The Collegian
Friday, June 09, 2023

Rev. Canon Nontombi, daughter of Desmond Tutu, speaks about race and faith

<p>The Rev. Canon Nontombi Naoimi Tutu, a human rights activist and the daughter of Desmond Tutu, spoke on "Race, Religion, and Politics in an Age of Extremes."</p>

The Rev. Canon Nontombi Naoimi Tutu, a human rights activist and the daughter of Desmond Tutu, spoke on "Race, Religion, and Politics in an Age of Extremes."

If you are a Christian, there is no way you can be preaching hate, the Rev. Canon Nontombi Naomi Tutu, a human rights activist and the daughter of Desmond Tutu, told her audience Thursday night in Camp Concert Hall at the Modlin Center for the Arts. 

The Rev. Nontombi spoke with Corey D. B. Walker, a visiting professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, at a public conversation on “Race, Religion, and Politics in an Age of Extremes.” 

The event was part of the Wyatt Tee Walker and The Politics of Black Religion Symposium, which is sponsored by the School of Arts & Sciences as well as the University of Virginia’s Democracy Lab. 

“What does it mean to be faith leaders in a time when our faith is being used as a weapon to kill?” Tutu asked her audience. “People using faith to oppress and dehumanize isn’t new. It is in forging together that we find any change happening.” 

Tutu addressed divisions within communities of color and barriers to building bonds of solidarity in today’s age of extremes. She found hope from black religious and political activists like the late Dr. Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, who donated his collection of civil rights materials to the University of Richmond in 2016 and was known for speaking about the connection between the African American struggle and the apartheid struggle. 

“The hope is that we come from a tradition of preachers like Rev. Walker and Rev. King, who speak of a God that created everyone in her image and sees herself in each one of us," Tutu said. "And they preach on a daily basis, they preach like that on the pulpit, they preach like that on the street, they preach like that in prison cells, they preach like that at hospital beds — they preach their lives around a god who is the god of liberation.”

Tutu recalled her childhood in apartheid South Africa and teenage years in Kentucky. Tutu noticed a telling tension at her school between the Black Student Union and the African Student Association. 

“People were not interested in the connections between our struggles,” Tutu said. “But this important division was emblematic of a larger divide. Part of our struggle is about telling our own stories to each other.”

In response to a question from Walker on how we can build bonds of solidarity in this particular moment, Tutu said all people, with an emphasis on black faith leaders, need to work together and build coalitions. 

“If we are going to get anything it will come from combined work, not from being divided and conquered once more," Tutu said.

After Walker finished asking questions, Tutu took questions from the crowd. 

Junior Kayla Corbin asked Tutu what her opinion was on a younger generation getting involved in church in new ways which ignore older respectability politics.

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Tutu responded that she was inspired by the leadership and challenges that young people bring to the table. 

“We are on a path towards full liberation," Tutu said. "We can embrace that path publicly and allow young people to join.”

After the lecture, Corbin reflected on the event.

“I am on the committee to bring Africana studies to Richmond and events like this really galvanize our work and push me to want these conversations on a daily basis," she said. "We need to have them, and we deserve to have them."

Senior Rena Xiao was inspired by Tutu’s ideas on inclusivity. 

“She had a forward-thinking mind and openness to everyone. I think that is a message the school really needs right now," Xiao said. "Being stuck in old ways hurts everyone.”

Contact news writer Heather Neiman at

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