

But her primary work is with her church.

“I intend to continue in my responsibility to the church, one to serve the church, but also to call the church into being the church that God intended us to be, a church that works for God’s kingdom, that works for justice, that works for mercy, that works to bring all of God’s creation into a place of wholeness and wellness and caring.”

The Episcopal church has had many conversations about its role in the transatlantic slave trade and if and how reparations can be made.

“What reparations would look like in the context of the church I’m not sure,” Tutu said. “But what reparations I think would look like in the context of the nation is an acknowledgement first of all that economic ill has been suffered by black people in this country first of all through slavery and then through Jim Crow and through the cradle to prison pipeline, through continuing segregation, through education and opportunities and that I think that part of the reason that people are talking about reparations are that with reparations — as opposed to affirmative action — you are talking about justice.”

Reparations right injustices, Tutu said, as opposed to affirmative action, which she compared to charity.

“The thing about charity in our context is that when the person who is giving the charity gets tired of being charitable they can stop the charity at any time or change who they are charitable towards.”

It is not charity, but rather justice and sustainable transformation that Tutu hopes to encourage.

“I hope that my legacy will be the same as the legacy of those who have come before me, that I will encourage others to believe that the struggle for human rights is a worthwhile struggle, is an important struggle that holds us all to work for a more just world,”  she said.

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