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October 6, 2015

Striving for Ubuntu

“Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, ‘Yu, u nobunto’; ‘Hey so-and-so has ubuntu.’ Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, ‘My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life.” – Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness.

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June 24, 2015

Brian Rusch appointed Executive Director of Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation

NEW YORK, June 24, 2015  — The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation (DTPF) announced today the appointment of Brian Rusch as the new Executive Director of the foundation. As Executive Director, Rusch will helm Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu’s only foundation based in the United States, whose mission is to inspire young people to build a world of peace within themselves, peace between people, and peace among nations.

Brian Rusch

“We are thrilled to have Brian Rusch join us,” says DTPF president Robert V. Taylor. “His hands-on work with global peacemakers like the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, together with his remarkable skills, combine to provide him with unique insight and wisdom to work with the foundation.”

Rusch’s first initiative will be to launch Peace3, an ambitious three-year campaign to build a network of one million 17-22 year-old peace builders.

“We look forward to the implementation of Peace3 as Brian joins the team,” says Rev. Mpho Tutu, Executive Director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation. “May we magnify one another’s voices in spreading Ubuntu and creating a new generation of young peacemakers.” The philosophy of Ubuntu, or that “we are all connected and what affects one of us affects us all” guides the foundation.

Prior to working at DTPF, Rusch was the Deputy Director of The Dalai Lama Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting the development of shared global capacity for ethics and peace based on a non-dogmatic ethic of compassion, and was the COO of Project Happiness, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit dedicated to teaching social and emotional learning to young adults.

“It is an honor for me to join The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. With recent events from Myanmar to Charleston, it is apparent that the work of the foundation is needed now, more than ever,” Rusch said. “Archbishop Tutu’s teachings and his life can serve as a template for us to shape conversations on peace, equality and forgiveness.”

Archbishop Tutu added, “I would like to offer my congratulations to the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation on hiring Brian Rusch as the new Executive Director.  May God bless you in your work.”

June 1, 2015

Robert V. Taylor: Peace Within through Ubuntu

The work of peace-making always includes being grounded in your own inner peace. At The Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation we provide tools for young people to create what we call Peace3 or peace to the third power: peace within, between and among people. They’re all inter-connected and essential in creating lives of well-being.  Peace and well-being within your own life is the foundation for contributing to peace between the people in your community or country and among the diverse global human family.

In 2015-16, the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation is focused on the first part of the campaign, Peace Within – how cultivating one’s inner peace lays the foundation for peace in all aspects of one’s life. We will be sharing personal stories from luminaries, celebrities and unsung heroes as to how they achieve inner peace, and how it empowers them in their day to day existence.

When examining peace for myself, I often think of the transformative power of the African wisdom tradition of “Ubuntu”. Ubuntu says that a person is only a person in the context of others. In other words we need one another in order to each discover our magnificence and allow it to shine by what we do with our lives. It is a way of life that acknowledges that every person is of infinite value. It replaces fear and distrust of others with an expectancy, curiosity and celebration of them.

Living a life of Ubuntu is a way of active engagement with the world. It means that whenever the magnificence of others is confined, scorned or dismissed you intuitively join with others in actively seeking to expand our consciousness of what it means to be human.

This affirmation of the dignity of each person often involves the pursuit of justice so that the magnificence and well-being of all can be celebrated. It is ultimately a joyful way of life.

Here are three practices by which this Ubuntu way of life finds expression in creating peace within so that we can also create peace between and among peoples.

1.     Be attentive to those around you. In the bustle of daily life it is common to take those around you for granted as a known quantity. You may admire, tolerate or be dismayed at people for qualities or behaviors they display. Those who dismay or anger you will drain your energy if you cede them that power. Your bandwidth for engaging with others is a limited and precious resource. The choices of whom to surround yourself with will either detract or enliven your vow.

Mindfully choose those whose lives exhibit well-being for themselves and others. Create time to be in conversation with them. Glean from them their truths and discoveries about living in peace. The magnificence of your mutual quest for living in peace will radiate beyond the borders of your own life creating a rippling effect in the world.

2. Own your cluttered conversations. The things that clutter our lives are not necessarily bad but they distract and detract us from the path to well-being. Old story lines and conversations that rattle around inside of us are a pernicious clutter because of their toxicity. You need to own their existence before you can detach and set yourself free from them.

