Archbishop Desmond Tutu – A Man Who Changed The World

Archbishop Desmond Tutu – A Man Who Changed The World

Many years ago, when I was still living in South Africa, I was on the organizing committee for a national conference at which Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the keynote speaker. There were about ten of us on the committee, and we were all unspeakably excited at the prospect of an in-person meeting with this great man.

All of us had witnessed in real time the dismantling of Apartheid. Desmond Tutu played a major role in this process, and he helped shape the landscape of post-Apartheid South Africa. He was, without a doubt, one of South Africa’s greatest heroes.

At the time we were putting the conference together, South Africa was still a fledgling democracy. The first democratic election in which everyone had a vote was still a fresh memory, and the nation was in the early stages of its healing. Desmond Tutu was a bright light that all of South Africa’s people looked to for guidance.

On the day of the conference, the committee members were assembled in the room that had been allocated as our centre of operations. This was where the logistics happened, it was where we took our coffee breaks, and it was where we greeted the speakers and presenters.

When word reached us that Archbishop Tutu had arrived in the conference centre parking lot, we arranged ourselves in a line down one side of the room. We knew that Archbishop Tutu would only be there for a few minutes before he was whisked to the auditorium to deliver his speech. Each of us would have the opportunity to shake his hand and have a brief exchange with him.

I was standing beside my friend Dave, who seemed unaccountably nervous. There were little beads of perspiration on his face, and he was jiggling his leg so much that I kept nudging him to stop. As momentous as this occasion was for me and the other committee members, it was doubly so for Dave. He was the only Black person in the room, the only one whose life had quite literally been saved by the demise of Apartheid.

When the door opened and the Archbishop was ushered in, he instantly won all of us over with his grace and charm. He moved down the line of people, engaging everyone in a brief conversation, presenting himself not as a global celebrity but as an equal. When it was my turn, he grasped my hand with both of his. I told him what an inspiration for change he was, and he told me that I had the power to change the world in my own way.

He moved on to Dave, who was standing dead still, looking absolutely terrified. Dave managed to extend his hand for the Archbishop to shake, but he was unable to utter a single word. Archbishop Tutu told Dave he was a trailblazer for the generations to come, and Dave just – stood there. When the silence was on the verge of transitioning from mildly awkward to downright uncomfortable, the Archbishop started moving to the next person.

All of a sudden, Dave blurted out, “You’re a lot shorter than I thought you were going to be!”

There was a beat of stunned silence, followed by a guffaw of laughter from the Archbishop. He shook Dave’s hand again and moved on to the next person.

When all was said and done, I said to Dave, “You had the chance to say one thing, and that was it?”

“I didn’t know what else to say,” Dave said. “Anyway, it’s true.”

It was true. Well, kind of true. Archbishop Tutu was small in physical stature, but he carried himself as if he was ten feet tall. He was one of those people whose presence could fill an entire stadium. We saw on multiple occasions how he could sway the sentiment of an entire nation with just a few words. In a country that for decades was torn apart by racism and government policies designed to pit groups of people against one another, Archbishop Tutu’s message was one of peace and unity.

Desmond Tutu believed in the interconnectedness of all humans. He promoted the message that everyone has value, that the path to peace lies in talking to people whose views differ from our own, and that there is strength in diversity.

As South Africa – and the world – reels from the loss of this great man, we can take comfort in the fact that his legacy will be with us forever. He leaves behind lessons that all of us can teach our children as they strive to make their own marks upon the world.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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Twenty Years On: Reflecting On 9/11

Twenty Years On: Reflecting On 9/11

On September 11, 2001 – the day known to the world as 9/11 – I was a year into my new life in Canada. My office in the west end of Toronto had a perfect view of the Toronto skyline, including the distinctive CN Tower, then the tallest free-standing structure in the world.

About an hour after I got to work that day, I got myself a cup of coffee and was walking back to my desk. A colleague stopped me and handed me a printout from the CNN website.  It showed a picture of the World Trade Center’s North Tower with smoke billowing from the top half.  My immediate reaction was that this must be a Photoshop hoax. When I realized that it was a legitimate photograph, I thought the same thing as everyone else: that a freakish and tragic accident had occurred.

As I scrutinized the picture, I heard a shout coming from the direction of the conference room. Someone had been able to get the temperamental TV to work, and we all spilled into the room just in time to see live footage of the plane hitting the South Tower.  An hour later, we were still sitting in the conference room.  We were incapable of speech; someone muted the sound on the TV because the frantic commentary of chaos was violating the silence that we all needed. 

I don’t think anyone moved for about ten minutes.  Eventually, someone at the back of the room whispered, “Oh my God.”  That utterance was a catalyst for everyone to rush to their phones to call family members, pausing on the way past the window to see if the CN Tower was still there.

