Jini Palmer: (00:08) Welcome to Town Hall Seattle Civic series. I’m Jini Palmer. In this special double-header episode NFL Defensive End and activist, Michael Bennet, offered a deep examination of turbulent times in America and their effect on the relationships of black athletes with powerful institutions like the NCAA and NFL. He advocated for the critical role of protest, community action, and speaking out against injustice. Bennett spoke at Seattle First Baptist church and Temple de Hirsch and presented his new book, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable.
Jesse Hagopian: (01:07) Alright. Hey, happy Juneteeth to you, Michael.
Michael Bennett: (01:11) Thank you. Thank you.
JH: (01:15) And happy Juneteenth to everyone here and happy Juneteenth to those who are livestreaming on Facebook. And, there’s a lot of white people here.
MB: (01:30) [laughing] Let me get a glass of water out of that.
JH: (01:32) I don’t know if Town Hall gave you the most uncomfortable seat just in keeping with the theme of tonight. Yeah, I’ll have a glass of water. Thank you, sir. Man, it’s so good to be here with you, especially after all the nonsense that you had to go through and we had to postpone the first one, but to be here right now, after all the work you put in on this book is really special. I’m really excited to be here with you tonight.
MB: (02:00) I’m super excited to be able to come back to basically my second home because Seattle is where a lot of stuff happened for me. Where I was able to have a child, build my foundation, and meet a lot of people and do a lot of work in this city. So to be here right now is just everything. And I’m very humble. I’m grateful. And I’m just honored to be able to have this many people show up to a book event. Usually people show up to the jerseys, when you signing jerseys, but to people to respect you as an intellectual and to be able to come and share your story with them is super unique.
JH: (02:34) No doubt. Man, this city is gonna miss you. After all, your identity is wrapped up in this city and we’re gonna miss the sack dance.
MB: (02:50) But I’m not leaving this city for that’s what the crazy thing about sports. We talked about this before. They can trade you from a city for sports, but they can’t trade you for being a part of the city. See me, I’m a part of the city because my foundation and everything I do for the community is still going on regardless I’m here or not. I still come back and I still do all this stuff that I promised that I said I was going to do. There’s so many people that I’ve made promises that I gotta keep holding.
JH: (03:18) No doubt. And I think I looked at the schedule and I don’t think you play the Seahawks.
MB: (03:25) No, Russell Wilson’s lucky.
JH: (03:29) Oh he got lucky? [laughter]
MB: (03:31) Paul Allen. Pete Carroll. I sleep every day, eat perfect every night to play the Seahawks. Bobby, you know, you know, Bobby. [inaudible]
JH: (03:44) Right on. So you have a chapter in the book called “The Brotherhood” that really looks at the unique locker room that is the Seattle Seahawks or at least was.
MB: (03:55) Yeah.
JH: (03:56) And, you know, for me, I really got into the Seahawks first when Marshawn Lynch kind of claimed his humanity and refused to just answer all these questions the media wanted. And then when I saw you claim your humanity by answering the questions, but on your own terms, like saying when Marshawn did Beast Mode 2.0, like what’d you say? Like, “the greatest run since the underground railroad”?
MB: (04:20) Yeah. It was.
JH: (04:26) That’s what drew me in, made me want to be a Seahawks fan. Like talk about these guys in the locker room.
MB: (04:32) It’s not very often that you are able to create a family atmosphere. I think for the Seahawks, the people that I play with, whether it was Bobby or KJ or Richard, Earl or Kam or Cliff who all these people are like brothers to me. The first thing you ask them is not how you feelin’, It’s like, “how’s your family doing?” because we were connected on a spiritual level. And so we knew what the other was doing at all times because we spent so much time together. We would talk and we would have real conversation. We never ever talked about sports. You know, Bobby would come to my locker like, “What you reading?” And then I throw it to him and then we’d talk about it. Or he’ll ask me a question. I’ll ask him a question. It was just, we just had like a real family atmosphere.
(05:13) So it was like every time we took the field, we knew that the person next to us, they was playing for the person next to them. And it wasn’t about, they were ever playing about themselves. It was like, if Bobby wanted me to hold a gap for him, I would do it. Because I knew that he wanted me to do it. And I felt like if you had people on your team that made you feel like that, it was easy to go on the field like that. And I think the brotherhood that we share, we also took it from the field into the community. I mean, you go to a lot of teams and my brother, he always used to be jealous of our team because he used to say, “Man, I’ve never been around a team that all you guys are always hanging out.”
JH: (05:46) You’re talking about Martellus?
MB: (05:46) Yeah, my brother Martellus. He’s like, “Man, I couldn’t wait to get on the team like that.” And that’s how our team was. We took it from the field into the community and we would do all types of works together. And whoever called and was like, “Hey, can you show up?” We will be there on time and make sure that we were able to lend a helping hand. And I think that’s what made us a unique team. And I think the city of Seattle will never, ever see something like that again, because that’s like a once in a lifetime type of opportunity where we were so selfless that we never talked about ourselves. We always talked about the guy next to us and that’s why we forever be brothers and beyond the sports, you know, beyond the wins. It’s about, “Man, how you doing? How you feeling? What you been up?” Texting out of nowhere and just be like, “Hey, you the best I’ve ever played with.” Just to remind them we didn’t take any moment for granted.
JH: (06:34) No doubt, no doubt. That’s beautiful, man. We could feel it in this city too. Besides the brotherhood in the locker room, you talk a lot in the book about your actual family. You’re pretty raw and open about that. And I remember Dave and I went to your house to do some of the early talks about the book and we were talking about your mom and it wasn’t long after you had just reconnected with her.
MB: (07:07) Yeah, that was a really interesting moment too. I know usually I get choked up about it, but I said, no, I’m not getting choked up by it tonight. I’m gonna talk through it. But that was a really interesting time though, because it was four men in there crying when we were going over the edit and we were just all connected because you guys are my friends. So you knew the pain that I was sharing and how I was like, “Man, I don’t know if I really want to be that open to people.” And everybody was just saying just be vulnerable. I think to be able to be vulnerable and to be able to forgive somebody for something that you feel like they wronged you, is a hard thing to do. But once you do it, it just frees you, you know what I’m saying? You kind of just don’t hold on to the anger and the pain, though you have to find a way to find empathy and compassion. And for me, that was like a true journey, you know, to be able to forgive my mother and build up that relationship. Because I honestly felt that if I didn’t forgive my mother, I could never love my wife to the maximum of my ability. I couldn’t be the greatest father I could possibly be. If I couldn’t forgive my mom.
JH: (08:14) No, I mean, we were in that room, you had us all sobbing.
MB: (08:17) But that’s the truth. For an athlete, you’re built on the bravo and how you come up and how strong you are and how you are able to play through certain things. But you never ever share with kids the ability to be vulnerable. And I think that’s what I wanted to share with kids through this book is to be able to be very vulnerable and be real with them and let them know, if you’re dealing with something and you’re dealing with something that’s bothering you to be able to let go. I think a lot of players, they deal with depression because we have no outlets. We have no way to be able to cry. We almost like the military because we never able to get off and we always have to play through injuries and nobody ever cares about how you feel.
