Given the racial climate in which we live, it can be difficult to find paths to productive discourse.
Despite this, there are those brave souls that try to bridge the gap between disparate ideologies.
One of these is Daryl Davis.
Davis is an accomplished musician who has played with the likes of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. However, this isn’t the most striking thing about him.
In an interview with 9 News, Davis talked about his decades-long mission to befriend and eventually convert Ku Klux Klan members.
So far, he has been successful over two dozen individual times. He's chronicled his successes and failures in a book, Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, and in the documentary Accidental Courtesy.
It’s important to point out that most of Davis’ childhood was spent outside of the U.S., and that he only began to witness tense race relations once he returned to a newly-desegregated America. “When I experienced racism here in my own country, I was not prepared for it. I had never heard the word racism,” he said.
To help him make friends after being abroad for so long, Davis' parents enrolled him in the Cub Scouts.
It was this experience that first taught Davis what racism was. He marched with his fellow Cub Scouts and had rocks and bottles thrown at him. To their credit, white Scouts blocked the assault with their own bodies.
His parents explained that the people throwing things at him were doing it because of the color of his skin.
“I literally thought they were liars, because I could not understand how anyone who had never seen me, who had never spoken to me, who knew nothing about me, would want to cause me harm, just because of the color of my skin,” said Davis.
Ever since, Davis has dedicated himself to answering the question,“How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?”
Davis' interaction with the Klan began when one Klansman began coming to his shows. Once Davis found out that this man was a fan of his, he reached out to him, and asked if he could interview him.
The Klansman did one better: he hooked Davis up with the leader of the KKK in Maryland, a man called Roger Kelly.
Though initially Davis never planned to “make friends with the Klan,” his first meeting with Kelly led to the Klan leader coming to his gigs and eventually to his house.
The men would talk for hours. Sometimes things got a little heated.
But eventually, the unthinkable happened: Kelly quit the KKK. In a metaphorical exchange of hope, Kelly actually handed his robes to Davis, crediting the musician with opening his mind, and starting a tradition which other Klansmen Davis has befriended have followed.
Davis now has more than 24 robes in his collection.
Davis definitely worries about losing his temper or fears for his safety during conversations such as this, but has learned how to keep his emotions in check throughout the years. And he has learned how to show members of the KKK the error of their ways.
“The greatest weapon I have is information,” he said, noting that Klansmen he talks to are often surprised about the depths of his knowledge about the organization.
Davis also stressed the importance of civil dialogue. “When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting. They might be yelling and screaming and disagreeing, but at least they’re talking."
In acting calmly during his talks, Davis feels he teaches Klansmen something. “When you are actively learning about someone else, you may not realize it, but at the same time you are passively teaching them about yourself."
Davis said that it isn't just Klansmen whose ire he has to worry about. Some in the black community aren't particularly fond of his efforts either.
Some wonder why would he “befriend” the enemy; other have called him an "Uncle Tom."
All of this comes to a head in the Accidental Courtesy documentary, when Davis engages in a heated debate with Black Lives Matters activists Tariq Touré and Kwame Rose. Both argued that Davis was putting energy into a lost cause, with Rose asking him why he was “wasting time going into people’s houses that don’t love [him].”
To his younger critics, and to all who wonder why Davis has put so much of his life into Maryland's KKK, he says the answer is simple. “It’s not for my good. I consider it to be for the good of people in my society.”