There was no question of any work getting done that day.  We all spent the day on the phone, contacting loved ones south of the border to find out who was alive and who wasn’t.  My parents called from South Africa, unashamedly relieved to hear my voice.  Toronto is not that far from New York, especially to people watching the chaos unfold from the other side of the world. 

After talking to my parents, I frantically tried to get in touch with my friends in New York City.  By late afternoon, there were two people I had not been able to reach – Luisa and Jason.  I went to bed that night not knowing whether they were alive or dead.  I didn’t sleep.  I suspect that most people didn’t that night.

Luisa’s husband emailed me early the following morning.  As soon as the South Tower had been hit, she and her coworkers had been evacuated from their office a block away to some hall somewhere.  Phone signals were jammed: for several hours, Luisa’s husband did not know whether she had been buried in the rubble of collapsing towers. It was almost midnight by the time she got home, traumatized but alive.

But what had become of Jason? At lunchtime on September 12th, I spoke to a mutual friend, Mark, who had commuted to work with him the previous morning. Jason had dropped his dog off at the vet on his way to work, so he was late.  The two friends had gotten off the subway at the same stop, and then they had gone into a Starbucks for their morning coffee.  With coffee in hand, Jason had gone into the North Tower, waving goodbye to Mark, who had to go a few blocks further.  The time was about 8:35 a.m. 

Eleven minutes later, the North Tower was hit.  I tried to convince Mark that Jason could have left the building in those ten minutes. Mark said it was unlikely. Jason had said something about a 9:00 meeting for which he had not prepared.  He would have been sipping his coffee and working on reports at his desk, which was right in the flight path of a hijacked plane. 

I said to Mark, “I hope Jason got to finish his coffee.” People say the oddest things in times of stress.

9/11 memorial museum
The 9/11 memorial

Now, twenty years later, I reflect on that day along with the rest of the world.  I think of Jason and hope he died instantly, with no pain or stress.  I look at my two children, neither of whom was alive on 9/11, one of whom is on the cusp of becoming an adult, and I wonder what kind of world their children will live in.  I look at the world around me – at the discrimination and violence that almost seem to have become normalized – and I wonder if we have really learned anything.

Poignantly, I wonder what became of Jason’s dog, the one he dropped off at the vet on that terrible morning. The dog is certainly not alive anymore, but I hope it found a new home, and perhaps helped some family get through the unspeakable collective grief from 9/11.

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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Growing Up In Apartheid South Africa As A White Kid

Growing Up In Apartheid South Africa As A White Kid

When I was six years old, my father’s job took us from South Africa to the United States. The year was 1976, and South Africa was reeling from the Soweto uprising, a student-led protest against the Apartheid government that ended in the deaths of at least 176 Black school students, with thousands more being injured.

Being a six-year-old child on the privileged side of Apartheid, I didn’t really know what was going on. I was vaguely aware of something big happening in the news, but I didn’t know what any of it meant. At that age, all I really understood about Apartheid was that Black people only ventured into white neighbourhoods if they happened to work there, usually as someone’s maid or gardener.

When we moved to a quiet suburb of Connecticut, things didn’t seem much different. The small town we lived in was decidedly WASP by nature. Formalized Apartheid may not have existed in Connecticut, but the segregation was just as real. If anything, I had even less contact with Black people in the United States than I ever had in South Africa.

The Connecticut house the writer and her family lived in

My first week of school in Connecticut was uneventful – until the bus ride home one afternoon. What my brother and I didn’t know was that some of the other kids on the school bus were hiding rocks. As we got off the bus, these kids stood up and threw the rocks at us, taunting us for being the bad South African kids. I remember walking from the bus stop to our house under the protective arm of my brother, with blood gushing from a wound on my head.

It took many years for me to understand that as traumatic as that experience was for me, it was a curious embodiment of the privilege that I had grown up with. For us, this was an ugly isolated incident. For Black South Africans back home, being on the receiving end of attacks like that was a part of everyday life. They woke up each morning with no real certainty that they would still be alive at the end of the day.

When we returned to South Africa, I was three years older than when we had left. I was beyond the age of accepting things without question: now I was observing the world around me and asking questions about what I saw.

When my mother was driving me to school one morning shortly after our return to South Africa, we were stopped at a traffic light. As we waited, a police van drove up and parked on the shoulder, where several Black people were walking and chatting to each other. Two police officers jumped out of the van and approached the group. A few of the people showed papers to the police officers and were allowed to go on their way. The rest were forced to get into the back of the van.

“What did those people do wrong?” I asked my mother, as the van drove off, leaving a cloud of desperation in its wake.

“They didn’t do anything wrong,” said my mother. She looked immeasurably sad.

“So – why did the police take them away?”

