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Daryl Davis

Musician, Author, Internationally Acclaimed Conflict Navigator,

Compelling Unifier, and Klan Whisperer

Daryl Davis is committed to helping people ignite positive change using conversation to build bridges. His jawdropping experiences speak for themselves. For nearly 40 years, he’s engaged leaders of the KKK and White supremacist groups face to face to find the answer to a question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

That question stemmed from his first encounter with racism at age ten when he was pelted with rocks, bottles, and soda cans by a handful of White spectators while marching in a parade. Seeking to understand, not to change minds, Daryl met their hatred with civility, patience, and listening. Those conversations spawned genuine and lasting friendships with many who changed their own minds and disavowed hateful beliefs.

Some even gave Daryl their robes and hoods when they did. As a speaker, Daryl is an extraordinary storyteller who inspires and empowers audiences with tools they can use to make better workplaces, communities, and relations with family and friends. Daryl’s work is chronicled in his book KlanDestine Relationships and the documentary Accidental Courtesy. Daryl’s TEDx talk has over 12 million views.

When he speaks, Daryl Davis’s impact on an audience is sobering yet inspirational. More than a few members in every audience remember and ask him about the fictional character in Dave Chappelle’s comedic skit in which he plays a blind Klansman who didn’t know he was Black and attends Klan rallies. Daryl shares stories that would be comical, if he weren’t putting his life on the line for a purpose. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction might ever be in Daryl’s case. People will also point out how courageous Daryl was to actually turn up at Klan rallies himself. Inevitably they bring up Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman. That film depicts a Black police officer who infiltrated the KKK over the telephone and would send a White subordinate officer to Klan rallies in his place to gather damning intelligence against the Klan. The difference is not lost on the audience. Daryl had his feet on the ground in the lion’s den and tells the story first-hand.

Through his work, Daryl has discovered a successful method of transforming enemies into friends. His stories of his encounters with – and transformations of – White supremacists have inspired people all over the U.S. and abroad. His audiences leave his presentations empowered to:

  • Overcome Their Fears
  • Confront Their Prejudices
  • Recognize Similarities
  • Appreciate Differences
  • Navigate Diversity
  • Improve Relationships with Others
  • Better Their Lives While Creating a Positive Impact on Others

In addition to his career as a performing musician, Daryl is the owner of Lyrad Music, a music publishing and licensing business. He is also an actor of stage and screen and has appeared in HBO’s highly acclaimed series The Wire.

  • Conversations That Ignite Change
  • Diversity Lessons From a Black Klan Whisperer
  • Hail, Hail Rock’n’Roll – Deliver Me From the Days of Old

“… the impact you had on members was certainly felt long after you left the property. Your name came up SO many times in the postevent feedback (no surprise there!), including this particular share when members were asked to mention a standout part of the Live Experience: ‘Daryl Davis without a doubt. I am still buzzing mentally about that talk.’ This was, of course one of
many.”
Head of Community Relationships & Member Experience, MMT

“Daryl is one the most eloquent people I’ve come across and I found his keynote speech to be very riveting and compelling.”
Evergreen Financial

“I just wanted to send a quick note to let you know that hearing you speak and describe your experience with changing minds has inspired my clinical practice. I have been training staff and caregivers from the perspective of ‘problematic behaviors’ are a result of people feeling that their needs are not being heard by others. I have taken your examples and used them as ways to highlight the ways people are driven to more polarizing beliefs when their thoughts, ideas and needs are challenged during discourse. I especially enjoy your statement that you never set out to change minds, rather just to understand how people have come to their conclusion. I have experienced some exciting breakthroughs with difficult people when I employ your example, and hold back from challenging or defending beliefs. I have made great progress when I focus only on being a better, more
engaged listener.”
Senior Behavioral Analyst, Attain, Inc.

“Your presentation was riveting. You are such an engaging speaker and your story is powerful. We are humbled and inspired by the lessons you shared with us, and the knowledge that each of  us can make a difference.”
Office of Congressional Workplace Rights

“By learning from [Daryl’s] most extreme experiences, and from those who sit on the extreme side with whom he engages, we could learn leadership lessons that might help all of us… It’s through his courage that we may all explore some of our own.”
Executive Director, Leadership Rhode Island

“We do have a new bigotry in America…we don’t want to be around anyone disagreeing with us. We self-select our news sources and self-select our encounters. I admire this guy [Daryl Davis] because he did exactly the opposite. You can’t have a culture of encounter if you say I want to encounter interesting new people who know more than I do about nuclear physics but
dear God I don’t want to encounter anyone who fundamentally has a different take on things than I do.”
President Bill Clinton

“Daryl Davis is an inspiration in my personal and professional life. From him, I have learned that no conversation is impossible and no person, no matter how hateful, is beyond reach.”
Peter Boghossian, Philosopher, Professor and Author, How to Have Impossible Conversations

Travels From: Washington DC
City:
$15,001 to $20,000

Biography

Daryl graduated from Howard University with his Bachelor of Music Degree. He also holds an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Post University for the unique work he has done in the field of race relations. He has performed extensively with Chuck Berry, The Legendary Blues Band (formerly The Muddy Waters Blues Band), and many others. While music is his
profession, improving race relations is his obsession. He is known to many as The Rock’n’Roll Race Reconciliator.
It started during a break between performances with a band at a bar one night. A man approached Daryl and remarked that this was the first time he had ever seen a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Daryl explained that both he and Lewis were influenced by Black Blues & BoogieWoogie pianists, from which Rock’n’Roll and Rockabilly evolved. The man did not believe in the Black origin of Daryl’s piano style even after he said that Lewis was a friend who had shared this news with him. The man then shared news with Daryl he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

This meeting, and those that followed, would lead Daryl on a journey all over America, meeting and interviewing leaders and members from KKK, neoNazi and AltRight groups at both his and their homes as well as their rallies. With his highly acclaimed, nonfiction book, KlanDestine Relationships, Daryl become the first Black author to write a book on the Klan from inperson interviews. The awardwinning documentary, Accidental Courtesy, details his journey and has been shown frequently on PBS. Daryl, who has been to 57 countries on 6 continents, is often selected by the U.S. State Department as a highly respected expert on race relations and conflict, to present programs in various countries around the world dealing with similar situations.

