Putting The United Back Into The United States: Greg Freeman of ‘Greg Freeman Media’ On The 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society
Remember and self-reflect. We all enjoy a trip down memory lane, right? Recall those times when people seemed closer or more united, and let’s ask ourselves, “What changed?” Is there something that, upon closer evaluation, we need to personally improve or overcome? Maybe there is, perhaps there isn’t. Either way, honest, self-examination is healthy. Also, remember that negativity is either contagious or off-putting. A friend once confronted me for always having something to complain about and forever venting about someone who had made me angry. It was humbling to receive that biting criticism, but an honest friend will tell you when you’re better off breaking something cheap or keeping your incessant grumbling to yourself. Does negativity spew from you like a fountain? Letting off steam on occasion is one thing, but constant griping is partly why our country has reached this point of division. Are we becoming a nation of quibblers, whiners and backbiters?
As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Freeman.
Greg Freeman is an author, editor, recording artist, songwriter, lifelong horseman, avid gardener and founder of Greg Freeman Media, home to digital publications related to the American South, Philadelphia, gardening, horse breeding and more. His published works include encyclopedic entries, academic essays and general interest articles related to the American South, African American history, race, music (especially gospel music), film and television, the visual arts and gender/masculinity studies, as well as horses and horticulture. He has also interviewed an array of award-winning singers, authors, actors, visual artists, business people and other important figures. As a recording artist and songwriter, Freeman has released Sunlight and Shadows, a country music single, and Blessing and Blessing, a gospel EP, and his songs have also been recorded by other musicians.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you for this opportunity. I am delighted to share my perspectives on some important issues. Regarding my beginnings, I was adopted, and I believe this has proven to be an integral part of my story. As a child, it became evident that I was not destined to become an athlete, a builder or fixer of things, but I became a thinker, a creative spirit, a dreamer and a retainer of information, some of it useful. My parents might not have understood or encouraged all of my interests, but they certainly did not discourage me or allow anything to hinder my thirst for knowledge and exploration. Having been brought up in a home where love and faith were put into action and not just spoken of in the abstract, I am grounded in my Christian beliefs. I am particularly aware that, because of my adoption, I was afforded opportunities that so many children never receive. I think that’s why, through all of my artistic expressions and business pursuits, I desire to make a positive impact, provoke some thought, challenge archaic ways of thinking and celebrate the beauty God has placed all around us. I am convinced that the path for my purpose in life has been orchestrated by circumstances beyond my control and by a power greater than anything found in this world. I would also add that I believe all good gifts are from God and should be used for good. Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas said something to the effect that God gets the glory for our successes, and we get the blessings. I like that! Even scripture urges us to stir up the gift within ourselves that is much nobler than our own selfish ambitions.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I had a propensity for telling creative stories and putting them to paper early on. In my library of books, I have a children’s book that had seen better days when it was given to me by my school’s library at the end of third grade. The book is about a young Native American boy. In the blank pages, following the story, I wrote a sequel and drew my own illustrations during the summer following third grade! It’s all quite hilarious to look back on my younger, imaginative self, but it shows that the wheels were turning at such a young age. And thank God I still have my audacious imagination.
It was also during this time and the years that followed that my storytelling was profoundly influenced by the oral histories shared by my dad and several older men –grandfather figures, if you will — including my neighbor, Kenny Young, who was a World War II veteran of the Pacific Theatre. He and his wife, Peggy, had lived in Los Angeles for years, and he talked of knowing Elisha Clark, the actor who appeared as “Ice Pick” in episodes of Magnum P. I. He had also met John Wayne once in a doctor’s office. I was enthralled! Mr. Young was a voracious reader, and he loaned me books, cowboy and western-themed stories, from time to time, including a few that I was probably too young to be reading. I frequently visited the Youngs where I often found Mr. Young lounging in his recliner in his boxer shorts, completely caught up in his latest paperback. He had seen parts of the world I might never see firsthand and had some stories to tell, and I was all ears.
