We're on a tour called "Looking For America," playing shows in 50 cities across this fine nation. Today, before sound check I went for a run through a small farm town in Missouri. And as I ran through the fields and suburbs of our nation, I listened to Dr. Rev. MLK speak on "The Other America." He was speaking on issues of poverty, race, justice, and equality. And as I listened to these incredible words from our not so distant past, I happened to run past a correctional facility. I chose a road that led along the outside of the barbed wire fence and kept running.
And as I ran past the prison, I saw an inmate looking out. He was a black man about my age. I saw him and he saw me. His eyes watching from the inside, and me running by on the outside- and I began to think about the many stories that had brought us here: his stories and mine. His America. And mine.
So with MLK ringing in my ears, I began to think of the privileges that I had grown up with as a white kid in the suburbs of America: the education, the job opportunities, the community resources, and the rest. These are privileges that the average black kid in the city doesn't have access to. It's uncomfortable and unpopular to talk about, but racial reconciliation is a subject that cannot be ignored any longer. I want to hear your voice, and I want to be heard. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I feel like dialogue is the only way forward. I want to find a better future together.
Ours is the story of an America where caucasians make more money than folks with darker skin. An America where the black population accounts for more than 60% of the prison system. An America where black kids are three times more likely to live in poverty than white kids. It's the story where the poor are more likely to get incarcerated in our American prisons than they are to get the best education from our schools. Yes, "this land is your land this land is my land," but white fathers and black fathers have different conversations with their sons about law enforcement.
My mind drifted back to the incarcerated man. I wondered what crime had he been charged with? And if guilty, what desperation drives a man to break the law? What tragedy? Every crime has a context, and our histories interweave. Underneath this one man's story is a larger story: the story of "The Other America."
I'm sure, we've all got a different perspective on Ferguson, or Charlotte, or Kaepernick. But instead of digging into our disagreements, let's start the conversation with something we can all agree about: these racially charged events are indicative of deep, honest feelings of fear, anger, rage, and frustration. Race is a four letter word attached to years of slavery and legal segregation. To see a better future, we must acknowledge our past: the white man chose to come to America, seeking a new world with new opportunities; the black man came here in chains, as an imported good, to be exploited and sold for labor. Many of America's white founding architects of freedom also had black humans as slaves. A white man with a badge and a gun killing an unarmed black man should be deeply troubling to all of us- like an archetypal reminder of our troubled past, and a reminder that our national creed of equality is far from reality.
I have an enormous respect for my friends and family in law enforcement community. And I fear for the safety of my friends sometimes, as their very occupation puts them at risk of violence in American streets. But I also fear for my black friends, suffering violence at the hands of American law enforcement.
I do not believe that violence is the answer, for any of us. But I also want to acknowledge the injustice and inequality that fuels the frustration within the black community. These incidents of civil unrest are symptoms of an ever growing tear in the fabric of this nation. Or maybe the fabric placed over our atrocities is being cut open by those who feel placed underneath? Like volcanoes bubbling up- these moments are indicative of the unfathomable magma suppressed beneath the surface. Rather than argue about these events in an overly simplistic, binary fashion, let's look at each of these incidents as symptoms pointing to the wounds that run deep in the American body. Yes, each of us is responsible for our actions. But let's also acknowledge the thread that runs through all of our individual narratives. What do we do with our fears? Do we attempt to destroy narratives that frighten us. Or will we begin to look for the deeper story?
America who are you?
Fascism wants to silence any perspective other than it's own. But freedom is dialogue where every voice is welcome. I want to listen. I want the conversation. How else can we learn? How else can we grow, if we will not listen to one another? l believe in this grand experiment of liberty, free speech, and governance by the people for the people. And I believe that this dialogue is ours to pass along to the next generation. I believe that at its best, the American dream is one of friendship - Living life together in a community of service, love, and generosity.
We the people. We hold these truths to be self evident that all humanity is created equal, with certain unalienable liberties. All of us with our specific stories, knit together in a landscape of community. All of our individual perspectives joined together.
Red and yellow, black and white- we are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot, a stew.
After all, what is a good-old fashioned American family? The fact is, there isn't one. America, has far too many beautiful, unique faces! You cannot find the future in one story alone. The fact is that there are millions of different versions of the American family- all radically different from each other. In this great patchwork quilt of liberty they are all equally American: free to worship what they choose to worship, free to speak their perspective, free to be themselves. Specifically themselves. Above our fears, let's begin to hear the stories and songs of this diverse nation.