(08:57) And so for us as a player, we want to find those ways to have those outlets so we don’t have these suicidal thoughts or these thoughts where we abusing our wives or not being a father that we could possibly be. Because a lot of players, they deal with the family issues, but nobody’s there to talk to them. And I think a lot of coaches don’t have that outlet. I think the Seahawks are very rare in that because we are the only team that has a team psychologist for people to be able to talk through traumatic issues that happened to them because we all deal with traumatic issues and all of us are mashed up. And we try not to let anybody into our true circle, our true feelings, because nobody ever wants to seem and be seen as weak. You know, but vulnerability is not a weakness it’s a strength. It’s the ability to be able to open up and share the truth of how you’re really feeling.
JH: (09:42) No, man, that’s the power of this book, that you are vulnerable in it. And the fact that you allow me to be vulnerable that way, like that’s a lesson that I’ll take with me forever, that it’s okay that we can have emotions.
MB: (10:00) We have to have emotions. I think not having emotions is what allowed things to happen like they do now. To not have empathy, not to have compassion. That’s why we fight about the border issues. When we, as human beings, we should have empathy and compassion for somebody losing their child. We all have children. And then think of your mind to be thinking that a mother is detached from the child that they birthed is a hard thing to swallow. And I think those things in being able to be vulnerable, things like that won’t happen. And I think those are the things that we gotta be connected to. You look at police brutality when we looking at somebody, you stop and you gotta see them for a human. And I think not being vulnerable and not have empathy and not having compassion has brought us into a world that is scary sometimes. And I think the ability to be able to talk about that and have men, especially men, to connect to their feelings is something that we really have to move forward in a society.
JH: (10:50) No doubt, no doubt. Thank you. Going on that, you also have a whole chapter in the book on feminism and why you’re a feminist. And the lessons you’ve learned from your wife and your three daughters and another whole chapter on intersectionality, right? Talk about those chapters, why they’re important to you?
(11:16) You know, I was saying yesterday and all the time, obviously I’m an athlete and I’m a famous person. So I get all the credit a lot of the times, but my wife, which is here right there, stand up. Could she get a round of applause because she’s just as equal to me when it comes to all that stuff. So for me watching her go through her journeys and her struggles and what she grows to and watching her grow up as a woman and a person in the community who builds and does things for people. It’s an emotional thing. So for me, I’m tired today, and for my wife, that’s everything. So for my kids, it’s the same thing. I share those messages with them to let them know like, shit [choked up].
JH: (12:02) It’s alright. It’s alright, man, yep. Man. Your wife’s an amazing person.
MB: (12:15) She is.
JH: (12:15) I’ve learned a lot. I found out yesterday some about her background in organizing activism and I’ve realized where you get it.
MB: (12:22) Nah, for real, like she’s so strong. And like there’s a lot of women who are super strong. If you look at the civil rights movement or any other movement, Harriet Tubman was the person who was going back in and risking her life and Angela Davis, whoever it was, it’s always been women who have always stood up, Katrina’s right here, everyday fighting for her cousin, Charleena Lyles. And she’s over there every day fighting for herself. She’s my friend and to talk to her when she’s a mother and she’s out there risking every day because what she believes in, It gives me power to know that women are just as equal to men when it comes to everything. And it’s not just about because we have a penis or something like that, it makes us better. It just makes us different. But at the same time, their human beings and they deserve to have respect. When I think about Me Too movement, I think about my daughter.
(13:11) I tried to put myself in those situations and how it would feel as a father to think that my daughter was going through something like that and not being able to have a voice and she’s being victimized because people don’t see her as an equal human being. And those are the things that why I feel like it’s important for men to be feminists because we have to be able to speak on issues pertaining to women. Are they going to lose their voice? Who wants their mothers to lose their voice? Who wants their wife to lose their voice? Who wants their daughter to lose their voice? We can’t have that happen because there comes a point where silence becomes dishonesty and we have to make sure that we never silent about issues that we believe in.
JH: (13:43) No doubt. Thank you. That’s why we’re friends right there, man. In that chapter on intersectionality, I wanna just ask one more question about, ’cause you talk about an issue in there about Palestine that I want to hit on for a second. Because I called you up on the phone, it was only like two weeks after we met and this was like the scaredest I’ve ever been on a phone call. Like probably since eighth grade. and I asked a girl out.
MB: And what the girl say?
JH: She said yeah.
MB: Oh, okay, well, shoot. Wasn’t that scary.
JH: (14:29) So I call you up. ‘Cause I just found out you were scheduled to go to Israel on a state sponsored trip to play in front of Trump and Netanyahu to show this wonderful collaboration between the two. And I haven’t told you this, but I was pretty scared. Cause I was like, I’m going to tell this guy not to go.
MB: Free trip, first class.
JH: Yeah, free trip.
JH: First class, all the food we can eat now.
JH: Right. And what is it like next week?
MB: I feel like the matrix when that guy took that steak and then he got unplugged.
MB: But I didn’t do it.
JH: Oh man. So I just raised some issues and I was amazed by how open you were immediately to wanting to learn more. Talk about that.
MB: (15:21) For me, that was a hard issue because it was one of those things that it’s a polarizing conversation about who’s right or who’s wrong about that situation. And at the end of the day, people are dying every single day. And that’s what I connect with. I connect with the bodies and the empathy and the families. And for me, that was an easy choice to be able to not go because I understand the connection between all people, all the oppressed people, the people in Haiti, Native American issues, the women issues, transgender issues, every type of issue is connected on every single level. And for you to really be a global human being or a global citizen and you call yourself a true patriot for people, then you have to understand every single issue and you can’t pick and choose which ones matter.
(16:04) Because at the end of the day, they all matter. Every time people always scream, “All Lives Matter”, but not when it comes to certain situations. When you scream, “all lives matter”, you gotta feel the pain. When you see Charleena Lyle’s kids crying for their mother, you got to feel the pain. When you see Michael Brown’s mother crying for a lost son, you gotta feel the pain. When Tamir Rice and their family and Sandra Bland, who these people are losing their families. And when you watch TV and you see the bombs here in Gaza, you got to feel the pain for people. And I think when you look at the Native American issues, you feel the pain for the people or look at brown people or Spanish people looking at the edge and being pulled from their families that brings that brings a certain amount of pain to my heart, you know? And it’s got to be able to speak on those issues because those people matter, those people have a voice. And when we sitting up here and we picking and choosing and we watching the Kardashians or Family Feud. I love the Family Feud too but at the same time it’s like, who cares if Kanye drops a new cd, when you’re looking at the immigration issues, who cares about that kind of stuff? When you really look at the core and the essence of what a human being’s true job is, we have to be able to connect to people on every single level. And I’d never been to a place where I didn’t want to help somebody because I grew up like that. That’s the way that my wife grew up and that’s the way that I grew up. So we’re always finding ways to connect to people. And we always think, state, national, city, globally, how do you connect to people and feel people’s voices and you feel people’s pain to help them find a way to change.