I usually amuse people when I name my first writing inspiration. As a young person, every time I would see the opener for the TV show, Murder, She Wrote, during which Angela Lansbury’s character, Jessica Fletcher, would be banging away at her typewriter, I could imagine myself being a novelist. (I wound up writing mostly nonfiction, but that’s beside the point.) My dad even bought me an antique Smith-Corona typewriter, which I still have. When I was graduated from high school in 1992, I used some of the money I received as gifts from friends and relatives and purchased an electronic typewriter. I thought I was hot stuff! My first published magazine articles were typed on that typewriter, and I used to write letters more often than I do now. Long, short story-length letters. God bless the people who suffered through those. Years passed before a friend shamed me into using a computer and catching up with the times, and I’ve not looked back since then.
As for music, it was my biggest influence early on, and I have my mother’s love of music to thank for that. Church music. Country music. It didn’t matter; I liked a little bit of everything then, as I do now. Music stirred me, and I had to let it out through singing and later songwriting. I can get lost in a song, and I’m always dumbfounded how some people hear the same song or performance that transports me to another world or emotional dimension, but they feel nothing! Well into adulthood, I had several of my very first songs signed to publishing contracts by a notable Nashville publishing company, but I went for years with virtually no activity. When I finally reached out to some important figures for mentorship, things began to look up.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Currently, I am working on another gospel EP recording, a project promoting love and unity. On this project, I will be covering a moving song that was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and written shortly after his assassination in 1968. It is a song of hope and optimism. Another song to be included on this project is “Spread Love,” a call-to-action song I wrote with my songwriting friend, Babbie Mason. These songs, along with a couple of others, convey what is on my heart these days. We really need to come together, casting aside the restraints that have held us back from unconditionally loving our neighbors and finding common ground. Songs are powerful. Even if they do little to change the hearts of some people, they do wonders for young, impressionable minds. I think of great songs that have influenced generations, including “A Change is Gonna Come,” “Imagine,” “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” “We are the World” and “Lean on Me.” Songs like these implore us to set our ideals high and strive for nothing less. Ideally, I would have multiple artists from diverse races, backgrounds and musical tastes joining me on “Spread Love,” but my budget constraints will probably limit the recording to me and some studio singers. However, I believe a powerful song is always bigger than the artist who is recording it. Perhaps “Spread Love” will wind up on other artists’ projects in the future and further spread its important message. Either way, I think its theme can sear the consciousness of listeners, and that is needed at this time.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I can point to several mentors and many supporters, but one in particular stands out. Don Butler, a charter member, past president and longtime executive director of the Gospel Music Association, as well as a past vice president of the Recording Academy, the organization responsible for awarding Grammys, had made quite an impression on me through a Gaither video project. I contacted him at a time when I was deeply discouraged. His health happened to be failing, as I would soon discover, and he had begun talking less with friends — many of them quite famous — because he didn’t feel up to it. He made time for me, though, and I will always cherish the special bond we shared. For about three years or so until his death, he encouraged me, prayed for me daily and poured into me so many words of wisdom. He never looked upon my personal failures with judgement or criticism. He believed in my musical gifts, and dared me to think big, challenging me to never settle for mediocrity. Much of what I learned from him, I have applied to my pursuits outside of the music world as well. I benefited from him more in personal and spiritual development than industry advancement, and the timing of our friendship was no accident, as far as I am concerned.
Certainly, Don Butler had the greatest impact on encouraging me to persevere and strive for excellence, but I must also say that Babbie Mason has really helped me move mountains. She is a Grammy-nominated recording artist, hit songwriter and professor of songwriting. I learn from her each time we collaborate. Babbie, being African American and the daughter of a minister, was influenced by the Black Church experience growing up, and has proven capable of performing and writing songs that are both within and outside of that traditional gospel vein. Being a southern white boy, I was influenced by what was most familiar: white southern gospel artists, including a lot of family groups, who were noted for their harmonies. I also love blues, rock & roll, country and, of course, traditional black gospel. Our unique, respective backgrounds have ensured that Babbie and I have been able to write a diverse selection of songs, and they are definitely among the best in my catalog.
