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Tutu Advises Boston Youth

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has wrapped up his visit to Boston. It was controversial at times, notably when he spoke at a conference called, "The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel."

Members of Boston's Jewish community criticized Tutu's comparison of Israel with Apartheid in South Africa, saying drawing such a parallel was inappropriate and unfair.

The Nobel laureate ended his trip at a more harmonious event yesterday. He addressed an audience of 400 Boston Public School students on the subject of "Truth and Reconciliation."

As WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness, Tutu's address sparked responses among the young people present.

TEXT OF STORY:

JAMES CUTS: My name is James Cuts. You said that people learn to hate and I understand what you mean by that, since there's been a lot of violence going on, in Boston especially. But my question for you is how do you learn to love? Especially when there isn't much encouragement to do so.

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was the moral backbone for the movement that toppled apartheid in South Africa, urged students to love people they don't like.

DESMOND TUTU: You can do some extraordinary things, you,you, you
and you can make the streets of your neighborhood safe.

TONESS: Wheelock College called on Tutu, the 1984 Nobel Piece Prize winner, to
advise students on starting social change. The idea is that what happened in South Africa could work here to stop violence. Tutu emphasized that change starts with individuals.

TUTU: No one can doubt that if you live in a poor neighborhood you can become a dropout...yeah....yeah....yeah! You can....but you needn't.

TONESS: Organizers believe that young people in Boston, given a spike in homicides over the last two years, could use inspiration.

CHRISTOPHER WOMACK: To many young people, truth and reconciliation is a far-fetched idea eclipsed by everyday realities in urban dwellings.

TONESS: Chris Womack graduated from Wheelock college in 2006 and is an ordained minister. He explained why it was time to hear advice from someone like Tutu.

WOMACK: Take it from a recent public health survey. More than 40 percent of male high school students say they've carried and knife and 40 percent of all students believe that it would be easy to get a gun.

TONESS: Nine students from Boston Public Schools and Wheelock College participated on the panel discussion with Tutu. They haven't been caught up in the violence directly, but some said they've witnessed it firsthand. They were motivated to try and stop it, motivated enough to write essays to get on the panel. There were only two young men in the group. That wasn't lost on Pharlone Toussaint who said the people who really need to talk about stopping violence weren't on the stage.

PHARLONE TOUSSAINT: Correct me if I am wrong but the majority of students here are tired of seeing rest-in-peace buttons on hats, jackets and bookbags.

TONESS: Other panelists offered concrete suggestions for change: More after school programs, cooperation among students across neighborhoods, and financial help with college for the siblings of homicide victims.

But audience members were skeptical that they could do anything to stop the shootings many said they've grown immune to.

MERLIN LOUINE: Hi, my name is Merlin Louine, I'm a senior at Brighton High School..I have a cousin who's locked up for murder right now. And I used to talk to him about violence and what he was doing. And my thing is, no matter how much you tell him, he's in honors classes, he was in AP classes and he still chose to do bad because that was his way of life.

TONESS: While the mood was bleak among the young people, Archbishop Tutu was steadfast in his optimism. He said young people were instrumental in changing South Africa.

TUTU: It was young people who said, no we have had enough, and they marched and marched and they were shot and they marched and South Africa was never to be the same again.

TONESS: Tutu urged students to organize, disregard what separates them as members of different schools, neighborhoods and races, and band together.

This program aired on October 30, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Bianca Vázquez Toness Twitter Reporter
Bianca Vázquez Toness was formerly a report for WBUR.

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