Friday September 20th, 2019.- Mérida, Yuc. The Yucatan Times conducted an exclusive interview with activists Joy Gnoma from South Africa and Brian Rusch from San Francisco CA; they are both visiting Mérida on the occassion of the 17th edition of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
Joy is the grandaughter of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his opposition to South Africa’s brutal apartheid.
Tell us about Reverend Desmond Tutu
People always have the idea that a person who is powerful, is untouchable, and they don’t relate to them in terms of being human in a sense, because of the work that they do.
But, if I would have to describe Desmond Tutu, I would say that he is the most reliable person that I’d ever met, and when you are in his presence you feel seen, you feel welcome and then you feel as part of his family as well.
So that’s proof that he is far from being unreachable, but instead you realize that he is an incredible human being. So whenever you’re around him, you really feel like you’re part of the family, you feel part of who he is in a sense.
So, at the end of the day, you can kind of feel that you are special, as much as he is special, that’s what I would say about how he is as a human being.
Are you family related to Reverend Desmond Tutu?
Yes, I am his granddaughter.
People in my generation grew up reading about Desmond Tutu on the news, and more recently as he has appeared on several videos on the web, we can tell that he is a very nice, friendly and fun person to be around, constantly laughing and making jokes.
Yes, mostly because he started professionally as a teacher, always dealing with young people, and he is the type of man that always feels that he has to school you (but in a good way), it’s in his DNA, is just the way he is.
So personality wise, he has that presence of being a teacher, an authority, but at the same time, he is never overbearing, he is not outshining the person that he is interacting or engaging with, so I think that, in that sense, he has a sense of connectedness, so there is no barrier or border separating you from him as an individual.
Brian, what can you tell us about Reverend Desmond Tutu?
I used to work with the Dalai Lama and I first met Archbishop Desmond Tutu when I conducted an interview with him for a project we had.
Just like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to treat everybody in the room with kindness and love, and you instantly had a personal connection with him, that you don’t get with many other world leaders. And while he was speaking, and my videographer was filming, she was from Mexico City (we were in Cape Town South Africa, about five years ago), so when the Reverend learned that she was from Mexico, he asked her about the case of the missing students, because he knew what was happening around the world, so he asked her if the authorities ever found out what happened to them, so she told him that a mass grave was discovered. And as he heard that answer, the Reverend suddenly just starts crying.
That is the level of compassion he feels for every human around the world, he has a personal connection with all of us. And at that moment I knew I wanted to work with the Archbishop in some way, because it stroke me as something personal, and moved me deep in my heart.
Let’s talk a little bit about Joy Gnoma
OK, I can tell you that in a personal level, I always try to be an example, be welcoming, be kind to people, regardless of how they treat me in return.
And in my professional space, I am a writer and a producer, I love creating content that connect people, and sort of like, bringing a diverse of multicultural legacy between nations and communities around the world. I love working with people and enjoy learning about different cultures.
I find that within my traveling or my space, there is a lot that connects us as humans, so for instance, I arrive here in Mexico, which is my first time, and I realize that the clothing and the food, is very similar to South African. The spirit of the Yucatecan people, is very much the same as the South African people in terms of hospitality and they make you feel that you are part of that community even if there is a language barrier.
So as the cultures are very much alike, you get to find a little bit piece of yourself within the culture itself. So I feel at home.
At what point in time did you decide to join the Desmond Tutu Foundation for Peace?
Growing up in an environment in which you are surrounded by so many people involved in different types of activism, it just gets natural.
Because everywhere you go, whatever you do, there’s always somebody doing something for the community. In South Africa we have a proverb that says: “It takes a village to raise a child”: and basically that’s how our country is, and our community is. Everybody wants to get involved so if your neighbor is doing a charitable event, you do not necessarily have to be invited, you just show up and that’s it. Naturally you feel like you have to be involved.
So, in my personal case, I think it all just began with my love for connecting with people in a sense, it is just a part of who I am, it’s a part of what I’m supposed to do as a human being. So, I cannot tell exactly at what age I started, but I always felt that sense of “I need to get involved”.