Others have been a huge encouragement to me, including Art Bain, my longtime producer, Lynn Keesecker, a past record label executive in Nashville, and my good friend, Ricky McKinnie, a member of the Grammy-winning Blind Boys of Alabama and president of Traditions Cultural Arts, Inc., a nonprofit with which I am involved. And I mustn’t forget my non-musician friends who have been crucial to my journey, including my pastor, Tim Sheriff, the congregation at Poplar Springs Baptist Church (Walhalla, SC), Jeff and Selena Martin, Sherry Volrath, Peggy Butler, Jane Cox, Elizabeth Cowden, Pastor Rod and Andrea Lyda and the late Roman White, a dear friend who encouraged my singing but did not live to see me experience some successes.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Okay, first of all, mistakes are not funny…unless they’re caught on camera and land you a spot on America’s Funniest Home Videos, or become viral sensations. I wish I could point to just one interesting mistake, but looking back I’m sad to say that I have made my fair share, personally and professionally.
Someone once told me that even an editor needs an editor, and one of my first published articles was so riddled with spelling errors that it embarrasses me to go back and read it to this day. Beginning writers must never assume that editors will make sure copy is clean and worthy of publication. Writers should do that in the first place. Another early article of mine prompted an editor to accuse me of employing hyperbole. Heck, I had to look up the word! And my first thought was, “This editor is absolutely the most absurd and ridiculous person I’ve ever dealt with.” Bam! Hyperbole! While I still have no desire to work with the editor again for other reasons, he pointed to a serious flaw in my writing that would have been detrimental, had I shopped essays or articles with major publications at that time. Looking back, I’m sure my insecurity as a young writer caused me to use exaggerative terms and lush sentences that were totally unnecessary.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love biographies, and I have written encyclopedic biographies on many individuals, including Elia Kazan, Mahalia Jackson, W. C. Handy, Travis Tritt and Tyler Perry. I have also interviewed figures as varied as New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (when he was Louisiana Lt. Governor), Dr. Raphael Warnock (now a U. S. Senator), actor Jesse James and Grammy winners Bill Gaither, Ashley Cleveland, Wes Hampton, Ricky McKinnie and Chris Albertson. I am intrigued by individuals who have overcome great adversities in life and grown stronger because of their experiences and even their failures. I think that’s why I am so moved by certain individuals in the Bible. That said, I don’t read self-help books. And I’ve been impacted by too many works of both fiction and nonfiction to narrow it down to any particular title.
Films have very much inspired me, and the adaptations of works by Tennessee Williams and John Steinbeck are among my favorites. I love the literary work of James Agee, and he co-wrote the screenplay adaptation for C. S. Forester’s The African Queen. To me, the timeless message of persevering with purpose is powerful in that classic film. Remember how Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) and Rose (Katharine Hepburn) travel down a river, evading all sorts of catastrophes, only to struggle to get their boat through marsh and reeds? From their vantage point, all seems nearly hopeless, but from the air and the greater perspective it offers, they are closer to their destiny than they realize. Exhausted, they collapse. Rose says a prayer. Rains further upstream eventually raise the water level and lift the boat out of the mire and vegetation, and before long they are in open water! I love how that story is a metaphor for our own lives from time to time. Our assessment of life is often limited by the challenge we see, not the bigger picture, and we mustn’t ever give up on pursuing our destiny.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
I am a collector of quotes. One, in particular, from author and historian Dr. Bill Ferris has always stood out to me. He said, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” My adoptive parents were in their late 30s when I was born. Most of their friends were older than they were, and I think that’s why I have always soaked up information from older people and tend to get along better with them. People with extensive life experiences are wonderful mentors. They usually have nothing to gain or lose by investing in a younger person and rooting for an understudy’s success. Young artists, whether they be singers, painters or writers, often gravitate toward other young artists, seeking recognition and validation, and they seldom receive it. If anything, other young artists harbor their own insecurities and jealousies, and might even see themselves as competitors. Older professionals who have “been there and done that” are motivated to pour out the wisdom they have gained from their experiences, not selfishly hoard it. Show me a phenomenally successful person, and I will show you someone who has likely reaped the benefits of connecting with veterans, not peers. I generally view industry veterans as great repositories of information, and I cling to every little nugget of wisdom.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I would define leadership as having a vested interest in and the wherewithal to achieve the overall unification, management and success of an organization, institution or business entity. Inefficiencies, communication breakdowns and lack of morale are often attributed to poor leadership. Therefore, the capabilities of great leaders are not to be underestimated. I believe effective leaders are quick to identify problems and solutions and are able to empathize with the concerns and needs of their management teams or employees as well as their clientele or constituency. A great leader is worthy of the powerful office she/he holds, but humble, and they are open to receiving constructive criticism, meeting with an employee to consider a suggestion or personally reaching out to a constituent to address an issue and ensure it is resolved in a timely fashion.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The polarization in our country has become so extreme that families have been torn apart. Erstwhile close friends have not spoken to each other because of strong partisan differences. This is likely a huge topic, but briefly, can you share your view on how this evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
I truly believe the internet and social media have provided greater access to and amplification of extreme points of view that have already existed. Ideas once considered on the fringes and rarely seeing the light of day in the mainstream can go viral in a matter of hours and circulate the world over through news outlets just as quickly. It is quite possible that seeing something in an online news piece or via a social media post gives it more credence than it deserves, and that further escalates the tension.