“Because they’re not supposed to be in this area.”

When I got home from school that day, my mother offered me a fuller explanation. I got a lesson about “pass laws”, a draconian set of rules that made it illegal for Black people to be in white neighbourhoods without documented proof that they were employed by someone there. What I had seen was a typical police arrest of people who were, quite literally, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As I adjusted to being back in South Africa, I frequently saw these arrests taking place. It bothered me every time, especially in the context of other hallmarks of Apartheid South Africa. The Group Areas Act, for instance, meant that South Africans were allocated areas that they could live in. The land allocated to white people was proportionately far greater than that set aside for other races. This led to chronic overcrowding in most of the Black neighbourhoods, which in turn resulted in a shortage of resources like water and access to healthcare.

From time to time, the government would reallocate land, usually in favour of white people, and whoever was living on that land would be forcibly removed. In many cases, there would barely be time for families to gather whatever belongings they could before bulldozers moved in and destroyed their homes right in front of them.

I was too young at the time to understand anything about politics, or to question why such grave human rights abuses were being allowed to take place. My parents, like other white people of their generation, couldn’t speak out for fear of losing their jobs, and possibly their freedom. But when the wheels of change finally started turning during the 1980s, the vast majority of white South Africans were in full support of reform.

The abolition of pass laws in 1986 was a major turning point for the country. That era also saw an end to the prohibition on interracial marriage, and the desegregation of public facilities such as parks and public restrooms.

There was still a lot of work to be done, though. The fight for change was not over. My aunt, who in earlier days had lost her position as a teacher because she refused to recognize the national anthem of an oppressive government, spoke to me about complicity.

“Every white person in this country who does not contribute to change is part of the problem,” she said.

I carried these words with me to university, where student protests against Apartheid were the norm. I was not a central figure in the protests by any means. I was never the one standing up front with a megaphone and an angry message, but I was there. I was part of several crowds speaking up for reform, demanding the unbanning of Black-led political organizations, calling for equal voting rights for all.

On a hot summer’s day in 1990, when I was in my final year of university, I joined the throng of students who went to witness the release of Nelson Mandela. I couldn’t see much from where I was standing, but that didn’t matter. The intensity of the emotion of that day swept through the crowd like a wave, going back and forth and back again. Strangers clung to each other, sobbing – partly from joy, partly from the pent-up sadness and despair that had built up over decades.

A newspaper headline on the day of Nelson Mandela’s release

To me, the true end of Apartheid happened on April 27, 1994 – the day of South Africa’s first election where people of eligible voting age from all races were allowed to cast a ballot. My parents and I stood in line for eight hours to be part of this momentous occasion.

Those were eight of the best hours of my life. No one minded being in line for so long. Impromptu barbecues sprung up here and there, and everyone was invited. Every now and then, people or groups would break out into song, or start to dance. There were no strangers that day: just millions of people nationwide who were participating in history. For that day, all that mattered was unity and healing.

But the spectre of Apartheid is still very much there. Millions of Black South Africans are still impacted by the damage done by Apartheid rules. The inequities in education will take generations to rectify. Overcrowding from the days of the pass laws persists to this day, along with the associated problems relating to healthcare and access to resources. The poorest 60% of the population, most of whom are Black, own just 7% of the wealth.

My experience growing up as a white kid in Apartheid-era South Africa impacts my life to this day. It is on my mind every time I hear about a Black person in the United States being murdered during a routine traffic stop. It was part of my visceral reaction of grief when George Floyd was murdered. The tears I shed that day were shed for George Floyd, and for the thousands of lives that were taken by Apartheid.

Most of all, it is present in my conversations with my children about race, racism, and white privilege. My husband and I are raising our kids to be agents for change and not bystanders. We encourage our boys to call out racism when they see it, to acknowledge their privilege, and above all, to keep quiet and listen to the voices that really matter – the voices of the people who have been marginalized because of the colour of their skin.

How has systemic racism shaped your view of the world? How do you talk to your children about racism?

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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CANADA: Campaigning For Change

CANADA: Campaigning For Change

It seems that there is no place on earth that is immune to bigotry. Not even Canada, which has been regarded by many as one of the world’s last bastions of sanity. After a campaign that was eerily similar to the Trump-vs-Hillary battle, Ontario elected as its Premier a man who is eerily similar to Trump.

Since this provincial government took office about a month ago, the following has happened:

* The cap-and-trade program, meant to benefit the environment and combat climate change, has been scrapped.

*$100M dollars that had been budgeted for school repairs has been taken away. The school repair backlog in Ontario currently sits at about $15B.

* A basic income pilot program, which was enabling low-income people to do things like put a roof over their head and food on their table, has been canceled.

* Prescription drug coverage for people under the age of 21 has been removed.

