Desmond Tutu coming to Tacoma Dome

The University, as a partner in the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation (GTCF)’s “Be the Spark” movement, is helping to bring Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Tacoma Dome on May 13, 2011. The event is the culmination of “Be the Spark’s” year-long initiative to better the Pierce County community by inspiring action in local youth.

“Be the Spark” marks the 30th anniversary of the Community Foundation and was designed to address the root causes of local youth violence. The program stresses the importance of youth voice, leadership and youth-adult partnerships.

According to their website, the movement challenges community members to recognize their impact on the larger community, and stresses the importance of working together to create a safe, healthy and productive environment. Ultimately, they hope that through this program community members will recognize their power to affect change, and in doing so, it will inspire them to support their own projects.

“It starts with a spark—with one person choosing to take action in their own family, school, or neighborhood—and inspiring others to do the same,” GTCF Director of Communications Elyse Rowe said. “Our goal is for people to be inspired to take action and help make a difference in the community in a way that’s meaningful to them.”

Senior Miguel Moreno, along with other Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran students, has been working with GTCF throughout the year on their “Be the Spark” events in Pierce County. As part of the ongoing movement, the college students helped facilitate dialogues with students from three local high schools. These dialogues were aimed at gaining a better understanding of their lives, schools and communities.

“By allowing them to share their stories, the program hoped to build a stronger community founded more on honesty than stereotypes,” Moreno explained. “I hope that after having gone through the dialogues, the students realize that if they want to make some sort change in their school community or community in general, there are people that will listen and there possibilities for that change.”

Moreno became involved with “Be the Spark” as a part of The Hurley Community Service Endowed Scholarship Fund, which he was granted for the 2010-2011 academic year. The Fund was established to provide financial support for recipients to implement innovative service-oriented programs.

“I think [‘Be the Spark’] is a great program in that it focuses on the youth of the city as a source of wisdom,” Moreno said. “Rather than try and make changes for the young people, the program asks them what they want to see changed and also believes in their ability to start that change.”

GTCF event organizers believe Tutu’s message will align perfectly with “Be the Spark’s” values of togetherness and community involvement. Tutu will challenge attendees to see both their community and their role in it differently.

“Bringing people together is what I call ‘ubuntu,’ which means ‘I am because we are,’” Tutu said in a GTCF news release. “Far too often people think of themselves as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world.”

“[‘Ubuntu’] speaks to the interconnectedness of humanity and the way we all need each other to thrive,” Rowe said. “It fits into the core of ‘Be the Spark’ because we are encouraging people to make a difference because their actions matter as a part of this community.”

Tutu, age 79, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his outspoken opposition to apartheid. President Nelson Mandela appointed him chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1995, a body created to investigate human rights violations that occurred under apartheid.

Tutu retired as archbishop of Cape Town in 1996 and was named emeritus archbishop soon after. He has remained a prominent public figure, and is active in the defense of human rights. He currently lends his support to various campaigns against AIDS, homophobia, poverty and racism, among others.

Beginning on his 79th birthday, Tutu began a phased retirement from the public sphere. GTCF organizers feel extremely lucky that the event sparked his interest, as his appearance in Tacoma is said to be his last major public event outside of South Africa. “It is gratifying to be involved in this community-wide effort that Tacoma and Pierce County have embarked upon,” Tutu said.

So far, interest in the event has been overwhelming. GTCF’s original attendance goal of 5,000 has already nearly tripled, with 13,500 tickets sold.  “We wanted half of the Dome to be filled with youth and we’ve already almost reached that,” Rowe said. “The support and partnership that the community has given around ‘Be the Spark’ has been tremendous and it’s just the beginning.”

Ticket prices range from $24 to $42 for adults and $9 to $15 for all students (with student identification), and a portion of every ticket sold will go toward GTCF’s Youth Against Violence Endowment Fund. Tickets can be ordered through Ticktmaster (www.ticketmaster.com) or in person at the Tacoma Dome box office.