Nontombi Naomi Tutu was born in 1960 in Krugersdorp (an area of Soweto), South Africa. She was the fourth child and third daughter of Desmond and Leah Nomalizo Tutu. She and her siblings were educated internationally. At age 6, Naomi went from her home in Soweto to a boarding school located 1,000 miles away in Mbabane, Swaziland. The Waterford KaMhlaba School was one of 11 international United World Colleges, an educational movement that brings together students from all over the world based on merit, regardless of their ability to pay. Naomi also received part of her early education in England, where her father spent much of his early career.
After finishing her secondary education, Naomi continued her studies in the United States. She graduated from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, where she received a bachelor’s degree in Economics and French in 1983.
Naomi remained in Kentucky for graduate school, earning a master’s degree in International Economic Development from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Economic Development at the University of Kentucky. She later would go on to complete courses toward a Ph.D. from the prestigious London School of Economics.
At age 24, just two years after graduating from Berea College, Naomi founded the Tutu Foundation for Development and Relief, and served as its chairperson from 1985 to 1990. The Foundation provided scholarships to South African refugees in other African countries to help them obtain skills to sustain themselves while in exile and find meaningful work upon their return to their homeland.
Beginning in 1999, Tutu worked for three years at Fisk University, a traditionally black school in Nashville, Tennessee, where she served as program coordinator for the school’s Race Relations Institute, addressing issues of racism in the global community. She next was associate director of the Office of International Programs at Tennessee State University, also located in Nashville. The Program focused on the university’s international efforts, including recruiting faculty with international expertise, developing collaborative projects with scholars in other countries, facilitating opportunities for students to study abroad, and promoting foreign language study.
Naomi also has served as a consultant to two organizations that reflect the breadth of her involvement in issues of human rights. The organizations are the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence, founded by renowned author Riane Eisler and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Betty Williams, and the Foundation for Hospices in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Naomi’s public speaking began while she was a student at Berea College; she spoke at churches, community groups and colleges and universities about her experiences growing up in South Africa. By the early 2000s, Tutu was recognized as a leading authority on race relations and gender issues. Her expertise and her famous name created an ever-greater demand for public speaking engagements and she has become a much sought-after speaker at professional conferences, church and civic organizations, and many more events.
She has traveled the globe making presentations at schools, churches, conferences, community centers and other venues on an array of social justice and human rights issues. By 2006, her public appearance schedule had become so active that she gave up her position at Tennessee State in order to concentrate on public speaking full-time. Her speeches typically have inspiring titles, such as “Building a Global Community” and “Striving for Justice: Searching for Common Ground.” With similarities to the Berea College motto, one of her speeches, titled “One Body, One Family, One World” draws on her experience of growing up during apartheid in South Africa where she witnessed first-hand how the prayers and concrete actions of the worldwide church provided vital encouragement and support to the people of South Africa as they sought to change their country from one built on the separation of people based on race, to one that celebrated the different gifts and cultures that their country has been blessed with. She recalls how churches encouraged political prisoners and their families, and called on government and business leaders to live the Gospel imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself.”