* A budgeted increase in funding for people with disabilities has been cut in half.

* Money that had been slated for mental health supports has been taken away.

* With spectacular disregard for democracy, the Premier has decided to slash the size of Toronto City Council in the middle of a municipal election campaign.

* An updated health and physical education curriculum has been repealed. The sex ed component of this curriculum was teaching kids about consent, bodily autonomy, online and physical safety, and respect for members of the LGBT community.

The education system is in for a rough few years. A lot is going to change in the school boards. Funding is going to be taken away or redistributed. Curriculums are going to be replaced with older, outdated versions that are not relevant to today’s world. Teaching conditions are going to become more challenging, and students are going to emerge from high school without all of the tools they need to cope with the big bad world.

The time for me to sit back and complain about the government is over. I have decided that I need to be proactive in advocating for kids – not only my own kids, but all of the kids in my community. And so I have thrown my name into the hat for the role of school board trustee. If I am elected, I will be throwing all of my energy into ensuring that during this political upheaval in our province, the voices of the kids are not drowned out. I will do whatever it takes to ensure the wellbeing of students in my neighbourhood. I will join committees, go to meetings, propose new policies and defend our kids against attacks on their education.

Of course, I first have to convince voters that I am a better person for the job than the eight people I’m running against. Knocking on doors and talking to complete strangers is not my idea of a fun time. But if it gets me into a position where I can make a difference, it’ll be worth it.

Have you ever run for an elected office? What is the education system like where you are?

This is an original post for World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Toronto, Canada. To follow Kirsten on the campaign trail, visit www.votekirstendoyle.ca, or follow her on Twitter @kirstendoyle_to, or Instagram @votekirstendoyle.

 Photo credit: Peter Gabany

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny).

Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels.

When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum.

Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world.

Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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CANADA: In Search Of Hope In The Wake Of Mass Shootings

CANADA: In Search Of Hope In The Wake Of Mass Shootings

When I first came to Canada just over seventeen years ago, I was struck by the fact that every murder in Toronto made front page news. Every single one. When I heard that 2000, the year of my arrival, had seen 81 homicides in the Greater Toronto Area, I was slightly stunned.

81 homicides in Canada’s biggest metropolitan area, and less than 600 in the whole of Canada? What, in just one year? It just didn’t seem real.

To put things into perspective, I came to Canada from South Africa, which at the time was experiencing roughly fifty reported murders every day. Only the most sensational murders, such as the violent demise of South Africa’s former first lady Marike de Klerk, made national news. The rest got a three-line mention on the inside pages of the local community newspaper.

The realization that I had become desensitized to tragedy was one of the most sobering moments of my life. I felt that in losing my ability to mourn the loss of human life, I was losing a key part of my humanity.

I fear that this kind of desensitization is happening en masse in North America, specifically in the United States. We are becoming so accustomed to hearing about mass shootings that we are no longer surprised by them. What’s worse is that we actually expect them to happen. They have become an inevitable part of life in the United States.

American children are growing up in a world in which gun violence is “normal”. Their parents are becoming increasingly resigned to the fact that since gun laws are unlikely to change in any meaningful way, this is just going to keep happening.

In the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 59 and wounded hundreds more, I am seeing some depressingly world-weary sentiments on my social media feeds.

“If nothing changed after Sandy Hook, why would we expect it to change now?”

“The right to guns is more important to lawmakers than the right to life.”

“It’s going to happen again before long.”

And the one that really breaks my heart:

“We just have to accept it.”

It seems that Americans fall into two very general camps. There are those who are spending their time trying to convince everyone else that, in spite of overwhelming evidence and common sense, guns are not really a problem. And there are those who desperately want things to change for the better, but are losing hope that this will ever happen.

The danger is that once that resignation sets in, desensitization is likely to follow. If you don’t think anything is going to change, you start to accept the status quo, and you lose the ability to be shocked by mass shootings.

My American friends, I say this to you with love. Keep the faith. Don’t lose hope, and do whatever you can to bring about the change that is so desperately needed. Educate yourself about the gun laws in your state and lobby your government representatives to change what isn’t working. Above all, use the power of your vote at every possible opportunity.

Don’t allow yourselves to get used to tragedy. Nothing will change unless we continue to feel the shock, the outrage, the sadness. We can avoid desensitization by thinking of the lost lives, the parents who have lost children, and the children who have lost parents, brothers, sisters and friends.

Shed some tears, feel the sadness, mourn for the victims of mass shootings. And for them and their loved ones, keep fighting for change, and keep believing that change is possible.

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle of Ontario, Canada. Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny).

Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. She is now living her best life writing about mental health and addictions, and posting videos to two YouTube channels.

When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum.

Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world.

Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Be sure to check out her YouTube channels at My Gen X Life and Word Salad With Coffee!

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