These are the conversations that undermine you by keeping you ensnared in their hurt, pain, betrayal and fear. They undermine and detract you from knowing that living in peace is possible. Name them and detach from them by offering them to the care of the Universe.  It is a toxic cleanse for your well-being. Choose instead to pay attention to the comments and conversations that express a desire for your highest good.

3. Forgive instead of paying back. When you are unable to forgive someone you harm yourself by allowing part of your life to be occupied by an egregious person. The one who harmed you through a previous act gives little thought to you or what they did. Instead it is you who choose to be a victim of the past. To forgive does not mean forgetting but it does mean not seeking payback. It is a choice to be free.

I ran into someone who had led a malicious agenda against me that disrupted my life in unexpected ways. Years ago I had chosen to forgive him and my life opened to new possibilities. But there he was professing to not know me. The unexpected encounter brought back memories of a traumatic experience. Would I allow him to reoccupy my life? I was reminded that the choice to forgive often presents itself repeatedly. Forgiving is a choice to be free.

With these practices for peace within and the desire to live a life of Ubuntu, you turn your back on settling for serial moments of peace and instead choose a way of life in which to ground your work in making the world a more hopeful and just place.


About the Author

Robert V. Taylor has dedicated his life to helping individuals and organizations live beyond their limitations. He challenges leaders to live beyond the fears and self-assessments that hold them hostage. Robert is the voice of a generation empowered by the potential of living beyond the restrictions of labels. He is passionate about helping people find a deeper connection to themselves and the world at large. Author of “A New Way to Be Human,” Robert shares his own struggles and global journeys as an example of what is possible when we all live beyond labels.

As an internationally known speaker, author and media commentator, Robert is an engaging and compelling communicator of values, leadership and ethics. He is a frequent speaker for professional organizations, conferences and non-profit groups worldwide.

Robert is Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York, and serves on the Board of the Endowment for Equal Justice. He was Founding Chair of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County WA and an organizer of Seeds of Compassion. 

He is a native of Cape Town, South Africa. Robert lives in Seattle and on a farm in rural Eastern Washington.

Visit www.robertvtaylor.com

May 29, 2015

Can America Heal After Ferguson? A discussion with Archbishop Tutu and Mpho Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is perhaps the closest thing the world has to an expert on forgiveness. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he led the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was charged with healing the wounds inflicted by generations of institutionalized racism.

His work helped South Africa transition from an apartheid state to a multiracial democracy. In the process, Tutu and the Commission considered more than 7,000 applications for amnesty, acting on the idea that everyone deserves the chance to walk the road of redemption.

Tutu remains widely sought after for his wisdom, particularly as countries around the world attempt to use the process of truth and reconciliation to heal from their own legacies of conflict and hurt. He and his daughter the Rev. Mpho Tutu recently released their Book of Forgiving, a guide for both perpetrators and victims of violence to embrace their mutual humanity and learn how to forgive, and how to be forgiven.

For the Summer 2015 issue of YES! Magazine, titled “Make It Right,” Desmond and Mpho Tutu were interviewed by YES! Editor in Chief Sarah van Gelder and contributor Fania Davis, a civil rights attorney and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth.

Click here for the full YES! Magazine interview with Archbishop and Mpho Tutu.

April 29, 2015

What is “Ubuntu”?

Our work at the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation is grounded in the South African philosophy of “ubuntu”. Many of you have asked of us, “what does ubuntu mean?” In the following video, Reverend Mpho Tutu, youngest daughter of the Archbishop and ED of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, explains.


September 14, 2014

Petersburg, Virginia Dedication of Historical Marker is Ubuntu in Action

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
~ Desmond Tutu

This is a story of how the inspiration to act on an epiphany experienced many years ago emerged as a fully formed symbol of Ubuntu in Petersburg, Virginia in this 14th year of the 21st Century.  Some might choose to see the hand of “divine providence” intervening to ensure a successful outcome.  But first, we will set the scene in the context of the mid-20th Century.

The story reminds Americans that overt racial segregation was a fact of life in public schools until the 1954 landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education case in Topeka, Kansas, which struck down segregation in public schools as “inherently unequal” based on the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which guarantees all citizens equal protection under the law.  In 1954, 17 states and the District of Columbia had laws that required elementary schools to be segregated and four states had laws “permitting” segregation but did not generally enforce them.  In 1956, the U.S. Supreme Court extended its prohibition of segregation to include state-supported colleges and universities.

