I was standing outside Gates BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri, waiting for my co-worker to arrive. I was hoping to just get a few words with her so I could let her know that I truly did not know what was going to happen in the next thirty minutes.
Of course, I knew we were going to eat delicious barbecue with a high possibility of onion rings dipped in delicious vinegar-forward barbecue sauce. I had very little idea of with whom we would be eating said delicacies. We were meeting with a gentleman whose name had been given me as someone well-connected in the African-American community in Kansas City.
We at Brainroot are working on creating compelling documentaries that reach across racial differences and communities and cultures within the United States. This desire leaves us keenly aware of the cloistered facts of our own communities. Along this vein, I had reached out to a few friends saying, “Hey, I want to be more connected to communities outside my current one(s)! Can you help?”
It was in response to this that I appeared with our project’s executive producer, Carla, at one of the premium barbecue joints of the world.
Before I could convene with Carla, I got a ring on my flip phone; it was our friend the unknown introducee. He said he could see me standing outside and that I oughta come on in. I told him I was waiting for Carla. He then appeared through the double doors and introduced himself.
John* had a black Kansas City Chiefs shirt on, corn rows that flowed into long braids down the back of his neck, and a wide, sincere smile that revealed one or more gold front teeth.
The truth is, upon seeing him. My initial concerns that Carla and I would be walking into a useless meeting were further intensified. [Why had I been introduced to this guy? Was he a thug? Would he care about what we were doing?] I’m not proud of this, yet I am grateful for what followed.
John was awesome. [In retrospect, it’s easy to see the baselessness and irrationality of the gut level prejudices that reared their ugly heads in my subconscious when I first saw him.] For the sake of your time, I won’t go into his story, because that’s not the real point.
The real point is that, when I first saw John I was taken aback by his appearance. I stereotyped him. When he opened his mouth and talked, as we got to know each other, I learned that he was human, approachable, thoughtful, intentional, and all-around a great teacher.
Later that day, I thought about all the awesome conversations I get to have every week with people like John. I get to hear edge-of-your-seat true legends of illegal immigrants struggling and risking deportation to become legal. I get to hear the struggles of entrepreneurs who would never assign themselves that label. I get the invitation to hear the rejection and ultimate triumph of folks misunderstood because of whom they love. I even get to hear stories of the struggle, grind and glory of life for average Joe.
Through Brainroot, and specifically our upcoming and ongoing projects RE:Dream and Your Fellow Americans, I hope that we get to share these conversations and experiences with you, our viewers. It’s these real, human, conversations that crush stereotypes, open minds, and build more empathy and understanding. That is our highest hope for our viewers as well.
*John’s actual name is omitted for the sake of maintaining his anonymity