Launching the Listen to America Bus Tour

The National Institute for Civil Discourse, housed within The University of Arizona College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, and Huffington Post are partnering to do a bus tour of 25 cities to Listen to America. At the height of fake news, distrust in the media, political polarization, and demonization of those with different viewpoints, it’s time for the media to listen to America, and it’s time for Americans to listen to each other. The premise of democracy lies in the respect and appreciation of a wide range of ideas and the belief that through ongoing, synergistic discussion of diverse viewpoints, we will together come to the best possible methods of governing our people. When we stop listening to others, we hinder collaboration, we sabotage the power of synergy, we fail the ideals of democracy.

“Freedom is a fragile thing and never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom, and then lost it, have never known it again.” –Ronald Reagan

At yesterday’s Listen to America launch event, it was clear that freedom was lining the words of each speaker. The freedom gained from being heard, from being seen, from becoming financially literate, from having access to healthcare, from having our wounds, our injustices acknowledged, from discussing racial issues openly. Each speaker touched on race in the context of the St. Louis community. Speakers included Donald Suggs, Publisher of the St. Louis American; Reverend Starsky Wilson, President and CEO of Deaconess Foundation; Tishaura Jones, Treasurer of the City of St. Louis and Parking Supervisor; Megan Green, Alderwoman. Lydia Polgreen, Editor in Chief of Huffington Post, kicked off the launch with a few words of her own and emceed the event.

These men and women are phenomenal. With 4/5 of them being black/brown and 4/5 of them being under 40, they represent our future leadership in this country. More black and brown babies are born in the US than white (Pew Research Center). These leaders are models for our youth, of who can lead and how to lead. Donald Suggs was the first to acknowledge the demographics of the speakers present and said that as the elder of the group, he was proud to see those younger than him leading the way.

There were goosebumps, snaps, and claps from the audience with Reverend Starsky using metaphor and analogy to reach hearts and minds. His rhythmic rhetoric first acknowledged those whose lands were stolen, whose lives were stolen, whose humanity was stolen. If this is what we call America, land of the great and the free, we are being brainwashed with lies, with injustice being passed as ‘great.’ This version of America is, as Starsky’s mentor calls it, a “bad cake that needs to be re-baked,” with a narrative that revolves around the “white male with property.”

Tishaura Jones, Treasurer of the City of St. Louis, has begun the re-baking process by expanding the role of a city treasurer. She opened the city’s first Office of Financial Empowerment which offers free financial literacy classes and counseling. She also initiated the College Kids: Children Savings Account Program which uses the city’s parking revenues as seed grants giving $50 to each kindergartener in a savings account to be used for their college education.

Megan Green, Ward 15 Alderwoman, explains what MLK called “moderate whites,” people who are more concerned with order than they are with justice. “Black Lives Matter is okay, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my commute home from work.” Green openly acknowledges her ability, as a white woman, to reach other whites and discuss what allyship can mean.

In its first few hours, the Listen to America bus tour created space for an open mic night under the St. Louis sun and this is what we heard. We fear what we don’t understand. Let’s take the time to understand our differences, fully, without judgement, with open hearts and unblinking eyes full of wonder and curiosity. Feel in awe of how big our America is and have confidence that it is big enough for all of us.

Follow us on the bus tour to hear more stories. Follow me on Medium to hear mine.