About Daryl Davis - Musician, Author, Compelling Unifier, Klan Whisperer, and Award-winning Conflict Navigator:
“How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” As the only Black Cub Scout marching in an otherwise all-White parade, Daryl Davis formed that simple yet powerful question after he was pelted by rocks, bottles and soda pop cans by a handful of White spectators. This was his first encounter with racism at age ten. Pursuit of an answer led this career performing musician on a surreal journey stemming from a chance encounter with a man who turned out to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Seeking to understand, not to change minds or judge, Daryl actually built bridges with leaders from a group that professed hatred for him. Some came to quit the Klan and gave Daryl their robes and hoods when they did. In the process he has unearthed truths about conflict, hate, intolerance, and communication that are valuable today. His extraordinary journey is chronicled in his first book, Klan-Destine Relationships and the documentary about his encounters, Accidental Courtesy. As a speaker, Daryl’s impact on audiences is profound –his TEDx talk has over 10 million views.
Daryl graduated from Howard University with his Bachelor of Music Degree. 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 & Boogie-Woogie 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, neo-Nazi and Alt-Right groups at both his and their homes as well as their rallies. With his highly acclaimed, nonfiction book, Klan-Destine Relationships, Daryl become the first Black author to write a book on the Klan from in-person interviews. The award-winning documentary, Accidental Courtesy, details his journey and has been shown frequently on PBS. Daryl, who has been to 57 countries on 6continents, 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. His next book, The Klan Whisperer will be released in 2021.
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 Elliott-Black Award, Carnegie-Mellon's Carl Sagan Award & Prize, Tribeca Disruption Innovation Award, MLK Award, Search for Common Ground Award, Washington Ethical Society Bridge-Builder 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 full-time 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 21stcentury 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 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.
What Daryl Davis Talks About:
Civil Conversations – You Can’t Change People’s Minds by Making Them Wrong
Contrary to what you might hope, most people won’t change their mindset just because you know they’re wrong and provide solid evidence to contradict beliefs they hold dear. Daryl Davis can attest to that. He’s had ample experience to prove it is mostly impossible to change someone else’s reality. However, Daryl has honed methods that make it easier to get an adversary to change their own reality. That simple shift allowed a Black man to find common ground and even close friendship with top leaders and members of the Ku Klux Klan. In this talk, Daryl draws on almost 40 years of conversations with White supremacists – some of whom have gone on to rescind their racist ideological beliefs. He reveals his communication tools and explains how anyone can put them to use when confronted with those who have conflicting viewpoints or simply different interpretations of a problem. The lessons Daryl shares can be used to lower the temperature and bring about productive and comfortable conversations in our business and personal lives – in conference rooms and at dinner tables. As Daryl says, “A missed opportunity for dialogue is a missed opportunity for conflict resolution.”
The Klan Whisperer
Daryl Davis is a Black man who for almost 40 years has walked on the edge – with one foot dangling over the precipice – on a quest to explore racism. Along the way, Daryl has befriended White supremacists, attended Ku Klux Klan rallies, been a pallbearer at a Grand Dragon’s funeral, performed hymns at an Imperial Wizard’s funeral, stood in as the surrogate father of a Klanswoman bride – walking her down the aisle to be given away at her wedding to an Imperial Wizard, and spurred the dismantling of the largest Klan group in the State of Maryland. Daryl is a master storyteller whose recollections have the suspense of a true-crime podcast and keep audiences riveted to their seats in disbelief. People leave his presentations empowered with the tools to make better friends out of even their sworn enemies.
What’s Driving White Supremacy Today?
From the high influx of non-European immigration to the United States, to a Black President, to a violent and deadly White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, to the rhetoric that inspired an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, to fear of the “Browning of America,” “White Genocide,” and majority-minority reversal in the year 2042…Daryl Davis is the voice of knowledge, reason, and tranquility in uncertain, racially turbulent times. For nearly 40 years he has been studying and dealing directly with some of the biggest promulgators of White supremacy, their fears, and their quest for power. His expert opinion is often sought by such leading news organizations as CNN, MSNBC, National Geographic, NPR, The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, and The Atlantic. Daryl’s insights bring business leaders, law enforcement, policy makers, educators, and average citizens up to speed – helping them understand what’s to be expected and what can be done.
Hail Rock’n’Roll – Deliver Me from the Days of Old
It was music that launched Daryl Davis’ crazy connection to the Ku Klux Klan. He was complimented at a show by a White man who said he’d never heard a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Daryl explained that Lewis, who was actually a friend of his, learned his style by imitating Black artists of the day. The guy didn’t believe it. He also confessed to being a member of the KKK. The ensuing conversation led to an introduction to the leader of the Maryland KKK. Daryl interviewed him for his book and became his unlikely friend. In this talk, Daryl recounts how rock’n’roll – called “the devil’s music” by its detractors at the time of its inception – broke down early racial barriers with young people in the 1950s. 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. He has been dubbed “The Rock’n’Roll Race Reconciliator” for helping people find common ground. Daryl punctuates his captivating presentation with a thrilling musical performance, in the signature Boogie-Woogie style he honed while backing Chuck Berry and other rock’n’roll legends.
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.