People and Places

Tutu in NYC

Posted on November 20, 2008

“Now what is he doing?” you might ask after reading the title of this post, perhaps imagining a 6’4″ awkward 51-year-old in a dance class in New York.  Not a pretty picture (even a bit disturbing when you add in the tutu).

Not the case.  Pat and I are in New York and today attended a Global Citizens Circle (GCC) event: “Green Justice: Caring for People and Planet Together”.  The main speaker was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, joined by Steve Curwood (of Public Radio’s “Living on Earth”) and Majora Carter, an environmental and social activist and founder of Sustainable South Bronx 2001.

Our own Professor Eleanor Dunfey and her siblings are the drivers behind the GCC, an organization inspired by the 19th C. Saturday Club, a gathering of Boston’s finest intellectuals that gathered at the Parker House Hotel (later the Dunfey Parker House Hotel) to talk about big questions.  The GCC was founded in 1974 and designed to bring together leaders of all kinds, including young and just emerging leaders as well as the famous, to talk about the most difficult topics: apartheid, the “Troubles” in N. Ireland, racism in America. It is all about civil discourse as a basis for understanding and then resolution of even the thorniest issues.

Tutu was fabulous!  He has an impish quality mixed with stature and wisdom and authority.  He has a smile that lights up the room and is very, very funny.  The basic message was that real damage is being done to the planet and that means real damage is and will be done to the poorest of its inhabitants and that makes the environmental cause a social justice cause, a point forcefully echoed by the incredibly impressive Carter.

I think some in the room squirmed with some of Tutu’s repeated talk of God, being “made in God’s image,” and “God loving us all.”  My feeling is that he is after all a retired archbishop — you gotta expect some God talk.  It did yield one of his best lines: “God would rather see us steer ourselves to Hell than drive us to Heaven.”  A bit of theological perspective on free will, though these days I might actually welcome a bit of divine intervention….

We are in NYC into Saturday, meeting with trustees and donors and potential supporters.  New York is just one of those places, like DC, that university presidents need to spend time.  Why?  It’s Willy Sutton’s old line when asked why he robbed banks: “Cause that’s where the money is.”

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