Of Bishop Desmond Tutu

Last Friday, Callie Crossley, the Nieman Program’s Seminar Program Manager, left us a cryptic message. “There is a possibility that next Tuesday (November 18) evening you MAY have a chance to interact with someone pretty special.” Notice the MAY is capitalized. We all spent the weekend speculating – Barack? Michelle? Condi Rice? Bill Russell. Several of us had plans Tuesday night. Chris Vognar, Alfredo and I had plans to attend an event at the Kirkland House, the Harvard dorm we are assigned to. I had been looking forward to it for a while, since I want to become fully involved in the House. (I’ll explain the House system later.) By Tuesday morning we heard nothing from Callie, so I made mental plans to go to Kirkland. At 11:15, Bob Giles, the Nieman Curator sent us a note, informing us who the mystery guest would be, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the South African cleric and activist who so valiantly fought against apartheid in the 1980s. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. I can’t recall ever seeing Bishop Tutu speak in person and I definitely have never met him. So I was excited. So was everyone else in the class. We all seemed kind of blown away at the resources and dignitaries who swing through Harvard and the Nieman program on the regular basis. The visit was programmed and set up like one of our regular weekly seminars, but we actually went to his hotel to meet him. A mini road trip from Cambridge to Boston. When he entered the small ballroom/dining room for the meeting, he was so full of grace. Dressed modestly in black, with a simple black sweater, he smiled and greeted all of us. He had an extensive conversation with Thabo, our South African Fellow. (Interestingly, South Africans represent the largest segment of the Nieman Program’s International alums). He spoke for about 30 minutes about his perceptions of journalism and his relationship with the media. He talked about Obama. The War. Mandela. He answered questions for another 30 minutes, giving us deep insight with a touch of humor. (Again, these are off the record, so no details.) You might notice there is no picture of Tutu and me on this posting. For the first time all year, I didn’t have my camera. Don’t ask. So today’s photo is courtesy of my buddy Carla Broyles of the Washington Post. After Tutu left and we gathered ourselves together to get ready to go, I slipped out of the room for a quick tour of the hotel. Tutu was in one of the corridors of the hotel. A group of Africans, perhaps tipped off that he was staying at the hotel, stopped him for a quick chat and laugh. I made eye contact with him and thanked him once again for speaking to the Niemans. I reached out to shake his hand and instead of a standard shake, Bishop Desmond Tutu gave me a Soul Shake. Brothers know what I am talking about. What can be better than that? Thanks Callie, you hooked it up.

Bishop Tutu, surrounded by the current Nieman Class. Callie Crossley, (far left in red), was the mastermind behind the visit.

Bishop Tutu, surrounded by the current Nieman Class. Callie Crossley, (far left in red), was the mastermind behind the visit.


Published on November 19, 2008 at 8:26 am  Leave a Comment  

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