Homeschool Heroes: Desmond Tutu for Kids

A South African who spoke out against apartheid and is known around the world as a mediator of truth, peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, this Anglican bishop has been a peaceful religious and political leader since the 1970s. Although retired from public life today, the South African contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains a worldwide symbol for freedom and peace. Meet Desmond Tutu:

Moments of Inspiration

Born in 1931 to a school teacher and a school cook in South Africa, Desmond Tutu had a number of strong influences in his life that would later affect his career as a theologian and priest and precipitate his Nobel Peace Prize.

During his childhood, black South Africans were extremely segregated and denied access to most higher education opportunities. But there was a day when Tutu recalled seeing a white priest stop and take off his hat as a sign of respect to Tutu’s mother. That sign of peace, friendship, and dignity from a white man to a black woman made a lasting impact on Desmond and showed him that religion had a role to play in promoting peace and justice.

Tutu did incredibly well in school and, after barely surviving tuberculosis when he was 12, wanted to become a doctor and find a cure for the illness. Although he was accepted to medical school, his family could not pay the tuition and he was forced to consider other options. Instead, he became a school teacher and saw firsthand the inequality in education for black students. It was perhaps the fortuitous financial lack and subsequent stint as a teacher that eventually drove him into the ministry and gave us the Bishop Tutu we know today.

After resigning his teaching post in 1957, Desmond attended seminary in England accepted a post for the Anglican World Council of Churches as the director of a fund for theological education. His passion for equal education and an end to apartheid in South Africa, channeled through his Anglican belief system, led to him being appointed the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975, and later, the first black Bishop of South Africa.

With the leadership role of this position, Tutu advocated peacefully and eloquently for the end of segregation and disenfranchisement of black South Africans. With the religious community behind him in South Africa and throughout the Anglican world, Tutu’s commitment to a non-violent end to apartheid earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and eventually helped in apartheid in 1993.

Tutu originated the phrase “rainbow nation” to describe South Africa as a vibrant, multi-racial, peaceful society. His work as a peace and justice advocate, the head of Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his universal advocacy for education and equality has been his legacy for a generation.

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How to Be an Advocate

As Bishop Desmond Tutu, Gandhi, and Dr. King would all say, you don’t have to make revolution with weapons and war. Changing the system and conquering injustice requires only that we all raise our voices. If you and your kids are concerned about poverty, equal rights, immigration, climate change, or any other contemporary injustice of our day, follow of few of Tutu’s steps for making peaceful change:

Read up on peace. A collection of Tutu’s writings called Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches, is one of his most-read works, and a great way to get in tune with the thoughts of Tutu. As a follow-up, check out a book he collaborated on with his daughter, The Book of Forgiving.  Both justice and forgiveness are the recipe to reconciliation, says Tutu.

For younger kids, who can't quite grasp the meaning behind his written works, pick out a few significant quotes. You can read them together and explore the meaning behind the words through discussion and drawings. Here are a few quotes to get you inspired:

  • Do your little bit of good where you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.
  • I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.
  • A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons.

Talk it out. Whether you’re looking to get involved in a major movement, or your kids just had a dispute with the neighbors, the best way to get to truth and justice is to talk with the people you disagree with. Whether it’s one or one hundred who disagree, the approach is the same. Just look the person in the eye and have a talk. Because we’re all just people.

Connect with others. Join the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and get involved in peace activism based on Tutu’s teachings. You can sponsor a Peace3 Conversation at your kids’ school, in which advocates and academics can help kids solve problems and create change in their own community.

Making Peace and Promoting Justice

The extraordinary life of a peace and justice advocate looks impressive in retrospect, but leaders like Desmond Tutu do not always have a clear path to prominence. Teaching your kids about the lives of important leaders who changed history without being politicians or creating wars is a great way to get them thinking holistically about how every choice in life matters. Whether you’re a small-town priest showing respect to someone who does not have much dignity, or a child standing up to the school bully, every decision matters.

Who are some of your heroes you’d want the kids to look up to, and why? Share with us!

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