In spite of the Supreme Court victory for equal education in 1954 and 1956, it took many more years for all states to be in compliance.  Sadly, due to the phenomenon of “white flight” from areas where previously all white schools would now admit black children, many American cities still struggle with quality, funding, and full integration in their public school systems.

Except for Black History Month, we do not hear very much about the educational institutions that African American free men and women and ex-slaves built to ensure their own and their children’s education in the post-Civil War decades.  One such outstanding institution began a mere 13 years after the 1865 surrender of General Robert E. Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, ending the Civil War.   The St. Stephen’s Normal and Industrial School in Petersburg, Virginia, a branch of the Virginia Theological Seminary, opened the Bishop Payne Divinity School, “the only seminary for black men in the Episcopal Church” in 1878.

Reverend W. Pegram Johnson III successfully led the effort to establish the historical road marker acknowledging the Bishop Payne Divinity School and its great contribution to the education of African-American seminarians before desegregation.

And now back to that inspirational epiphany.  The person who experienced it is himself an Episcopal priest, a white Episcopal priest, who grew up in Petersburg and attended the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, graduating in 1965.  On a family visit to Alexandria, Rev. W. Pegram Johnson III dropped by his alma mater and found himself in the Bishop Payne Library.  Memories of his boyhood in Petersburg came to mind—his adventures combing a field near Lieutenants Run for treasures from the Battle of Petersburg during the American Civil War (buttons, bones, and even live shells).  That war was less than 100 years ago when he was a child. He also thought about growing up in a town with a cemetery where 30,000 Confederate soldiers were buried.  These recollections reflect the sense of division that still hangs heavily over some places where the Civil War was fought—not only in the South, but at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania battle in the North as well.

Now, though, for Rev. Johnson, that sense of division brought to mind the great work of the Bishop Payne Divinity School.  He remembered the momentous chance meeting at the root of the epiphany that opened up his new understanding of equality.  Before entering the seminary, the future seminarian traveled to Hong Kong to teach.  On shipboard, he met a young Chinese man who shared a saying from Confucius—“Within the four seas, all men are brothers.”

Once in Hong Kong, through his experiences in a culture so different from his own, Reverend Johnson was able to fully grasp the concept of equality and inequality.  He returned to the U.S. with a new awareness and appreciation for what each person and each culture contributes to the world.  He enrolled in the Virginia Theological Seminary and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1966.  Eleanor Roosevelt could have been talking about Rev. Johnson when she said, “People grow through experience if they meet life honestly and courageously. This is how character is built.”

Historical road marker unveiled on grounds of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Petersburg, VA

So while visiting the Bishop Payne Library at the Virginia Theological Seminary, the inspiration came to Rev. Johnson to mount a campaign for a historical road marker commemorating the great achievements of the Bishop Payne Divinity School, and honoring the 260 black men and women graduates, along with their faculty, staff, trustees, and wardens.  Rev. Johnson was successful, and on March 29, 2014, the marker was unveiled in Petersburg by the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Reverend Johnson’s story is one that reflects vividly the words of our great Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Read the full article published in the Summer 2014 issue of the Virginia Seminary Journal:

“Historic Marker Honors Early Black Theological Education,” by Christopher Pote, cpote@vts.edu, Archivist, Virginia Theological Seminary.

Archivist and author, Christopher Pote, made the following remarks at the March 31, 2014, dedication of the historical road marker for the Bishop Payne Divinity School: “The VTS Archives holds the remaining institutional records of Bishop Payne Divinity School, but has only a few archival collections of the people who made it such a great institution.  Judging by my conversations with relatives and descendants of both former students and faculty this weekend, I am confident that our holdings will deepen as we continue to document the heritage of this historic seminary.”

About VTS Archivist Christopher Pote

“Both the African American Episcopal Historical Collection (AAEHC) and the VTS Archives are housed in the Bishop Payne Library here on the VTS campus in Alexandria, VA.  I served as archivist for the AAEHC first, and then my responsibilities were extended to include the entire VTS archival collection.  Technically I am still Head Archivist for the AAEHC, but am ably assisted by Dr. Joseph Thompson, Assistant Archivist for the AAEHC.”

Permission to use photographs:  We gratefully acknowledge permission from the Virginia Theological Seminary to use the photographs included in this post.  Please note that permission is limited to use in this post exclusively. If you wish to request permission to use any of the photographs in the post (including those on the link to the complete article as it appears in the Virginia Seminary Journal, Summer 2014 issue), please submit your request for permission via e-mail to Archivist Pote [cpote@vts.edu].