I met Desmond Tutu in the 1980s at a progressive church that was a sanctuary for activists during apartheid. Soon after, I traveled with a group to South Africa to meet anti-apartheid leaders to make further plans to support the Movement. It was there that Tutu invited me to film his work.
My awareness of Desmond Tutu had been as an iconic activist who confronted bad actors in halls of power and on the streets. However, on our first shoot in 1995, I witnessed him asking Rwandan genocide survivors to forgive the perpetrators. This daunted me . . . “Where was justice?” I wanted to know.
Filming with Father Desmond led me to meet survivors who exemplified dignity and perpetrators of unspeakable atrocities. I was resistant to the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa because it might push justice for Black South Africans even further out of reach. But as I followed his work on the TRC, my views expanded and I came to understand the process as a legitimate form of restorative justice, with the perpetrator truth-telling aspect being valuable to many South Africans who above all wanted to know what had happened to their loved ones.
Eventually I discovered the paradox that the “ Foolishness of God” concept that Father Desmond promoted is actually the wise act of letting go. I found that forgiveness has less to do with whether a perpetrator is punished or not…rather it is about not allowing what they did to define one’s sense of identity. The journey continues to impact my lived experiences as an African American woman, and led me to confront a need for forgiveness in my own family.
Can justice and forgiveness inhabit the same space? The search for the answer may be one of the best tools to ensure our own resiliency.