JH: No doubt. There’s another issue you talk about in the book. You have a chapter called “Without Food, Your Ass Is Going To Die”. Talk about—
MB: (17:51) First of all, before I talk about this chapter, I have to recognize somebody who works for my foundation and all she does is fight food deserts and Leeka could you stand up, please, real fast? She’s my voice on that. The first time we were out working together and I brought the issue up with sugar and I was like, “You know sugar stands for slavery.” And she was like, “Okay, now we can talk.” And ever since then, we’ve been really good friends.
JH: And she came into my room and did a lesson on that, by the way.
MB: (18:19) I know. And so our foundation is that part of my foundation is based on the food deserts and the lack of nutrition or the lack of access to supermarkets and fresh vegetables. I lived in a neighborhood where there was only one grocery store. And you live where 20,000 or 60,000 people, and people don’t have access to fresh food and there’s 23.8 million people living in food deserts in America. And I think I read something one day, it said 6.8 million of them are kids. To think about that, kids. We all take for granted food.
(18:50) And, you know, think about there’s places where I go to Haiti and I’m like, “Oh wow, people don’t have food.” And then I’ll go to South Dakota with the Sioux tribe, and I’m like, “Well, people don’t have food here.” You know, I would drive to downtown somewhere in Seattle there’s homeless people who don’t have food. There’s so many food deserts and food is a big issue because health as well, you know what I’m saying? Health is a part of your growth. And there’s kids who go to school every single day that they don’t even get one meal. And that’s the idea that people don’t even understand about the food that they’re eating and how, as an athlete, you are a conduit of brands and brands come up to you and they offer you large sums of money to speak for them.
(19:31) What do I look like saying that I represent McDonald’s when that is not the truth. McDonald’s is one of the biggest issues in America. Coca-Cola. These are companies that we all share that prey on people that are brown and black every single day, and they put their stuff up, they give us free stuff, and then they give us money to merchant, to sell to our people. These things that we know that are bad. We look at the brown or Somoan culture or the Black people who dealing with these diabetes issues. And it’s all stemming from the food, the greasy foods that we eat. And it’s time for us to stop. It’s time for athletes to step up and really be the ones who say, we’re not representing that anymore. We’re about the people. I think that’s what is really important.
JH: So let’s make white people uncomfortable right now and talk about—
MB: (20:22) I think that issue of food should make everybody uncomfortable. The idea that as a human being, as we sit at our table, when we break bread and we eat the salmon or copper river salmon, it’s really good, you know? To think that there’s somebody who doesn’t even have a piece of bread, let alone breakfast, you know what I’m saying? That’s a hard thing to fathom. And I think we as people have to continuously fights these issues. I think about there’s an iPhone 10 that could recognize your face or there’s a new car that’s about to fly or all these new inventions that people are inventing that me and my brother like, “Damn, we fucking missing a step if we making flying cars before we feed people.” You know?
JH: That’s a crazy contradiction.
MB: It’s a crazy contradiction. Dammit, Steve Jobs. I miss you, but shit. I love my iPod, but goddamn you need to feed the people.
JH: (21:21) I’m with you. So moving to the conversation that I think we need to have that I haven’t seen you have yet on this book tour. But the one that I think will definitely help to make people uncomfortable here is about the N-word chapter. And you talk about the difference about if a white person uses it and if a Black person uses it, but then you kinda actually apologize to your daughter. What’s that about?
MB: (21:48) Yeah. It’s one of those things you have to be able to self-reflect and before you start to go out and try to be like, “Well, the people should do this.” Then you have to self-reflect on what’s your part in this. And I played a pivotal part in using the N-word and sharing it in a way that I shouldn’t have been sharing it.
(22:07) And so for me, Maya Angelou, reading her words and thinking about how she felt about that and the disconnect between, older Black people and younger Black people, like what that word means to them. That’s a word that brings up death. That’s a word that brings up segregation. That’s a word that brings up lack of opportunity. That’s a word that brings up slavery. That’s a word that brings up pain. And for me, growing up that was an adjective, a pronoun, a verb. Being able to use that word in different places and make a sentence make sense. And for me, the first thing I wanted to do was apologize to my ancestors because me using that word the way that I did, it’s basically a slap in their faces.
(22:50) It’s basically a slap in their journey or what they’ve been through. It’s basically discrediting what it meant to them to make it through slavery, to make it through segregation, to make it through Jim Crow, to make it through all these different issues and have that word beat on top of their head. I think about that word as the last word that Emmett Till heard. I think about that as the last word people hanging from the tree. Whether Billie Holiday and singing that song “Strange Fruit”. Nina Simone. I’m thinking about those are the words that people were hearing before they met their last breath. And so for me, that chapter was a very reflective chapter because it was about the growth from that. And what it means for when I think white people say it. I think I apologize to my ancestors because I allowed some of my friends who were white to be able to use that word around me in an unconscious way and to be able to not let them. To be like, “Look, that word is a word that I shouldn’t be using and yo’ ass should definitely not be using it.”
(23:52) And if you say it again, I’m a karate chop. But that chapter was really hard because that word brings two different things. I feel like for white people it’s a truth word. It’s where life was. What that word mean. It was a word that people who let that word grow and it was a divide of people who wanted that word to change society. And for us, that word means a lot. It brings back the past. It brings back where we’ve been and where we need to go. And I think me talking about that word is something that a lot of young Black people need to hear. And a lot of white people need to hear. They need to understand what that word really means to society. And that when you say it, people know it because they know when they say that word to you, you’re going to get aggy. You going to get angry. You’re going to become what they want you to become, because it’s a word that they know that your ancestors, they think that you need to retaliate, but trying to be yoga and meditating and stuff, it’s about bringing that back and making sure that I don’t even say that word anymore. So that word has no strength to me anymore.
JH: (24:55) I appreciate that perspective ’cause I’ve heard Black people lecture younger Black people as if using that word is why we have problems in our community. But the perspective you brought to it about the history of that word, and instead of just scolding people, use it like looking at yourself and trying to root it in that history was powerful.
MB: (25:24) I think you have to do that all the time because when you’re talking to people, last thing people want to hear is you coming from a place where you feel like you better than them, man. You have no pass and you have just been perfect. And when you’re able to reflect on it and unmask yourself and be able to share your message, people listen. And I think when you talk about a word that’s so dehumanizing, it has to bring up those types of things. You have to look in the mirror and wonder where you were and how you made that word even more powerful. And now you have to take that word back and put it where it needs to be.
JH: I think I remember you telling the story about the first time you heard it, you were pretty young.
JH: And I connected with that ’cause I remember I was in preschool. Somebody called me that and I had the exact same experience. I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it was meant at me and not the other kids, right?