Long gone are the days when people considered it vulgar to talk about how much money they have or who they are supporting in an election. We know about their new BMW before they drive it off the dealer lot. We learn of their choice for U. S. Senate long before Election Day. And they even earn extra points, so to speak, when we click the “sad” or “care” button in response to how many times they went to the bathroom last night. We know about their new car, choice for senator and bladder problems because it shows up in our social media news feeds for all to see. If we have reached a boiling point, social media is the pot from which the polarization is spilling over. Is social media entirely to blame? No. But the ease with which partisan warfare can be conducted through social media makes it a significant factor. And, of course, that opens up discussions about responsible use and controversial matters of monitoring and censorship.
I have no pretensions about bridging the divide between politicians, or between partisan media outlets. But I’d love to discuss the divide that is occurring between families, co-workers, and friends. Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your experience about how family or friends have become a bit alienated because of the partisan atmosphere?
In my own family, I tend to be the most opinionated and outspoken about politics, but political discourses are rare among my relatives. I am friends, however, with one family in particular in which political discussions are now taboo at their gatherings. I understand that some members of the family have angrily left early from get-togethers because of the intensity of the arguments. This is sad because one can never change minds through red-faced, heated exchanges. This generally forces everyone into their respective corners. I recall being invited by friends to a party where I was warned in advance to avoid discussing politics with a particular family member, an older man who had hardline views along partisan lines. Sure enough, he brought up something political. I shared in an engaging way how I viewed things differently but could understand where he was coming from and how his views had been informed. We talked at great length and got along swimmingly! Someone later nudged me and apologized because I had been cornered into a political conversation, but I was not offended by his difference of opinion, and there was actually quite a bit on which we agreed!
In your opinion, what can be done to bridge the divide that has occurred in families? Can you please share a story or example?
I’m not sure that avoiding controversial discussions is entirely the solution, but like the conversation with the older gentleman to whom I just referred, we can all agree to disagree, if necessary. We can also put down our mobile phones, and return to conversations that are less about ourselves and our opinions, and focus the attention on our family members to remind them that, in spite of differences, we care about them. If we don’t care, we have a bigger problem.
When I first started interviewing musicians, artists and other prominent individuals, I found that I was rarely turned down. In fact, my requests for interviews have only been turned down by two or three people in over twenty years of writing and publishing. That said, I have found that people from all walks of life like to talk about themselves. A few entertainment people have egos the size of Texas, but most people genuinely enjoy talking about their goals and accomplishments, not because they are so full of themselves, but because they are thrilled that someone has taken an interest in their passions and hard work. I am guilty, as charged.
