South African Desmond Tutu will deliver a public lecture Sunday night at Allen Fieldhouse on Kansas University's campus.
Prairie Village fourth-grader Rachel Sixta was so struck by a biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu that she wrote a letter to the South African cleric.
That precocious overture elicited an extraordinary response from the man considered a hero of the fight to eradicate apartheid -- Tutu personally answered the Briarwood Elementary student's letter.
Subsequently, Sixta's teacher, Barbara Kueffer, learned Tutu would deliver a lecture Sunday in Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas University. Kueffer wondered if it would be possible for Sixta to actually meet Tutu.
"We will make that happen," said Cody Simms, a student coordinator for the lecture.
"I'm really excited to find out what he's like," Rachel said. "He just did so much work and he's just a really cool guy, and he's really made a difference in this world."
Tutu's talk on "Bridging the Chasm Between Black and White" will begin at 7 p.m. Tickets will be on sale at the fieldhouse, but can be purchased at a discounted price from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the Student Union Activities box office in the Kansas Union.
Tutu's worldwide championing of human rights along with his forceful, nonviolent campaign to tear down apartheid made him one of the best known religious figures of the past two decades.
Currently, Tutu is a visiting professor at Emory University in Atlanta.
"Archbishop Tutu is bringing with him to the University of Kansas a message that should be heard by all," said David Ambler, KU vice chancellor for student affairs.
The 1999 Student Lecture Series is a collaboration of SUA and Student Senate. About 3,000 tickets had been sold or donated by Friday for the event, which stands to lose a considerable amount of money. Tutu's fee is $60,000.
Simms said organizers had hoped to sell more than 3,500 general public tickets for $15 each, but only 700 were sold as of Friday.
The invitation to Tutu represented a shift from previous speakers in the series, which has included director Spike Lee, comedian Al Franken and filmmaker Michael Moore.
"Our goal this year was to change the focus of the lecture from pop culture icons to a more prominent international figure," Simms said.
Tutu was one of the leading figures in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. As the first black archbishop of the Church of England in South Africa, he commanded a powerful bully pulpit.
Under his leadership, the church became immersed in the struggle against apartheid. Tutu repeatedly informed the government of the time that its racist approach defied the will of God and for that reason could not succeed. He endeavored to remain outside party politics and used the Bible as his text, saying God decreed all Africans were equal.
In 1984, his quest to end apartheid earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.
His crusade began to bear fruit when the reforming F.W. de Klerk became president in 1989. Tutu encouraged him to take chances, and the African National Congress was legalized.
Tutu was later chosen by President Nelson Mandela -- another pillar of the anti-apartheid campaign -- to chair South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and investigate the crimes committed by all sides during the apartheid regime.
"Listening to all the pain and anguish, you take it into yourself in many ways. ... Maybe one day you will sit down when you think of all those things and you will cry," Tutu said.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said the university community should be honored to host Tutu.
"I think the journey of South Africa to a modern democratic state has been fascinating," Hemenway said. "There are obviously two major national heroes in that journey. One is Nelson Mandela. The other is Archbishop Desmond Tutu."
Robert Shelton, KU professor of religious studies, said Tutu was a remarkable figure in world history.
"He took all kinds of risks in making statements that less public figures went to jail for under apartheid."
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