The assassination of Shinzo Abe, former prime minister of Japan, threw a chilling spotlight on the incessant violence in the United States. Gun violence is a rarity in Japan, whereas in the U.S., not a minute goes by without the threat of gun violence.
Some time ago, I found myself walking on a crowded downtown street when a young brother asked me what time it was.
I quickly answered without looking at my watch, as I know the street hustle in which someone asks for the time and then proceeds to rob the unwitting victim.
“8:30,” I said without breaking my stride.
“What’s your rush, man?” he asked.
I thought it better not to engage.
My antagonist was not having it. He kept at me with a torrent of expletives that stopped me in my tracks.
But when I stopped, he took that as an act of aggression.
“What you got to say?” he posed— while showing me the gun beneath his shirt.
I couldn’t say much because my heart was in my throat. Fortunately, one of the youngins with him diffused the situation.
“Keep steppin’, mister. My man’s just trippin’.”
It’s amazing that these types of encounters are happening every day on streets throughout the country. Unfortunately, many of them don’t end as peacefully as mine did. Many of us are on edge about so many things (the pandemic, politics, racial strife), that the hairpin trigger response can escalate from conversation to confrontation in a matter of seconds.
We would all benefit if we would take a beat to allow calmer heads to prevail in our interactions that could mean the difference between life and death.
One of the greatest lessons of this occurred more than a dozen years ago when noted historian and educator Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., was famously arrested for attempting to enter his own house. After returning from a trip overseas, Dr. Gates came home only to find himself locked out of his residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Harvard Square.
His taxi driver attempted to help him gain entrance. A passerby called police, reporting a possible break-in after describing to 911 “an individual” forcing the front door open. A Cambridge police officer was dispatched, and the confrontation resulted in Dr. Gates being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
The charges were later dropped, and the incident attracted worldwide attention – including the attention of then-President Barack Obama. The president invited Dr. Gates and the arresting officer to the White House for a beer and conversation about the incident and the state of race relations. The sit down was dubbed the “Beer Summit” and provided the country with an example of how conflict can be transformed into life lessons that can teach us how to better live together.
Ever since that day, I’ve had the privilege of participating in an annual Beer Summit that takes place every summer in Philadelphia. Typically, hundreds of people are convened by Global Citizen — the nonprofit that organizes the annual King Day of Service as the largest one-day commemoration in the country — to share a beer and conversation about issues related to race. Just this past month, I facilitated a virtual beer discussion on the role that white supremacy plays in the violence that is plaguing cities across the country and what we as individuals and organizations can do to turn the tide.
While every Beer Summit has been powerful, informative and inspirational, it can sometimes be frustrating when we seek solutions to problems like this that seem to persist despite our best efforts. But persistence is precisely the point. While it’s been said that “talk is cheap,” every bold action starts with dialogue that gives us the courage and endurance to keep pressing forward.
During this year’s summit, a father recounted how his 19-year-old son was senselessly gunned down just days before this gathering. He talked about how the pain of his loss compelled him to tell the story of this promising life while urging all of us to work on every level possible to turn this epidemic of violence around. As a father myself of two young-adult daughters, I couldn’t imagine the anguish I would feel if I had to endure what this father had experienced. Like him, I would probably spend every waking moment trying to bring the killer of my child to justice, honoring the tragedy by working even harder for peace on our streets.
The solutions we seek are right within us to treat each other in a more humane and empathetic way. It seems so simple, but yet so true. Many of us live by a creed that says, “Seek first to understand and, in so doing, you’ll be understood.” If more of us would take the time to understand someone else’s anger and pain to approach each other with a greater degree of humanity, we could have less violence and more peace.
It can all start with raising a glass with one another to start the conversation that can lift us all to a better place.
David W. Brown
David W. Brown has owned or managed five advertising/public relations firms throughout his 40+ career in Philadelphia. His most successful venture was BrownPartners, – which operated from 2002 – 2011 – and became one of the most decorated minority-owned ad agencies in the history of Philadelphia’s advertising industry. The company won almost every award in the field including three Pepperpots from the Philadelphia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA); a Gold Addy from the Philadelphia Advertising Club; and a Mosaic Award from the American Advertising Federation. Brown has the distinction of being the only person to have served over his career as both the President of the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Philadelphia chapter and the Philadelphia Advertising Club. He is also the only living African American inducted into the Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) Hall of Fame. With the Ad Club’s Movers and Shakers Pinnacle Award, Brown is the only African American to be selected for Hall of Fame honors by both Philadelphia’s largest advertising and public relations organizations. In 2016, he was recipient of PRSA’s National David Ferguson Award for Outstanding Contributions Education and is the first African American to be so honored. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Ofield Dukes Educator Award conferred by the National Black Public Relations Society (NBPRS) recognizing the best African Americans in the public relations industry that are making positive contributions in the community. It was named after the legendary African American practitioner who worked with music icon Stevie Wonder to make Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. Professor Brown is the first Philadelphia practitioner to be selected. He serves as Founder/Managing Director of CommonSoul Communications – a non-profit that provides strategic marketing services to other mission-focused organizations. He was named a “Champion of Change” by the Obama Administration for his communications work around empowering non-profits to make a difference in the communities they serve. In 2018, Brown was recognized for his service to the community in being selected for the Harris Wofford Active Citizenship Award – given to one Philadelphian or organization a year by the Philadelphia Martin Luther King Day of Service Committee which operates the largest single day of service in the country. Brown is the Diversity Advisor to the Office of the Dean at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication where he has pursued level work in the PhD Media and Communication program. An ordained Reverend in the United Methodist Church, Brown is also a frequent contributor to the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER and WHYY in which he has been featured extensively on a range of urban issues.