Ron Hall on Friendship, Faith, and Same Kind of Different as Me

09/10/2017 11:51 am ET Updated Sep 11, 2017

Art dealer Ron Hall did not think he could have anything in common with a homeless black man named Denver Moore. Moore did not think he could have anything in common with Hall. Perhaps what they did have in common was a complete disinterest in finding anything that might connect them. But Hall’s wife Debbie insisted, and so the two men became friends. They wrote a best-selling book, Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together. The movie it inspired, starring Greg Kinnear, Djimon Hounsou, and Renee Zellweger, will be in theaters October 20, 2017. The movie edition of the book will be out September 19.

In an interview, Hall talked about his friendship with Moore, who died in 2012.

What makes somebody a good friend?

Someone that you obviously can trust and someone that you would trust your life with; that’s a really good friend.

How did you got to that point with Denver? At first neither one of you was really at a point of trusting each other.

Oh exactly, he wasn’t really looking for any friends. He considered himself like the lion in the jungle. He had this very angry persona that was his protection and his self-preservation. I wasn’t looking for any friends like him either, truthfully, I was only doing this to repay Debbie for the forgiveness that she had shown me after my infidelity. At her insistence I pursued him for about five months until I finally got him in my car. I took him to breakfast and he thought I was in the CIA. He said, “Why would some rich white man be trying to follow me around?” We ordered breakfast and I found out a lot more about him. He came from a plantation and he had never been to school in his life. He said “Well, so what is it you all want from me?” I said, “Well, I just want to be your friend. Straight up, that’s all I’m looking for.” That in a way was kind of a lie. I was wanting to be more friendly, I wasn’t really wanting to be his friend in the real sense.

That’s how arrogant I was. I didn’t think he had anything to offer me in a friendship. In my mind if he cleaned himself up a little bit, behaved himself I would let him hang out with me for lunch and things like that, and take him around and show him a few nice things and try to make him feel bad about making all the bad decisions in his life that keep him from being like me. I didn’t have any respect for homeless people at the time because I felt most of them laid their own bed and they will have to lay in it.

Anyway after a couple of weeks I saw him taking trash out of the dumpster so I stopped by and I said, “Hey, you want to go get some coffee?” So we were sitting there at Starbucks and I’m trying to explain to him what an art dealer does and he was totally uninterested in that so after a few minutes of me talking he said, “Are you through talking? Tell you the truth there’s something I heard about white folks that really bothers me and it has to do with fishing.” He said, “I heard when white folks go fishing they do this thing they call catch and release.” I said, “Yeah, Denver, they sure do because it’s a sport, don’t you get it?” He said “No, no man I don’t get that at all. Back on the plantation where I grew up we’d go out in the morning, we’d get the cane poles, dig us a can full of worms, we’d go sit on the riverbank all day long and when we got something on the line we were really proud of what we caught and we’ll share it with our folk. It occurred to me that if you are a white man that’s fishing for a friend to catch and release, I ain’t got no desire to be your friend.” My mind flashed back to Debbie’s dream of a poor man who was wise. If I ever heard from God in my life it was at that moment and I knew that I had to accept that friendship and I had to catch and not release. I said, “Okay Denver, if you will be my friend I will not catch and release,” and he said to me “You have a friend for life;” and I said, “Okay, you do too.” The fear I had of him or becoming his friend evaporated.

You have spoken to more than 800 groups, often with Denver. What have you learned from them?

Most people never really sat down and got to know a homeless person, but every homeless person is just a real person that was created by God and it is the same kind of different as us; they just have a different story. Most people see the homeless as invisible. Mother Teresa used to say that it’s very fashionable for us to sit around and talk about the poor and the homeless but unfortunately it’s not fashionable to sit down and have a conversation with them. There are far more churches in America than there are homeless people and if every church took in and provided for one homeless person and just stuck with them, became their stubborn angel and stuck with them; I’d say ninety percent of them want to be transformed. They want somebody to love them, they want the help; there is ten percent that are really mentally ill and beyond help other than just God but most people will accept help and through a stubborn angel will be transformed and put back into society as a good church member, as a good citizen and it just takes love.

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