MB: Well, I grew up where that was just a normal word. Like, “Hey __, pass the peas.” You know what I mean? Like, “Where are we going, __?” You know, was how we talked and now, and when I heard that word, I felt like he wasn’t coming from that place. I felt like he was coming from a place of anger and a place of where he wanted me to be a certain way. And so for me, as I got older, I started to understand, it takes time when I talk to my friends and I’m like, “Hey, I’m not using that word anymore.” They’d be like, “What, what word you going to use then?” I’m like, “What are you talking about? Like, there’s a million words out there. We can find one. What about dug, bro, chicken or something? Other than that word.” My friends are like, “Bro, we can say something else.” So like, as you say, if you talk to young people and you change the people one by one and they’re sharing their message, it becomes like a tree. Everything starts to change. You plant that seed and people start to grow.
JH: (27:08) Right on. I want to talk about another phone call I had with you real quick. I called you, you were on the way to the first preseason game. And I said, “Did you hear that Marshawn sat for the anthem?” And you said, yeah, you had heard about that, but you didn’t say anything about what you were about to do. And so I was wondering did you already know on that bus that you are about to sit for the anthem and really shake up this world and what’s behind it?
MB: Yeah. I think at the time I’ve been talking to Kaepernick and I felt like when I had been in the NFL, the message is going to be lost and people were going to forget. And we were just going to move on and kick that ball. And we’re going to be like, life is great and everybody has equality. And as you watch in Virginia and you see Charlottesville and you see all these different things that’s happening. You see people die, you seeing more police brutality, you’ve seen so many more issues that you connected with. You have no choice. I told coach Carroll, “Look, coach Carol, what I’ve experienced and the people that I’ve seen and the people that I have represented and the people that are owed this to, I cannot be silent because I owe it to them to have a voice. I owe it to them to share their stories. I owe it to every single person that I have an encounter with on my journey to let them know that their story and their voices aren’t lost.” And having that conversation with coach Carroll, he kind of understood because he was like, “I can’t really tell you not to do what you need to do because I understand where you’re coming from.” And as a man, I told coach Carroll, I said, “Coach Carroll, it’s hard for you to understand what it’s like to be a Black man in this world. I can put this helmet on every single day. But when I take the helmet off, who knows what could happen to me? Who knows how people feel about me. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because I still got to speak for these people who don’t have that voice.” And so that was where my mind was as I saw that and I felt like it was no choice but to sit and make sure that the message doesn’t get lost. And I think we had to do a good job of keep talking about it and making sure that the message doesn’t get lost like I said.
JH: (29:20) Yeah. Talk about that message. Because, of course, the media tries to paint it and Trump tries to paint it as protesting the flag. But you know, there’s a lot more to it. I mean, one thing to point out is that actually the person that wrote the National Anthem was actually celebrating slavery and the verse that we don’t sing anymore, but if you go Google it, you will find the verse that celebrates the killing of Black slaves.
MB: (29:58) I think for me, when it comes to Trump in that situation, to me is more like propaganda. I think propaganda does something to people’s mind. If you look at World War II, like the propaganda made people feel like murdering and exterminating Jewish people was okay because they seen enough propaganda that they started to believe it. With slavery, they seen enough propaganda that they felt like it was okay. And I think for us, people started having propaganda they [inaudible] the message what we were really talking about. The true message was equality and freedom for every single person on this planet. And I think people lost that. And I think that’s the most American thing that you can do is fight for equality for other people, regardless of how they look like.
JH: (30:35) Right on. So you have another chapter in the book called “A Moment of Silence.” And I think that connects to why you sat for the anthem this year. And it was one of the most powerful chapters to me, man. Talk about what you did with that chapter.
MB: (31:03) I was talking to one of my friends. who’s one of my closest friends, his name [inaudible] and I was talking to him and I was like, “Bro, I just need to put something in there that’s not really my opinion or really my thoughts on it. It needs to be something that’s like really true. And I was like, I think I’m going to do this.” And he was like, “That’s the one, you know, do that.” You know? And so to put a chapter in there that had no voice, no my opinion, it was just pure facts. It was pure facts that police brutality isn’t a black issue or brown issue, it’s just a human being issue. Those people of all colors who have been struck by a tragedy because of the police officers or police brutality. I don’t believe that every single police officer is bad.
(31:43) For me, if you think that, then you just being silly to think that every single person is representing that. But what I was trying to say is that there are a lot of people who dehumanize people and don’t see people that have value. And for me, that’s what that chapter was about. It was showing that these names of people that get missed. These are true people, people who lost their life for no apparent reason who were unarmed and didn’t have anything to do with the way that they’ve died. And it was the fact that I wanted people to go research those stories. I wanted people to go find out what their families felt. I want people not to be divided on the issue of was it right or was it wrong? I wanted people to bring it back to the human level of it is that everybody, when a person is murdered or a person dies, they leaving somebody behind. They’re leaving kids behind. They’re leaving it. As I went to the memorial of Charleena Lyles yesterday. I didn’t see tons of people. I saw her family. I saw families. When it was on TV, people who were divided, “Oh, this, this.” But yesterday, I saw family. I saw kids who were hurt. I saw grandmother’s hurt. I saw cousins. I saw people who really felt that. And for me, that’s what that chapter was about. About reconnecting to those families who have lost those voices. We talk those people name and we forget that they were somebody. They were mothers, they were fathers, they were brothers, they were sisters. They was teammates. They were somebody that had a voice that lost it.
(33:02) And I think that’s what it really boils down to is really coming back to the essence and being like, “Oh, a person died.” We have been so desensitized to death that we don’t even see death as an issue anymore. We just see it as a part of life. And we just be like, “Oh, somebody died. what happened?” Nobody digs into what Anthony Bourdain was going through. Why somebody that was so successful takes their own life or what is Junior Seau’s feeling when he decides to take his life or what is Kate Spade feeling? We don’t ever dig into that. We just see it when you go to Burger King or McDonald’s and then we move on with our day. We don’t ever try to connect to the families and say, “Hey, what’s, what’s the son feeling? What’s the mother feeling like?” And I think that’s what that chapter was really about was making those people human again.
JH: (33:48) No doubt. If you haven’t seen it yet, that chapter just lists the names of every single person last year, who was unarmed and was killed by police and just listing their names. And it’s powerful because it’s disproportionately black and brown, but there’s also a lot of white people in that chapter.
MB: There’s tons of white people. Asian people. It’s just humans. At that point, I’m not even looking at color, I’m just looking at humans. I’m just seeing human being, human being, human being, human being, human being, human being, human being, human being. I’m not looking at, oh, is he Black? Or is he white? Or is he Chinese? Or is he this? Or is he that? I’m just looking at that’s a person, that’s a person, that’s a person, that’s a person. I should feel pain for that person. I should feel pain for their families.
JH: (34:36) And that gets me to what was the most scariest phone call that we had when you called me at three in the morning. I knew it wasn’t good. Thankfully, your name wasn’t added to that chapter. But man, yeah, that was hard.
