Guest: Musician, Activist & Author Daryl Davis

The power of communication and dialogue

Could you sit and have a conversation with someone who hated you simply for the color of your skin? Not many could, but my guest on this episode, Daryl Davis has made it his life’s mission to understand that question and in doing so has been instrumental in converting hundreds of KKK and Neo Nazi’s members.

The power of communication and dialogue has been an underestimated tool for far too long. The potency behind this idea is simple. “If two enemies are having a conversation, then they are not fighting-they’re talking. They might be yelling and screaming, but at least they are talking. It’s when the conversation ceases that the ground becomes fertile or violence.”

This incredibly wise advice is one of many gold nuggets talked about within this episode of Breakthroughs with Jordan Murphy as I interview Daryl Davis known not only for the Netflix documentary Accidental Courtesy, but also as a American R&B and blues musician, activist, author, actor and bandleader.

Known for his energetic style of boogie-woogie piano, Davis has played with such musicians as Chuck Berry,[1][2] Jerry Lee Lewis, B. B. King,[2] . As well as his tireless efforts to improve race relations as an African-American who has engaged with members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and been reported on by media such as CNN, NPR, and The Washington Post.[5][6][7][8]. He does so by having in-person conversations with members of KKK and Nazi groups in efforts to understand each other and change deeply rooted beliefs.

A Nation Divided by Color:

Daryl in an educated, and well-traveled individual. Throughout his life he has traveled to a total of 56 countries within 6 continents. As a result, Daryl has experienced a variety of customs, cultures, and religions. No matter where he’s been or what he’s seen, there’s been one commonality in it all. We are all human beings, there is one race--the human race--and there are just many different cultures and colors underneath that race. This simple understanding has guided him throughout life as he searches for answers to one simple, yet sleep-depriving question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

This question sprung into existence for Daryl after his first experience with racism at the age of 10 years old. Daryl’s family had moved to Belmont, Massachusetts. He attended a school in which he was only 1 of 2 black students. Soon after acclimating he decided to join the Cub Scouts with some friends from school.

One day, the town held a parade in celebration of Paul Revere. All the local clubs would march through the city streets. Somewhere throughout this parade, bottles, cans, and debris from the streets were being thrown directly at Daryl. His only thought was “these people must really dislike the Cub Scouts”. However, it wasn’t until his Cub Scout leaders huddled around to protect him that he realized he was the only target. When he got home his parents asked why he had blood and bruises, and he told his parents what happened. His parents sat him down and broken-heartedly had to explain to their son what racism was for the very first time.

Ignorance Breeds fear:

Daryl’s experience at 10 years only was the first of many pivotal points in his life leading him to conversations with “the enemy”. In fact, it was a conversation with the head of a Ku-Klux-Klan in Washington that he learned one of the biggest lessons of all. “When we are ignorant of things we don’t understand we become fearful and accusatory of one another. Ignorance breeds fear, and if you don’t keep that fear in check, then it breeds hatred. We hate the things that frighten us. If you don’t keep that hatred in check, then that hatred will in-turn breed destruction. We want to destroy the things we hate because they scare us. Ironically though, a lot of these things we’re scared of are harmless, and in fact we are just ignorant.”

Final thoughts from Daryl:

“We spend too much time in this country talking about the other person, talking at the other person, and talking past the other person. It’s about time we begin just talking with the other person.”

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”- Mark Twain (Travel Quote)

Jordan Murphy