Daryl has been doing this work since 1983 and has become the recipient of numerous Klan robes & hoods and other racist symbols, given to him by people who once hated him when they didn’t even know him. Now many of them have become his friends and supporters of his work. On the other side of spectrum, for his work in bridging race relations he is the recipient of numerous awards such as the American Ethical Union’s prestigious ElliottBlack Award, CarnegieMellon’s Carl Sagan Award & Prize, Tribeca Disruption Innovation Award, MLK Award, Search for Common Ground Award, Washington Ethical Society BridgeBuilder Award, among many others. He is often sought for commentary by CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, People magazine, and many other media sources.
In Daryl’s words, Ever since I graduated from college in 1980 with my degree in music, I’ve been a fulltime musician, traveling and performing all over America and around the world. What I’ve come to find to be the greatest, most effective, and successful weapon we can use to combat ignorance, racism, hatred, and violence, is also the least expensive weapon and the one that is least used by Americans. That weapon is called communication. We can communicate with people in space but many of us have difficulty talking to the person who lives next door because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, their orientation, their politics, etc. We are living with 21st century technology in Space Age times, but there are still too
many of us with Stone Age minds.”
Daryl has come in closer contact with more members of the Ku Klux Klan than most White people, and certainly most Blacks, short of being on the wrong end of a rope. What’s more surprising? He intentionally continues to do so because as he says, Ignorance breeds fear. If you do not keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. Because we hate those things that frighten us. If you do not keep that hatred in check, that hatred in turn will breed destruction because we want to destroy those things that we hate. Why? Because they frighten us.”
When he speaks, Daryl Davis’s impact on an audience is sobering yet inspirational. More than a few members in every audience remember and ask him about the fictional character in Dave Chappelle’s comedic skit in which he plays a blind Klansman who didn’t know he was Black and attends Klan rallies. Daryl shares stories that would be comical, if he weren’t putting his life on the line for a purpose. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction might ever be in Daryl’s case. People will also point out how courageous Daryl was to actually turn up at Klan rallies himself. Inevitably they bring up Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman. That film depicts a Black police officer who infiltrated the KKK over the telephone and would send a White subordinate officer to Klan rallies in his place to gather damning intelligence against the Klan. The difference is not lost on the audience. Daryl had his feet on the ground in the lion’s den and tells the story firsthand.

Presentations

Conversation can build bridges or walls. It’s up to us. Daryl Davis should know. The noted Black musician gained international acclaim by confronting, face to face, leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacist groups who hate him simply for the color of his skin. Daryl’s was an effort to understand them, not to change minds, but those civil conversations forged unlikely and genuine friendships. Over time, many of his new friends changed their own minds and renounced their old beliefs. What can we learn from Daryl’s inspiring and jaw-dropping experiences?

Sample Takeaways:

  • Apply universal tools to create positive change wherever conflict or disagreement exists
  • Prepare: Understand the other person’s position and reasoning before you engage
  • You needn’t respect what people say but you must respect their right to say it
  • Learn to listen, understand, and keep emotions in check, even in incendiary situations
  • How to recover/repair a relationship with a colleague, client, friend, or family member

“We spend too much time talking about the other person, talking at the other person, and talking past the other person. Amazing things can happen when we spend some time talking with the other person.” So says Daryl Davis, whose jaw-dropping experiences engaging KKK and White supremacist leaders hold lessons that inspire audiences to think differently about how they engage others who don’t share their views, backgrounds, religion, etc. The more we talk, the more we understand each other and discover what we have in common. That’s when the possibilities open up and the importance of our differences diminishes.

Sample Takeaways:

  • Learn to build bridges and ignite positive change in the workplace, community, and at home
  • Everyone wants the same 5 things – learn what they are and how they drive behavior
  • Spend 5 minutes together and you will find things in common with even your worst enemy
  • A missed opportunity for dialogue is a missed opportunity for conflict resolution
  • The power of empathy – put yourself in the other person’s shoes

At its inception, Rock ’n’ Roll was called “the devil’s music” by its detractors. Some cities banned it altogether. Rooted in Black R&B and Blues, its infectious beat led young people in the South to leap over the rope that segregated Whites from Blacks in the audience. The 1957, Chuck Berry lyric, “Deliver me from the days of old,” in his hit song School Days, celebrated the music as a turning point in race relations. Daryl brings that history forward into his own story, using music as a common denominator and proving that musical and racial harmony go hand-in-hand.

Sample Takeaways:

  • How musical inspiration differs from musical appropriation
  • The Elvis conundrum: How he was crowned King of a genre he didn’t create
  • How Country and Blues are the same music, and why society separates them
  • How a Black musical genre improved race relations and elected a Black president
  • Why music is a cultural necessity and not a luxury

Areas of expertise

  • Diversity
  • Bias
  • Conversations That Ignite Change
  • Building Trust
  • Civility
  • The Power of Music
  • White Supremacy Issues
  • Race in America

Related Speaking Topics

© 2024 Ro Morrison & Assoc.