Tutu was in town to receive the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award for his global efforts on behalf of democracy – the National Democratic Institute’s highest honor. Before his arrival, the Walker School pupils practiced their greeting, “Good morning, guests!” and lined up so their teachers could check that their shoes were properly tied.
Walking stiffly down the steps to the church’s undercroft, the Walker School’s temporary home, (“I’m slightly older than I was yesterday!”), Tutu stopped at the bottom and beamed a high-wattage smile as the boys burst into “This Little Light of Mine.”
“Yayyyyy!” he said, clapping as they finished and giving them all high fives as they launched into “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
After formal introductions were made – “It’s a special honor.” “I’m special and I’m honest.” – the boys gathered around Tutu as he read from his new picture book for children, “God’s Dream” (Candlewick Press, 2008).
“Child of God, what do you dream about?” he read, and the boys quickly chimed in: “I dream about rainbows growing across the sky.” “I dream about Batman.”
“You guys are funny!” Tutu laughed, then lowered his voice to a hush: “Do you know what God dreamed about? Close your eyes, and look into your heart.”
He held up the picture of children closing their eyes.
“God dreams about people sharing,” he said. “God dreams that we reach out and hold one another’s hands and play one another’s games and love one another’s hearts.”
Then: “I’m enjoying meeting with you, you know. I think you’re just great guys. Tell me, what would you like to be?”
“Batman!” “Superman!” “A fighter on a wrestling team!” “I want to be a hamburger!”
They all fall around, laughing.
“Did you know Bishop Walker?” the boys want to know.
“Yes,” Tutu says. “I liked him. He was my friend.”
Later, in the nave of St. Philip’s with more than 60 children from the St. Philip’s Child Development Center, Tutu again spoke of Walker.
“Bishop Walker was a very dear friend and a very great man, and [the school] is such a wonderful monument to him,” he said. “Apart from the fact that he helped to complete the cathedral, this school would light his heart more than anything.”
Tutu shared his hopes that then- president-elect Barack Obama would also lighten some hearts.
“It’s great for the United States. It’s great for all the world,” he said. “The election of the first black president means a great deal to people everywhere – especially people of color.”
“You must know that you can be president of the United States,” he said, seriously. Then, pointing a playful finger at one of the children he asked: “You want to be president? How about you? You want to be Batman?”
Then, laughing merrily, he donned his navy blue coat and disappeared through the rain into the car that brought him, like a short, stiff, but eternally youthful Santa.