MB: That was a hard thing because it’s, like I said, you live in the public eye, so people will want to make their decisions on whether did he deserve it or he shouldn’t have been there. But at the end of the day, nobody was connecting it to my kids. For me at that moment, I’m thinking about my wife. I’m thinking about my daughters. I’m thinking about my brother and think about my mom, thinking about my dad. I’m not thinking of should he do it or should he not? I’m just thinking about the family, what my kids are going to do if they lose their father and I’m thinking people didn’t connect to that. People wanted to connect to—because it’s such a polarizing issue that nobody ever wants to reflect on it. Nobody wants to look in the mirror and be like, there is an issue. It’s not until everybody starts to look at it and be like, at the end of the day, is he a human or not? Does he have family? And so for me, that’s what really, that was about.
JH: (35:44) Yeah. I mean, when you told me that an officer had put a weapon to your head and threatened your life, all I could think about is losing a friend and what Seattle was going to lose and what our movements internationally were going to lose that were struggling for justice and had just found this new voice. And it was overwhelming. I mean, we were upset, crying.
MB: Everybody was upset. But those kinds of traumatic issues, they shape you and, you know, those experiences or those examples are something that makes you want to have a voice. It makes you want to be able to share your story because, there’s a whole bunch of people who doesn’t have a voice who passed away that can’t speak for themselves or people who don’t know the story. I think my story just brings up other people in there too. Let’s really look at the underlying issues in America. Let’s really find out what’s going on and how can we solve these problems?
JH: (36:39) No doubt. Well, I’m so glad you’re with us. And I want you to talk a little bit about what you think the role of an athlete is in social movements.
MB: (36:50) I think the role of an athlete is a very tricky subject because people see athletes and they think that athletes should be grateful. You made it, shut up, be quiet, run that ball, dunk it, jump over that hurdle. Do what you can, I need to be entertained today. It’s Sunday one o’clock, I had a long ass week and the Seahawks need to win. And maybe I’ll do something after. So athletes, it’s you’re dealing with brands, you’re dealing with your team, you’re dealing with the fans. And you have to make a conscious choice of what is it that really matters? Is it the wins, the wins do matter in a certain place, or is it your humanity? You’re challenging your humanity versus morals and the ethics of money and all these different things and you have to make a choice of, what am I supposed to do?
(37:38) I have great leadership and great people before me. Who’ve done the things that they’re supposed to do when they were athletes and they had a voice. Whether it was John or Dr. Harry Edwards or whether it was Muhammad or Craig Hodges, just whoever it was, Kaepernick, whoever it was, there’s so many great examples. And now I live in a generation where we got LeBron James, an athlete who has everything to lose, but still is able to speak on social issues in a way that hasn’t been done before. And I think with his leadership, it allows us to be able to speak and have a voice. I think that’s something that we really have to share. And I think we’ve played a big role because people look up to us. We are real role models, but our role model doesn’t stop at shoe brands. Our role model doesn’t stop for fast food or selling these different products. A role model really starts at the core of what it really is, where we can be solid about real issues. That is really what a role model is. That is really what we’re supposed to be doing. And when we get up there on that platform, of course, we’re supposed to score the touchdowns, do the dunks, but at the same time, we also supposed to speak for the people who don’t have a voice. And every single athlete knows that. It’s whether or not we choose to do it or not. And whether we are able to walk amongst fear and make sure that what people write about us does not bother us or the brands that we lose.
(38:56) Because when you talk about stuff like that, you lose brands. That’s just pure economics. People don’t want to choose between right or wrong. You know what I mean? They want to choose what they think is going to sell. Business is about bottom line. It’s not about the [inaudible]. If that was the case, Shell Oil would not be in the Amazon leaving residue behind, or people drilling oil in Native American lands, or Flint, Michigan, or the issues with gun violence wouldn’t be an issue because people would be like, at the end of the day, that is right. Kids should be safe at school. You know? And so for me, that’s really what athletes have a voice in is that we can share. We the only people who are able to have a billion people at one time through Instagram and Twitter, and we share things about things that we’re doing, but we never share about issues that are affecting our humanity in our communities.
JH: (39:43) No doubt, no doubt. Right on. I’m glad you said the names of John Carlos and Muhammad Ali. And we’ve had some incredible sports figures from throughout history who have jumped all the way into social movements and helped amplify them and been a big part of it. But one thing that you write about in the book is how what’s missing was an organization coming together in collective struggle.
MB: (40:12) I just wanted to write about an organization that was like the Red Cross or an organization that represents athletes, that athletes have voices around the whole world. Because there’s an athlete who plays soccer that’s from Senegal that plays for France who’s seeing all these issues and in Senegal and he needs the people to support them on those issues. Or Maya Moore or all these different athletes who are dealing with issues or the trans and transgender issues that are happening within the women’s sports or men’s. I was in New Zealand and watching the Commonwealth games and there was an issue there. And to be able to have a collective voice of athletes around the world to really show what we really are truly about and the humanity and that if we had created a organization, people won’t be as scared to share their feelings because they’ll have support. They’ll have Ronaldo, they’ll have Messi, they’ll have people who are dealing with things that we can share and share our message and share our struggles and unmask ourselves to really show who we are as human beings.
JH: (41:16) Yeah, that sounds good to me. And we’ve been talking about that idea for awhile and then jumping into working with Athletes for Impact has been amazing. And I hope it takes off. And a lot of other athletes get on board because I think that power could really transform not only the sports world, but the whole world.
MB: (41:35) True story.
JH: (41:36) No doubt. I want to begin to wrap up here, but you look good tonight and I’m wondering—
MB: (41:50) Thank you. Thank you. I was unsure.
JH: (41:53) Did you get that from Africa?
MB: (41:55) Yeah, I just got back from Africa and Senegal, and for me that a really inspiring trip. It was a very transformational trip. It was everything that I needed it at the time of my life. As my friends texted me I’m like, “Man, I’m having such a great time” but it was a very reflective trip because me being African American and not having a connection to Africa, but not really having a connection to the history of America, because the history of a African American person in America starts as a transatlantic slave. And it starts with post-colonialism. It starts with colonialism for us. And for us, that’s a hard pass to see a brighter future when you look at, and you think about, only the heart and the pain that people felt never talking about the true journey of the African slave or the African American, you know? And so for me, going back to Africa it was that connection. It was the connection to the past, and it was connection to who I am as a person because my ancestors are Mandinka, they are true warriors. For the essence, I’m already built for a warrior because I am a Mandinka. For me, that journey was a true journey because every night was a reflective night. I’m not scared to admit that every night was an emotional night for me, because I cried with my wife on multiple occasions on that night. For us to sit there and be there and think about, “Dang, like my grandmother left this place 400 years ago, and I’m the first person to actually bring her spirit back or bring her essence back.”
