Rev Nontombi Naomi Tutu visits McDaniel for inaugural Black History Month Convocation

(photo courtesy of McDaniel College)

“This is not the end of our story,”  the hopeful message echoed in WMC Alumni Hall for McDaniel College’s inaugural Black History Month Convocation.

Arriving back from South Africa just the Friday prior, Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu joined McDaniel on the evening of Wednesday, Feb. 16 to deliver an empowering message of hope and humanity. The event was open to the public to attend and live streamed via Zoom. She was welcomed by opening remarks from McDaniel College President Julia Jasken and introduced by Richard M. Smith, associate provost for equity and belonging at McDaniel. 

During her speech, Rev. Tutu shared how her experiences growing up in apartheid South Africa inspired her to advocate for human rights and fight systemic forms of oppression. Apartheid sanctioned the political and economic discriminaiton of South Africa’s nonwhite majority. People and communities protested and rallied against the institutionalized racial segregation

“I saw so many courageous people during apartheid,” she said. “I held onto ‘this is not the end of our story,’ as we went from state-of-emergency, to state-of-emergency, to state-of-emergency.”

People died at the hands of police, activists were tortured and young people fleed, but Rev. Tutu noted “as one fell, others stepped up” to continue the fight.

Tutu went on to explain the role of systemic racism in American culture, urging the audience not to hide from our history and encouraging them to step up to fight for inclusive and just communities and “a humanity that recognizes I cannot be free unless you are free.”

In an interview following her speech and a lively Q&A session with Smith, I asked Rev. Tutu questions about young activism on campus.

As advice for young activists, Rev. Tutu emphasizes the importance of finding a movement you are passionate about because you will meet resistance, and “make sure you have a cohort of people around you that are as passionate as you” to remind you of your worth and passion.

For bringing that group of people together, Rev. Tutu recognizes that it’s hard to get students involved, but once you do, they will go all out. She recommends looking at lots of different ways of getting the message across by  helping people understand why you are passionate, thinking outside of the box and offering people opportunities that will excite them.

She directs activists to acknowledge there will be some times where you will be frustrated and tired.  When exhaustion does hit, “acknowledge: this sucks, I’m tired, I need a break.” 

She added, to emphasize the importance of self-care, “if you are burnt out and tired, the movement is not going anywhere.”

Particularly for women, who, even in justice movements, are often expected to sacrifice their own care and take care of the group, she highlighted the necessity of cultivating time for rest.

In the face of intersecting justice movements and the work ahead, Rev. Tutu stressed the mindset “I’m not failing because I’m frustrated,” and, of course, the resonating mantra that

“This is not the end of our story.”