The same is true of our families. At your next gathering, instead of having those leading-to-nowhere conversations about weather, take an interest in a relative’s career or their kids’ most recent sports or school endeavors. Dote on babies. Praise toddlers for learning new words or making cute animal sounds. Shoot some hoops or throw the football in the backyard with the young kids. Put a smile on that sulking teenager’s face. Your corny jokes might prompt the classic eye roll, but teens naturally bristle because they think no one understands them. Be the cool, non-parent relative who makes the effort to try. Kids are the future, and everyone should see enormous potential and promise when they encounter a young person. Among the adults, instead of sharing unsolicited opinions, ask for advice. This can lead to a great conversation. It can be over where to buy a great pair of sneakers or restaurant recommendations for your upcoming anniversary. Even if one doesn’t want the advice, it gives other family members an opportunity to engage in a conversation that is neither Republican nor Democrat, conservative nor liberal. By the end of the dialogue, one has taken an interest in others’ ideas or views without ever broaching the topic of politics, and they feel validated, needed and helpful.
How about the workplace, what can be done to bridge the partisan divide that has fractured relationships there? Can you please share a story or example?
In this instance, I have nothing to draw from, having spent years working a “day job” alongside my father in the family business until his death. We pretty much shared the same political views. It seems so easy to say the workplace should be a place where enough time is devoted to getting the work done that there is no time left for partisan politics, but in reality we all know that is not the case. If relationships in the workplace are already fractured, it’s too late for corporate or management to discourage political discourse, but there are surely some things upper levels can do to foster camaraderie and restoration of relationships among employees. And I’m sure some companies are already exploring this.
I think one of the causes of our divide comes from the fact that many of us see a political affiliation as the primary way to self-identify. But of course there are many other ways to self-identify. What do you think can be done to address this?
I am always amazed at how vigorously someone will support their favorite sports team when, in reality, neither of the athletes are bound to ever give them the time of day. Yet some people will, for instance, declare “I’m a diehard Steelers fan” and become confrontational if anyone insults their team. Of late, I’ve encountered more and more people who blindly pledge their undying support for a political party and refuse to offer a critique of some of their party’s stances or individual candidates. They are poised to wage war, should anyone have legitimate criticisms. Why we feel compelled to take on these identities is beyond me, but it is apparently part of our inward nature, a tendency to form tribes and wear labels. At the end of the day, we have to realize that humanity — the biggest part of it, in fact — extends well beyond the borders of our great nation, and the rest of the world might not know a Steeler or Forty Niner from a Republican or Democrat. So, if we’re all just people trying to find our way, we need to recognize that our identities are rooted in so much more than our vocations, our titles or our political affiliations. We are members of the human race, and we should share a connection with the dreams and ambitions of our fellow humans, whether they speak a different language and live 5,000 miles away or share our points of view and live five counties over.
Much ink has been spilled about how social media companies and partisan media companies continue to make money off creating a split in our society. Sadly the cat is out of the bag and at least in the near term there is no turning back. Social media and partisan media have a vested interest in maintaining the divide, but as individuals none of us benefit by continuing this conflict. What can we do moving forward to not let social media divide us?
Well, I doubt that political posts will decline in popularity anytime soon, but I think we can intentionally stop sharing posts that view the opposing side as “the other” or “the enemy.” Those posts further alienate social media friends and contribute to the widening divide. On the other hand, I do feel that having a social media account grants me power, to a large extent, over the content I view, and I’m not obligated to accept every person who desires a social media connection with me. I know it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but it is entirely possible that we can get along with some people better in-person than online through our social sites.
Due to my name and work being “out there,” I receive friend requests from complete strangers from time to time. I generally accept anyone whose account does not appear fake, but sometimes one just has a sense, after perusing some people’s social media timelines, that accepting them will be like tap dancing on a mine field. I have declined some people because of extremist views expressed on their pages. Extremist views are not to be confused with opposing views. I have numerous friends whose political viewpoints sharply differ from mine, and I have social media followers from all walks of life.
What can we do moving forward to not let partisan media pundits divide us?
