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Tutu Excites Benefit Crowd

It takes more than just another actor to get people excited on the Los Angeles charity circuit, where celebrities often outnumber the canapes. But the prospect of meeting South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu drew a strong crowd to a $200-per-plate benefit at the Biltmore Hotel on Thursday night, where the Anglican prelate was honored at a dinner to raise money for his Southern African Refugee Scholarship Fund. Since its inception in 1984, the fund has provided help for more than 1,000 South African and Namibian refugee students with grants, counseling and emergency loans.

“I told my mom that I was coming to meet Bishop Tutu and she said, ‘I want to go! I want to go!’ ” said gospel singer Sandra Crouch, who entertained the crowd over dinner with her brother Andrae and the Crouch Family Singers.

The archbishop made a splash at a pre-supper reception when he arrived with his wife, Leah, his grandson Xabiso, and his daughter Thandi. Another daughter, Mpho, is the director of the fund, which allows African students from refugee camps to attend college in the United States. By the time the archbishop had circled the reception, laughing all the way, his face was streaked with lipstick traces, and baby Xabiso looked like he was ready for bed.

The prospect of meeting Tutu seemed to daunt the crowd. “Oh God, I shook his hand,” said a thrilled Dierdre Downing-Jackson, regional director for Lt. Gov. Leo McCarthy. Others, like Bevelyn Expose, were more reserved. “Sure, it was a thrill,” said Expose, “but it was nothing like it was during the ‘60s, meeting John F. Kennedy or Dr. Martin Luther King.”

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Actress Telma Hopkins, who emceed the evening with actor Michael Ti Williamson, admitted to being a bit nervous, having never met Tutu. Asked why she thought there was no leader like Tutu or Nelson Mandela to galvanize black Americans, she said: “There’s a combination of people in the United States aware of the lack of positive images, but we don’t have one single inspiration like Bishop Tutu. Maybe instead of just one person, in this country, we have several.”

Attendees included chairpersons Tom Bradley (with wife Ethel), Suzanne de Passe, the Right Rev. Frederick H. Borsch, and Dr. John Slaughter. Also there: Congresswoman Barbara Boxer, gubernatorial candidate Dianne Feinstein, Assemblywoman Ruther Galanter, James Earl Jones, Quincy Jones, L. A. Urban League President John Mack, Lionel Richie, Mark Ridley Thomas, Stanley Sheinbaum, Assemblywoman Maxine Waters, Sen. Diane Watson and Alfre Woodard.

Several African students who will be graduating from American universities this month made speeches, emphasizing the need in South Africa for educational as well as political freedom. Actor James Earl Jones introduced the archbishop as “a man who exemplifies the fact that truth has no national boundary, and knowledge has no race.”

“Listening to that great music, I wonder why you wanted to stop it to listen to my address,” said the archbishop, who peppered his remarks with a plethora of jokes and anecdotes. “I am utterly overwhelmed by the love and caring of so many people. You in America are particularly noted for your hospitality, generosity and love.”

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