If you don't know James Marshall Reilly, you are missing out on learning from one of the most engaging minds of our lifetime. His book Shake the World (now available in paperback from Penguin Books), is about people who decided to use their voices and ideas to change and enhance the lives of countless people all over the earth.
I had the good fortune of meeting James on October 15 of 2012. He spoke at the Center of Contemporary Arts in St. Louis, where our mutual friend Sarah introduced us. I was instantly drawn to his story, and he seemed to share an interest in mine. We've been frequent Facebook friends since.
Which is what brought us back together two nights ago. Like many people, I was absolutely sickened by the story of the three young boys accused of murdering 22 year old Chris Lane, the Australian student who was playing college baseball for a school in Oklahoma. For those of you who don't know, a 15, 16, and 17 year old decided to drive up behind the jogging Lane, and shoot him in the back because, and I quote, "We were bored."
Two of the alleged perpetrators are black, and one is white. While in a utopian world this should mean absolutely nothing, we don't live in a utopian world. Many everyday people, some with agendas, some not, many media outlets, and even many of the truly jaded were stunned by the sheer disdain that these kids had for another life. Even the Reverend Jesse Jackson actually came out and basically said that what happened to this completely innocent victim was entirely unacceptable. I thought it took guts for him to do it.
But one group that produced a thunderous silence were the same people who produced a thunderous uproar when a perceived reversal of situation happened in Sanford, Florida. There was not a single word uttered from folks like the Reverend Al Sharpton, or many of the same people who were outraged over the tragic death of Trayvon Martin. When they dared not to say anything, I got really pissed off. So I popped on Facebook and wrote this status update:
Hate is hate, and idiocy is idiocy. Imagine of three white thugs killed a black 22 year old baseball playing college student in Oklahoma. Rev. Sharpton and Co. would not shut up about it. Yet only the Rev. Jackson has made a tepid step into the water of condemnation. You want race relations to improve? Be as outraged as it would be the other way around. All of this hatred and apathy for human life, no matter the color of anyone's skin, is the bane of this country. Sad to have to be associated with a land of such callousness. We are better than this, y'all.
I think I did this subconsciously for a couple of reasons. Number one, I'm looking to see if I'm striking a chord that resonates with people, or if I'm completely off base. Number two, I'm looking to see if I'm missing something that everyone else is seeing, and I'm guilty of sporting Kentucky Derby blinders, intellectually forcing me to look in just one direction. And then number three, I'm absolutely looking for an opposing point of view.
Enter James Marshall Reilly. A.K.A... my all-time favorite opposing point of view.
I'm guilty of a lot of things on the 'book...pics of the kids, pics of food, a check-in from a bar, or a link to Gangnam Style (when Gangnam Style only had 2 million hits on YouTube). But in the category of "Even A Blind Pig Finds A Truffle," I pop up a status that gets people talking on a deeper level. And almost always, James weighs in. It's an honor when he does, because he's insanely busy. But I know it's also going to be a learning experience, because I know that he and I see similar problems from different perspectives.
This is part of James' comment: Dan, you are absolutely right -- hate is hate and idiocy is idiocy. This said, the difference is that there are 250 years of systemic racial problems in this country (and world) that still go on today. While I think we all would HOPE that we are living in a post-racial America, the truth is that we aren't. When a white girl is attacked in the subway it's front page news, but when three black kids are gunned down in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn it doesn't even make the news -- It's not even a footnote. And Reverend Sharpton is a voice for things like that because some people listen to what he says. These problems should be being addressed through our news sources, our elected officials, and us as individuals. The white kid being gunned down doesn't need Sharpton's voice -- as the white kid has the entire media establishment on his "side." What Sharpton does, although I don't always agree with him on everything, is give a voice to the voiceless because he has that platform -- like it or not.
And like that, I saw the Reverend Sharpton in a different light. Now part of this may be because of where I live, but the only time I really hear about Reverend Al is when he is defending someone and attacking different ethnicities, often getting it wrong, such as Tawana Brawley, or in the case of the Duke Lacrosse team. And the capper is that he never apologizes to those he has a hand in hurting.
But those instances, while loud and infamous, are few and far between. I've never thought of him being a voice for the voiceless, but once I read what James wrote, I realized that Reverend Sharpton has probably quietly helped thousands of people I've never heard about, nor will ever hear about.
Of course, I'm an ass, so while I might view him differently now, I couldn't let him off the hook. Plus, the discussion with James and others in the thread was so thoroughly enjoyable.
Part of my response: James, you are absolutely right in the fact that the white kid being gunned down doesn't need Rev. Sharpton's voice. However, the people who need it are those in his own community with whom he holds some sway. If he could influence just a few people into believing that hate is wrong, callousness to human life is wrong, and there are actually people outside of his community that aren't racist, it would be an amazing thing. He needs to come out and say that what happened in Oklahoma was simply unacceptable. A 22 year old man, regardless of color, is dead, because of the fact that the life of another was simply meaningless to a group of children, again, regardless of color. He knows that there are fringe elements of his community that may even think the victim somehow had it coming to him. Those are the people to whom he needs to speak....Every single one of us should speak up for him. And for the three men gunned down in Bed-Stuy. And for the boy beaten up on the school bus. And for the minority child in the majority school who is made to feel inferior, or worse, fearful. And when we don't, it doesn't just set race relations back. It encourages their demise.
James responded with a really amazing post, including telling me that I was the smartest person he'd ever met (not really), but the way he ended hit me like a bolt of lightning: Someday, we will all treat each other with dignity and respect and no one will see color or religion or anything else. And therefore no one will be able to point to it, since it won't exist. Until that day, keep fighting the good fight...I'm right there with ya.
And it was then that I realized that here we are, two people from different backgrounds with different lives and different points of view, that recognized the exact same problem in the world. Sure, we may have different ways that we would actually solve the problem, but we both realized that there was a problem, and that the end result was what truly mattered.
Would we try to change the world in the same way? Probably not, but that's not a bad thing. In fact, it's a very, very good thing. It's the entertaining of different ideas and and finding the merit in a different point of view that, at least partially, fuels my desire to "shake the world."
James and I couldn't lead more different lives...single in New York City versus married with children in St. Louis, Missouri. But we both realize our intense desire to affect a positive change in the world. And while I can't speak for him, I can say that his insight has given me new ideas on how to make the world a better place, while also solidifying many of the principles I hold dear to my heart.
Oh if only the boys and girls in DC could only take a page out of our book. It would be the difference between, "What we can accomplish is absolutely astonishing," as opposed to, "The lack of anything getting done is absolutely astonishing."
Learn more about James Marshall Reilly at http://www.shaketheworldbook.com/
Learn more about Dan Duffy at http://thehalffund.org/