Oh, that’s easy! Stop giving them real estate space in our minds and conversations and on our social media pages. I don’t care what CNN or Fox News pundits think about an issue. I don’t listen to talk radio. For one thing, I don’t like being told what to think. And all of these partisan outlets feel duty bound to rally the troops or ridicule those who aren’t on their bandwagons. Most of the people I know would never carry on conversations with their worst enemies the way some of these people conduct on-air interviews and project themselves on social media. Pundits generate ratings, but they are really quite disgraceful, in my view. Give me great journalists such as Judy Woodruff, Peter Alexander or Gayle King. Offer more analysis like that of Mark Shields and David Brooks of PBS’s Shields and Brooks, in which two political opposites engaged with civility and respectability for decades. The partisan pundits on cable TV can be reduced to digging ditches and shoveling cow manure, for all I care. Most of them need a good dose of humility, and life has a way of humbling us all. What goes around comes around, as the old folks used to say, and I believe that these people, whose careers are built on stoking political division, furthering racial strife and contributing to cultural warfare, will eventually reap in their own lives some of the misery they have sown in the lives of others.
Sadly we have reached a fevered pitch where it seems that the greatest existential catastrophe that can happen to our country is that “the other side” seizes power. We tend to lose sight of the fact that as a society and as a planet we face more immediate dangers. What can we do to lower the ante a bit and not make every small election cycle a battle for the “very existence of our country”?
Liberals and conservatives alike employ this tactic a great deal. “If you do not vote for us, if you do not donate to our campaigns, if you do not get on our bandwagon, the soul of America will be lost.” It’s easier to declare war and reduce the opposing side to something that is anti-American or akin to the Antichrist than to hear each other out and find something in common with which we all can agree. As a Christian, my way of living is unequivocally informed by my faith but far from far right, as opposed to some of my fellow believers who consider Christian convictions and nationalism one and the same. Historically, nationalistic arrogance has been rooted in empirical concepts, not the tenets of any religion, and the record reflects that great empires have fallen. Democracy emphasizes the rights and the responsibilities of the individual. No matter who is in power, I will not naively trust our leaders to have all the answers, and it is not solely the government’s responsibility to make us better. If we want our country to be better, we have to be better! The dysfunction we see in Washington mirrors our own dysfunction. If my fellow Christians and I truly believe that God is in control, we will feel optimistic, regardless of who wins the majority of votes. At the end of the day, we all just need to realize that diversity, even diversity in political viewpoints, is healthy for democracy. My friends from other faiths, races and ethnicities are just as important to democracy’s functionality as I am. Besides, we often forget that everyday people, doing extraordinary things, make greater impacts on our society than Washington politicos.
Ok, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Remember and self-reflect. We all enjoy a trip down memory lane, right? Recall those times when people seemed closer or more united, and let’s ask ourselves, “What changed?” Is there something that, upon closer evaluation, we need to personally improve or overcome? Maybe there is, perhaps there isn’t. Either way, honest, self-examination is healthy. Also, remember that negativity is either contagious or off-putting. A friend once confronted me for always having something to complain about and forever venting about someone who had made me angry. It was humbling to receive that biting criticism, but an honest friend will tell you when you’re better off breaking something cheap or keeping your incessant grumbling to yourself. Does negativity spew from you like a fountain? Letting off steam on occasion is one thing, but constant griping is partly why our country has reached this point of division. Are we becoming a nation of quibblers, whiners and backbiters?
- Do some social media housecleaning, if necessary. Do our social media accounts portray us as poster children for partisan dissent? If our content or memes take cheap shots at the other side, perhaps we are part of the problem and not the solution. Remember, everyone loves pictures of cute puppies! Maybe we need to go back and clean up our pages and reinvent our social media personas. I know I have. Following the November 2020 election and its aftermath, I had strong feelings about some things and even stronger opinions about certain politicians, especially one in particular who clearly lost. I found myself posting statuses out of anger and then taking them down. We should treat each post as if it is being seen by throngs of people. Do we really want to be known for some of the stuff that’s on our social media pages?
- Choose words carefully. When we level insults at people, even indirectly, those words can further contribute to the divide. When I hear someone denigrate a political party, I perceive that as an insult to both legislators and voters from that party. How can one not? Sometimes even non-political replies to other people’s social media posts can open up a can of worms. My response to a prominent recording artist’s post about a mostly industry issue went viral and wound up being covered by major news outlets. Before I knew it, nearly 110,000 people had seen my reply, and many commented, some in favor of my viewpoint, many opposed. Many of the negative comments seemed to come from out of nowhere and were political in nature, having little to do with the music business. Do not ever assume that your comments on a public page are immune from being newsworthy. And always be aware that some people, who thrive on stirring the pot, are waiting for their moment to pounce. We must ensure that our words are not fuel for the fire.