(43:40) To think about, as a father, if I lose my daughter in a Safeway, I go crazy. I’m like, “Where is she? Where is she? Where is she?” And to think that my grandfather, he lost his daughter and never ever saw her again. That’s a painful thing to deal with, a very reflective thing. I dealt with that in a rage, I dealt with that with calmness, I dealt with that with patience, I dealt with that with elegance. At the same time was to be able to understand and be able to feel that, to walk into the house of slaves and think about all these people at the bottom of this building and being treated like animals as people watch. Women and mothers, I mean, mothers and child getting torn apart. Fathers being just three feet away from their child, hearing their child yell but to be helpless. To be helpless and not be able to change what is happening to your child as they’re being chained, as they’re being sold, as they’re being prodded, as they’re being fed to be sold like cattle.
(44:45) That’s a very reflective thing for a human to deal with. That is one of the most hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with, because that is the truth. That is not fake. This is not fictional. These are facts. These are facts the chains of my ancestors are still there. The history is still there. I look at the point of no return, an empty hole, a hallway, people being drug from their family as they scream and nails stuck into walls, as they crawl and they try not to be sold. They try not to be pulled from their child and thrown on a boat, never to realize what has ever happened to their family or their children, or their husband. Only to feel lost and rather take their lives and just jump over at the end of the boat than ready to be slaves.
(45:28) And for that at the same time, that’s what the bottom looks like. The bottom looks like that, the bottom looks like that, but at the top is very comfortable. There’s a white guy up there who has a plush living room and like a Manhattan, New York apartment with all the fine things and a nice view of the ocean in Senegal ’cause Senegal is on the ocean. Plush bathroom and as many concubines as he wanted, as they raped the women every single day. A woman had to deal with that. So it’s not just dealing with the essence of slavery and oppression, it’s also dealing with women’s issues as a woman’s body’s being controlled, and she has no way of being free because that man holds the keys to her life. It’s either death or sex.
(46:10) So what do you think she’s going to have to do? Some women took their life, others dealt with sex. And so for that, that’s a hard thing to deal with. And every single night, that was a passionate and emotional thing. As I sit under the moonlight and it’s beautiful as the stars are bouncing off the ocean and the moon is as bright as a New York City and Times Square. The moon is bouncing off the ocean. And I’m very reflective as I sit there in calmness and I pray and I think about the water going back and forth and what it feels like at night, as my ancestors on that boat every night hearing this water and calling out and singing spiritual songs reflective of who they are as Mandinkas and who they are as Fulani and Wolof people, if they’re saying and not being able to speak the same dialect and knowing that they can never, ever be back.
(46:57) That is a journey that not everybody can take. That is a journey that I cannot take alone. I had to go with my wife. I could have never done that alone. If I didn’t have a strong woman who was able to let me be emotional, who was able to be emotional and to be understanding, not like, “Oh, don’t do that.” But to listen. And I think that is what I took from that trip is the pain and the anguish of things that I won’t let happen again. Things that I know that shouldn’t happen again. And to be able to share this story with other young black people who can take this journey for them, but other caucasian people. So they can hear the pain of what that feels like when you’re in there and you hear chains popping, and you see what it is to be confined and what it is for a person not to eat, but to be funneled food through their mouths so they could be healthy enough to sell. Those things are hard things to deal with and then while you’re in Africa, there’s emotional ties for me there. But the young girls who I felt that— one of my schools that we deal with computer science and technology that we dealt with with kids, we sit around tables with young women that are powerful. There’s some of the most powerful, young, confident women I’ve ever seen in my life. They’re dealing with things that we can never do. When we get mad when we in traffic, and we can’t, “The goddamn Uber’s taking too long.” We get mad when we at Chick-fil-A and they ran out of Chick-fil-A sauce. Like, I love Chick-fil-A sauce too, but when you at Chick-fil-A and they run out Chick-fil-A sauce and they got no more Polynesian sauce, you get mad. And these young girls are dealing with real life issues as we sit there and we talking to these young girls, me and my wife, we sit back and we listen. Obviously we don’t speak the language and so we talked to our translator and we’d say, “Hey, what do you kids want to be?” And every single kid said something that I never thought I hear kids say. I heard one girl, she said, “I want to be a police officer.” I asked her why she said, “Because I want to stop the rapes. I want to stop people from getting raped.” I saw one girl, she was like, “I want to be a doctor. My mom died in the hospital because we had no way of getting her into the room.”
(49:09) So people in Senegal die every single day because they don’t have a waiting room and they pick and choose who they want. Or they don’t have IV. “I want to be an IV technician so people don’t die and they can get the IVs” or “I want to stop cancer because we don’t have any cancer centers here. I want people to stop dying from HIV.” Those are the things that kids that are going through something or thinking about, they’re not thinking about when I’m gonna get my latest iPad or when there’s something like that. When somebody tells you something so powerful, like, “I’m so poor, I can’t even hope no more.” Hope is the last thing that we all hold onto. Hope is the thing that what gets us through so many situations as people is hope. It’s the idea that there could be a better day. But when somebody tells you, “I don’t even have hope no more. ‘Cause I want to come to school and eat, but I don’t have food.” You know what I mean? I want to be great, but there is no opportunity. And for me, that’s what the trip was about. It was about realizing that there’s issues around this world, that there are people that don’t have a voice and my job and my wife’s job is to continuously build bridges and help people go through things and help them find solutions. And that’s what that trip was about. It was about making amends for my ancestors and letting them rest. And it was also about going home and doing the work that needs to be done for my people. And I think that’s what that trip was about. [applause]
JH: (50:38) Thank you, brother.
MB: Thank you, man.
JH: Thank you so much. I was so glad to hear that you were going to Africa and that you were going to come back and I feel like there’s a new glow that you have knowing where you come from and I can’t wait to see what you do with it.
MB: (50:54) Yeah, like I said, it’s just, it’s a very challenging thing too, because you make promises to kids. I made promises to people. I made promises to people that I was going to bring food back. I made a promise that I was going to help them get water. I made promises to women who, in this one particular village where one of the tribes is that I’m from, the tribal leader is very different. The chief, he’s a different kind of chief. A lot of times, women don’t have a voice. This is one of the first chiefs who gave women land. He told them women do what you want to do, make money, and do what you can for the kids. So these women wake up every single day and we had to help them pull the well water. I’m talking about, the water gotta be at least 500 feet under the earth. And we have to pull up the water and that takes a whole day to water the vegetables so they have enough to sell [inaudible] so they can build schools for their kids because the kids don’t have school. They don’t have teachers. But they want to be able to do that. So for me, those promises that I made to those people are things that I can’t let them down about. So that is just another journey for me and my family to make sure that we keep our promises. And it’s good that you make promises to people because those people keep us honest. You know what I’m saying? So for me and my wife, we just want to make sure that we do what we can to help society in a positive way.
JH: (52:12) I’ll be there right next to you helping out, however I can. Hey everybody, Michael Bennett.
MB: Thank you.
