Up until Saturday I had never heard of Daryl Davis. Hill and I attended the Faith Matters Restore conference over the weekend where he was a speaker. When he walked onto the stage I was unsure what we were getting. Born in 1958 to parents in the US Foreign Service, Daryl spent the first ten years in school with kids from all over the world. Upon moving back to the United States he started to experience the realities of racism that existed in our country at the time. After people threw bottles at him in a cub scout parade, he just couldn’t comprehend that someone would hate him just because of his skin color. He asked himself a question that he continues to ask to this day. “How can someone hate me when they don’t even know me?”

Daryl Davis got a degree in jazz performance and developed his skill in the boogie-woogie piano style. He performed with some of the early pioneers of rock and roll – Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and B. B. King. One night while playing at a club he was approached by a white man who was surprised to see a black man become so skilled in his craft. They sat down for a drink at eventually the man revealed that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Over a period of time the two men became friends, and eventually Daryl convinced him to share the phone number of Roger Kelly, grand-master and local Klan leader. Despite warnings of serious risk, Daryl set up an interview with Mr. Kelly. 

Mr Davis often says that everyone deserves to be heard. Listening has become his greatest tool in affecting social change. “What I have come to find to be the greatest and most effective and successful weapon that we can use, known to man, to combat such adversaries as ignorance, racism, hatred, violence, is also the least expensive weapon, and the one that is the least used by Americans. That weapon is called communication.”

After years of conversations and friendship, Mr Kelly resigned his membership in the KKK and gave his robes and hood to Daryl, renouncing his years of hatred. Mr Davis has now been at this work for forty-one years and has collected over 60 pieces of racist paraphanalia from those who have also resigned their membership. Forty years for sixty people. Seems like a lot of effort for so little gain. Is it even worth it??? He thinks so, and shows no signs of slowing down. 

With so many social issues in the world, my individual effort at times feels hopeless. I definitely get lost in that hopelessness and lose focus on what’s most important. But remember what David McRaney says in his book, How Minds ChangeSocial change takes persistence and luck. And it takes thousands of people constantly working. Today, I’m grateful for Daryl Davis. I’m grateful for his tireless work to make the world a better place. I think he can inspire each of us to take up a cause and be more committed.

After his talk he sat down at the piano and brought down the house. A true master of his craft.

Check out a more in depth interview with Daryl Davis here. It’s worth the read!