- Be generous and kind. Have you ever done something kind for a complete stranger? Perhaps by paying it forward, as we say these days? Usually such gestures are met with gratitude, but sometimes our motives might be questioned, because many people are so unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of kindness. Generosity and kindness can do wonders for tearing down societal barriers between races and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as the emotional walls we, as individuals, have erected out of fear of being hurt. The divide in our nation is not just one of partisan bickering. So many people see a nation of haves and have nots, but our expressions of love can foster unity and bring greater awareness of economic disparities, as we involve ourselves in outreach and neighborly acts of kindness. From the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich, we all can afford to be good to each other. We can all be generous with our time and gifts. Some with means would rather give millions to political action committees (PACs) and partisan causes than invest in impoverished communities, support cultural institutions and finance educational opportunities, but I’m reminded of an oft-told story of a poor widow who, without making a show of it, gave all that she had and was greatly blessed as a result.
- Remain ever-optimistic! Hope is what keeps us all going. Some might argue that we’ve tried so long to end poverty in this nation, but failed. Others might insist that, in spite of decades of activism, racial turmoil will always persist. Still, many might be convinced that we have become so bitterly divided politically that nothing or no one can unite us. I denounce these arguments as utter nonsense! May we never give up on our nation’s potential to overcome its obstacles. Let us cling to hope that anyone and everyone can find redemption from their past and begin anew. And may we always search inwardly with candor and clear vision, ever striving to become a better version of what we were meant to be. By the grace of God, we can and will do it. As we grow, we will find ourselves transformed as individuals, and as a nation, in the process.
Simply put, is there anything else we can do to ‘just be nicer to each other’?
I hate to sound like my elders, but I think a return to good, old-fashioned manners could do a lot of good Case in point, I just feel better after going to Chick-Fil-A.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I would like to say some of the individuals who have contributed greatly to our nation’s divide have had their day, but I fear this is not the case. Just as a pandemic has altered our way of life, so, too, have some political factions. It is indeed unfortunate that COVID-19 was allowed to spread globally as it did, but I am optimistic that vaccines will contribute to its ultimate decline. One might argue that extreme political views have spread with equal ferocity in recent years, and I am equally optimistic that most voters will meet somewhere in the middle and snuff out the violence and extremism of the so-called patriots who are the farthest Far Right and Far Left among us.
If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our society, like you, what would you tell them?
This is your moment to shine, young people! President John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” That was a great soundbyte before soundbyte was a widely used term, but the quote is more than a catchy phrase. It is a genuine, noble calling for us all, and it would be of great service to American society if we all would heed President Kennedy’s challenge. To my young friends, let me iterate that I celebrate your fresh ideas and boundless energy. If the powers-that-be do not extend an invitation to the table, set your own table. I urge you to carve out your own niche. Make a difference where you are, doing something you love, for a purpose greater than your own fulfillment. Just as I feel my life has been one door opening to another, one flight of stairs leading to a level higher than the one before, I believe you will experience the same pattern in your journey. None of us stay in the same place for very long. Learn all you can and make the greatest impact possible where you are planted. When an opportunity to move on to the next level presents itself and you feel the timing is right, repeat the process. Your country, your community, your family and even you are worthy of nothing less than your best effort. Be encouraged as you dream the dream and do the work.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Breakfast or lunch with some of my heroes sounds like a fantasy! I have immense respect for Sir David Suchet, whose path I will likely never cross. I would love to interview actor George Maharis, who is now in his 90s, and I think it would be a blast to cook lunch with Lidia Bastianich! I secretly dream (well, it’s not a secret now!) of co-writing a song with Paul McCartney or Barry Gibb…or maybe Vince Gill. I stated earlier that I have an audacious imagination! But, if there were only one more notable person I could get to know, it would be Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. He was co-editor when I wrote for the African American National Biography. I’m not quite sure if my work landed on his desk. If it did, he has long forgotten me by now. Nonetheless, I think it would be fantastic to spend time with him. He is truly a national treasure.
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This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!