Wier Harman: (52:36) Hi. It’s really hard to ask a fun icebreaker starter question after that, Michael, I just gotta be honest. It’s alright if I keep it real for a little while longer? This just was handed to me, following the ridiculous directive for NFL players to stand for the anthem or not to be on the field, what’s the chance that all players may stay inside when next season opens or, more likely, that they will choose another method of expression?
MB: (53:04) You just said, I’m going to ask a fun question. I thought you was going like, “What’s your favorite color? Do you want to go to Disney World?”
WH: No, I can’t go there yet.
MB: That’s not even fun. That’s like a real question.
WH: I can’t go to the fun yet.
MB: (53:15) It’s a new issue. We haven’t had enough time to reflect on what should we do? How should we talk about these issues. But for us, I think at the core of it, I think for us, it’s really about community. It’s really about how can we take these organizations and these teams and hold them accountable for the things that they do within the community and making sure that they give back to every single neighborhood. Because, like I said this before, the people in the east like Seattle Seahawks, the west, the north, the south, everybody wants to be a part of the Seattle Seahawks so the Seattle Seahawks owe it to every community to make sure that every community has a voice.
(53:54) And I think that’s what we really are trying to do within the context of what we’re trying to do within the policy of the new NFL is to try to make sure that the NFL represents all the people that love their team. You know, the Brown people need a voice. The women need a voice. The Black people need a voice. The Asian people need a voice. Everybody needs a voice when it comes to this. And we also owe it to if kids don’t have books in their school, or if you look at [inaudible] issue when there’s no lunch or something that we should be the team who steps up and makes sure that all kids in Seattle eat. Not just serving it on Sundays, we deserve to serve every single day to Seattle when we played for the city.
WH: (54:31) Would sports be any different if there were more Black owners?
MB: I don’t know if sports would be different. I think at the end of the day, it’s just about human interaction. I think it’s not really about sports. When I look at the world and I really look at the world as a global citizen, I look at the world as a way of what is it to take to humans to realize that another human matters. That’s at the end of everything is how do we look in the mirror and find a way to be like, this person matters regardless of their color or their religion. I put that past everything. The Dalai Lama always says like secular ethics, people before religion, people before democratic, people before Seattle or the 49ers. Although I love the Seattle Seahawks, but you know, people on the 49ers are still people. And it’s like, when do we come back that? When do we come back to the core of everything and realizing that at the end of the day, it’s our obligation as other human beings to recognize when the other human being is going through something and that we have a choice and making sure that it doesn’t happen to them.
WH: (55:32) So I have to interject my own because I want to get to other people’s questions. I have to say this to you. There’s a quote that’s incredibly inspiring to me that I don’t have memorized but it’s basically says that, the role of the artist in the world is to make it impossible for somebody to stand in front of a mirror in the morning and shave without thinking about all the other people around them in the world who were suffering profoundly, that an artist will have done their work when a person is not able to function in their day without acknowledging and trying to do something in their day to serve other people who don’t have what they have. I feel like you have reinvented the role. I didn’t need to say this, y’all. You have reinvented the role of an athlete to be able to do that, the profound message of empathy that you bring through your work is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. It’s a whole different idea of heroism. [audience applause]
MB: Thank you, man. I appreciate that.
WH: I’ve got that off my chest.
MB: Thank you. I’m honored that you feel that way.
WH: Well, I do. What do you think your children’s biggest challenge is going to be?
MB: (56:28) I think my children’s biggest challenge is, as young women to find their roles in society in a way that they can be positive changemakers. I talk to my daughters about change-making. Me and my wife live in a place, we live in our mind is like, how can we make our kids reflective on society? They’ve been blessed with much, but they can not forget about where they came from, or they can’t forget about other people. So we take our kids through this journey of change, this journey of visiting places that they would never visit on their summer break or going to native reservations or visiting a homeless shelter or trying to visit people in prison or going to different things.
(57:08) Because I think it’s really important, that’s my daughter’s biggest challenge is empathy. Because they live in a world that lacks empathy. They living in a world that lacks compassion. So that’s the biggest challenge that we all deal with. It’s like, how do we have empathy for people? How do we have compassion when that is not an everyday thing. The everyday thing is to post about oneself. The everyday thing is to post about how I feel, it’s never about the other world. Facebook is just me, me, me, me, me. To live in a world where it’s only me, me, me, and now I can only think about what it’s going to be like in 10 years they might make up a new word for me.
WH: (57:46) This was the fun question. What’s Martellus up to these days?
MB: Martellus, my brother, he’s the one that he’s always there. He’s always been a creative being and he’s always been a creative trapped in a large body. He’s a giant, he’s trapped in that body. But I feel like this is the first time that he’s at peace. It’s the first time that, you know, for me and my brother, ’cause I was telling my wife this and I was like, “Man, I want my brother to play another year.” And she was like, “No, you sound like everybody else, like, let him go into where he wants to go. Let him be a human. Don’t tell him that this is the only way that he can identify with himself. This isn’t his only value.”
(58:28) And I think that was the journey for myself to come with my own acceptance of him retiring because our relationship has been so, we’ve been so tied together our whole life, that our relationship is like no other, my brother is like my best friend. So when he retired, I feel like, damn, I need to retire. I had nobody to talk to about sports. And so now he’s just in a place where he’s just really peaceful. He’s journeying through his creativity. He’s moving, he’s doing so many things for the community, through creativity, creating new books, creating so many different things. And [inaudible] doing things, working with Hulu, working with Facebook and doing his dream. And I think that’s the best thing he ever did because everybody always told him what his dream was.
(59:11) His dream should be dunking a ball in the NBA or catching touchdowns. And I was very lucky to see him write his own story. He even wrote his own, he wrote the funniest retirement statement. Every other retirement statement is like, “I love football. Football has been the greatest thing for me.” But he quoted Walt Disney. He quoted Martin Luther King. He quoted so many different people. Steve Jobs. So that was like him. He just kind of ran away in a funny, creative way. And that’s my brother in a nutshell. And I think now he can truly be his full self and not having teams and people telling him how he can thinking, when he can thinking, and what he can’t do. He just does what he wants to do. And I think that’s the most beautiful thing about it.
JH: Isn’t he rapping now too?
MB: He does everything. He does rap. He does music. He does everything. He’s just creative, man. He just wants to be, you know, wants to tap into that side of himself.
WH: You talk in your book about increasing opportunities for women within the NFL. Do you think this is something the league will work towards and how do you think it could be achieved?
I mean, I think the NFL has played, it took us for Ray Rice to realize that domestic abuse is a big issue in the NFL. So I think it’s just gonna take us, you know, 10 or 15 years to realize that women can be an important part. They could be general managers, they could be players. They can be whatever they want to be. So I don’t know how we get there, but I think it’s the women and the men voicing their opinions. When you see a woman ref out there, you’re like, “Yeah, we making progress.” Or you see a woman coach in the NBA, you’re like, “Yeah, we’re making progress.” And I think that for us to have our true voice, it needs to be able for women to have their voice and be reflective about where their place is in the sports industry and to be able to continuously have a voice. So the NFL has a lot of work to do. And I think we have a lot of players who are willing to step up and do the work so everybody can have their fair shot at what they really love.