For the last year I had been living in Tbilisi, Georgia, so I think I’m always drawn to countries that have some kind of a “South African spirit”, and I feel the same way about Mexico in a sense. Because, with everything that is going on in Mexico with the economy, in terms of social injustice and then also with Georgia, because it is also a developing country, in both cases there is that similarity with the South African history, so I think I’m drawn to that kind of environment.
What can you tell us about the Global Climate World Strike that is taking place today all over the world inspired by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg?
Well, today we participated in a conference about the topic and then we took part of the march right here in Mérida, and we all support this important initiative.
Joy, what can you say about your participation in this 17th edition of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates?
Well, we have been attending to one conference after another, we ourselves have not been speakers, but we feel honored to have been invited to the Summit as listeners and get to know about all of the topics that have to do with strategies and efforts to reach world peace, because all are fundamental.
And I think sometimes it is very important to be at the other side of the curtain, so you can observe what other people have to say.
Brian, what is your impression about the Summit so far?
I think it is amazing to see how the people of Mérida Yucatan is getting involved in this event, we actually had the great opportunity to spend time with people on the street and on the audience.
During the Climate Change rally this morning, Joy had the chance to speak a little bit, an then there was this beautiful ceremony presided by Rigoberta Menchú, that we all participated in, it was quite moving and also, to see all those young people out there today, taking a stand against Climate Change, that’s what feeds our soul, and makes us do what we do.
Brian, can you tell us a little about the Ubuntu Lab?
Well the Ubuntu Lab was started by Mike Radke, Joy is on the board of the organization too, it was created to foster understanding of humanity. So, ultimately it’s going to be spaces for people to come together to have digital interactions with each other, and with people that have been there previously, and also to learn about the “science of humanity” but presented in an artistic way, so it’s really… whether the conversation is about the race, about class differences, about political differences, about how do we deal with all that.
Next year, we are going to be launching our first project, which is an exhibition on truth, and the meaning of truth, and how what is true for myself, is true for Joy or is true for you, might not necessarily be the same thing, and how we converge on those differences to have an understanding, about how we all believe on what we do and how we can move forward from that point.
And it has to do with art as well, because when people are presented with information, with facts, in an artistic manner, they resonate with it more, and they’re able to absorb it more. And so that´s what we’re looking for, how can we present this in a scientific way but also in an artistic way, so people are drawn to it.
People interact with information differently, and you can have a scientific piece that people that are more left brained oriented are able to absorb, but if they are more right brained oriented it is better to present it in an artistic way, and that fosters a better conversation about the project.
Joy and Brian, if you could send a message to the people of Yucatán what would you say to them?
(JOY) I would tell them that we are living in times in which there is so much hurt going on in our societies within different nations, there’s so much evil that’s going around in a way. As well as poverty, unemployment, issues with the LGBTQ communities, and there’s just so much violence going on, to a point in which you feel hopeless or you feel trapped, within the space that you live in… but at the same time, there’s so much good and beauty in this world, people that still have that sense of kindness, compassion and empathy to our fellow brothers and sisters, people that don’t set borders in a sense, people who connect with you in a level of being a human being.
So my message to the young people of the Yucatan would be not to lose hope. We all have to keep fighting and then realizing that humanity is what is going to keep us alive, so we need to have faith that all the things that we do every single day, will make a difference, within my own household or the people that I work with on a day to day basis, because I feel that we can turn things around , it seems like with global warming and all the political issues that are going on in different countries, people wanting to build walls, and xenophobia going on in Africa, I feel that we still have great leaders, who have ethical leadership, and they assume their responsibility to lead people in the right direction.
So I would say that we have young people that can see a better version of the world, than what we are experiencing right now.
(BRIAN) I would say that when I was younger, when I was growing up, people used to say that children are the future and youth are the future, and I think that’s not true, I think that youth are the present, and when you look at events like the climate strike today, that´s clear evidence of that.
So my message will go to the people of all ages, we really have to include young people and give them a voice in the conversations that we are having, whether that’s in our political issues, education systems, we really have to listen to them and include them as equals, not only talking down to them, but to actually have a conversation with them as equal partners in this thing, cause that’s the only way we will be able to move forward with future projects.
Interview by Alejandro Azcárate for The Yucatan Times