Friday Night Movie Night
Every Friday my friends and I celebrate one of my favorite traditions: Friday Night Movie Night. At the end of the work week, friends and families gather together at their house with a prayer and a simple meal. It's a beautiful chaos with kids of all ages chasing chickens, and dogs, and each other around the yard. It's a celebration of years of friendship, decades of a life that we've shared together.
When I think about the children in that yard on Friday night, so many joyful pictures come flooding to mind. The laughter, the smiles, the bright eyes. These beautiful children beautifully representing the future of America. Each one of these kids has their own story to tell. With skinned knees and wide-eyed curiosity these young souls are still learning about their own strengths and weaknesses.
On Friday night, so many colors shine so bright: blond hair and afros; blue eyes and dark. On Friday night, we celebrate our differences --tan skin, white skin, and beautiful dark brown-skinned faces- all laughing, eating, even arguing. A cop, a construction worker, a pastor, a marine, a musician, a hula dancer - all are welcome.
But no one talks like that here. These beautiful children are not identified by their differences. And neither are their parents. On Friday night, all of us are simply identified as friends. Friends who have stood by each other's side for decades. Friends who have been there time and time again for each other.
And that is the America I believe in: an America of friends, united by our common desire to see a better future together. A collection of unique individuals bound by our commitment to each other in spite of our differences.
Looking for America
Yes, America is going to mean millions of different things to each of us. And yet, the landscape of problems that we face as a nation are often painted with a binary brush. Black or white. True or False. Trump or Hillary. Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter. This or that/ Either or. And though this may be the most expedient way for the media to tell the story, the full story about America is never binary. It's nuanced with the millions of personal stories that make up our land.
America is at the crossroads. We are facing more than just another election: we are facing an identity crisis. America is a social experiment, built on the constructs of equality and freedom. But beneath the rhetoric, America is it's people. America is you. And me. And 300 million other human souls- each with different dreams and fears, different outlooks and childhoods.
It's personal. Just as we are persons. If you can't find a job, that unemployment statistic means something more than just a number. You and I, we fall into categories, but none of us fit that stereotype completely. We come from these disparate backgrounds, you and I. And yet, our stories intersect in so many ways. We need each other. We are brothers in the human race. We are family, bound together. We will never be rid of the evil of racism, fighting for one side or another. "Liberty and justice for all." That's the America I believe in- it's not either/or.
"Love is the final fight."
At the end of my run, Martin Luther King's words were still ringing in my ears. And time begs the question, is "The Other America" still in existence today? An America fighting for equality, fighting for civil justice, hoping for a better future? Absolutely. In fact, I would say there are more than just one "other America." There are countless versions of the American dream, stories as diverse as this immigrant nation.
Fear gives birth to fear. Hatred gives birth to hatred. Violence gives birth to violence. "Love is the final fight." I sing these words every night. They were inspired by a hero of mine named Dr. John M Perkins, a man who refuses to respond to hatred with hatred. A man who understands that the fight for freedom is larger than just one story. It's a small, fearful mind that refuses to hear any narrative other than their own.
But love ends that cycle. Love chooses to allow someone else into your story. Love listens to a stranger's story, and allows that story to mix and dance with your own. Dr. Perkins chose to show love knowing he might receive nothing in return. It's a dangerous, costly response to hatred and violence. But love alone can end that cycle of hatred, violence, and retaliation. Our stories are different, you and I. And we will disagree. But love chooses to listen. Chooses to care. Chooses to acknowledge that your story has the same weight and value as my own.
Oh America, will you rise to the occasion or sink under the weight of the task at hand? Are we willing to accept that we share this nation, that your burden is my burden? United we stand. Divided we fall. I'm not interested in blind faith or nationalism - I'm well aware that the real America has a troubled a past. We've had moments where we've represented our national creed, and moments when we've desecrated the very ideals we say that we stand for.
All the same, I believe in the ideals that my grandparents fought for: freedom, equality, justice, the right to self-governance. And I believe in America. Yours and mine. There are a millions of American stories other than our own. Can we listen? Will our children inherit an America large enough to to fit all of our stories? Or will we try to silence the voices that don't agree with our perspective... Who decides? We the people.
My fellow Americans, I implore you: do not let your fears speak louder than your hopes. Do not shout out the voices that speak differently than your own. Our diversity is a blessing, not a threat, not a liability. We can't find the future in one story alone. Let's begin to listen to each other. Let's open ourselves up to the possibilities of different perspectives. It's uncomfortable, unsettling, even terrifying at times. But it's time to hear the truth about many faces of America. Time to begin to move forward together- many stories, many shades of skin, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.