I’m sorry for all the ricocheting around, but you’ve proven you can go kind of anywhere the questions take you. So, how has your faith helped you in times of persecution? And follow up, what’s your reaction to the Bible being twisted to support the current child separation issue at the border?
MB: Like I said—that’s a real hard question—but like I said, it’s propaganda. People want to find a way to make what they’re doing feel good. And, for us, it’s not really about—the Bible doesn’t have to tell us that what is happening is wrong. We see with our eyes, when you look and you see stuff like that, it doesn’t take a book to recognize that. I think that’s a cop out to be like, “Oh, it tells us to do that.” No, it doesn’t tell us to do that. It tells us we’re going to be judged on how we treat the poor and the unfortunate. And if that’s the case we’re being judged really poor right now, we be like Mariah Carey on New York City Times Square. [audience laughter]
MB: I love Mariah Carey, though. If we’re being judged on how we treat the poor right now and the unfortunate, then I don’t know what to tell you because it doesn’t look like we’re going anywhere good from here.
You mentioned both the brotherhood on football teams and black athlete activism, but there are no large examples of white athletes being activist for civil rights or BLM—
I think that’s wrong.
Alright, let’s hear it.
MB: Chris Long is a guy that I work with. And Chris Long, he’s one of my good friends and I talk to him all the time. I think he is one of the main people, whether it’s building water wells in Tanzania or donating money to educational system, or standing up to Donald Trump. Chris Long, he’s one of the people who really understands. And to me, the thing that makes it really truly amazing, is that he comes from a place where he doesn’t have to speak. He doesn’t have to do this. But because he has empathy and compassion for people, Chris always steps up. Stephen Hauschka is a great player example, Justin Britton, so many great examples of people who are stepping up. Could we have more? Could we use a Tom Brady? Of course we could. But—
[Laughter] We’ll just let that hang in the air for a moment. What’s your best advice for teachers? She says specifically white women who teach a diverse student population.
I think for that question is to listen. I think a teacher or a person has to listen to the stories and the journeys of their class. I think a lot of times teachers want to personify their own story and what they’ve been through, “When I was little, I’d go home after school and—” nah, we can’t do that anymore. Some of these kids living in broken home, some kids are homeless, some kids are going through stuff. And the teacher has to be able to have empathy and compassion and to be able to listen to them. And I think that’s what a teacher could do. She could find out what’s really happening because people really change when you really get into their stories and you ask them, “Why what’s going on to you? Why didn’t you eat?” And then they can have a voice and kids are more likely to tell you what’s going on. And then you can have a better outcome for their schoolwork.
JH: (01:04:24) That’s right.
MB: Also get Jesse’s book.
WH: Read Jesse’s book.
MB: To teaching Black lives at school.
MB: (01:04:34) It’s a very informative book because people think that it says teaching Black lives at school that is only about Black lives, but that book is really about every single issue. Homophobia, Islamophobia, it’s about all kinds of phobias that people are dealing with, our kids are dealing with. And it’s a way for teachers to look at the book and talk to the kids about the stories of their journey of native people, the stories of what it is to be Black Lives Matter. And it kinda takes the stigmas off of him for people to be able to have an understanding of it.
JH: Yeah. Teaching for teachingforblacklives.org.
WH: Alright. We’ll push it out tomorrow on our Facebook thread feed, whatever we do on Facebook. I got like four more. What is the responsibility of white people as we are called upon to help end racism? That’s a big one. Responsibility.
MB: (01:05:26) I think it’s not the people who have been from privilege or some of the oppressors to tell the oppressees when they should protest or when they should talk or when they should do this and how they should do it, it’s more about people listening and trying to not put themselves in a story and being like, “Well, that’s not true.” It’s about like, okay, so what is your journey? And I think it just takes a lot of empathy. And I don’t want to keep saying empathy and compassion, but it’s the truth. For white people to really understand the history of what really happened, what it really feels like for black people to live in America, what it feels like for somebody to be judged on the color of their skin and not the content of their character. White people are given the benefit of the doubt when they first being met, we’re not given that benefit of the doubt. And I think white people really have to take hold of that and understand that if they really want to stop racism and stop oppression then they have to be the voices of the people and to be able to say, I heard it and I need to speak the truth.
WH: Okay. This comes from a nine year-old boy, what can I do as a nine-year-old white boy to make people of color’s lives better?
MB: (01:06:39) Man, just touch one person’s life every day. As a nine-year-old boy, I wouldn’t tell you that your job is to fight oppression. Your job is to be a young child and live your life, but live your life in a way that you have empathy and compassion from the beginning to the end. I don’t even kill ants anymore. You know, ’cause I have compassion for ants. My wife is really like, you need to kill that roach but I’m like, “No, let him free. Let him free.” That’s really how we gotta live. You gotta start like that. You know? And for a nine-year-old boy, I would just say, hey man, just have empathy for other people. Try to be understanding and don’t be so judgmental. And go into situations without any expectations. Go into situations not assuming, but being able to listen and to understand
WH: (01:07:26) I screwed those up because that was supposed to be the last question, but I’ve got two more that are indicative of a whole other strain of questions that indicate how much people care about you. And they are, how do you prevent yourself from becoming overwhelmed by all the shitty stuff in our world and in our past, how do you yourself?
MB: (01:07:43) I think one of my favorite monks, a Buddhist monk, he said, you must realize that there’s sorrow, but you must realize that there’s sun. And so every day you got to realize that there’s sorrows in the world but there also is joy in the world. And so for finding balance in that world of finding that there’s so many things that happen. But at the same time, I get to look at my children, I get to look at the great things at work that the people are doing and finding great balance in that. It’s a very thin line to walk on because there’s so much shit happening that it’s hard to find joy, but we must find joy to really dig deeper in ourselves and find our true purpose. Because if we let the world decide what our purpose is, we’ll never reach our full joy. And I think that’s what we have to do.
WH: And finally, what are you doing to take care of your brain?
MB: My brain?
WH: Yeah, your brain.
MB: I can’t say it without getting suspended, you know.
WH: (01:08:47) Ladies and gentlemen, Jesse Hagopian and Michael Bennett.
Jini Palmer: (01:08:59) Thank you for listening to our Town Hall Seattle Civic series. I’m Jini Palmer, check out our new curated podcast In The Moment. Steve Scher, we’ll be interviewing an upcoming presenter that you won’t want to miss. And I’ll give you highlights from the past two weeks at Town Hall, find it on iTunes or your favorite podcast app. A special thanks to our audio engineer Moe Provencher. This song was recorded, live and performed by Jack Quartet from our Town Music series. If you like our Cvic series, look for our Arts and Culture and Science series as well. For more information, visit our email@example.com.