February 2024

Dispatch Guest Column: Stop ‘cancelling’ others. It’s time to rise above mistrust, open our minds and listen.

By Stephanie Hightower
Columbus Dispatch Guest Columnist

A Black man was welcomed by KKK rally organizers. A white lawyer stood down when criticized by Black families for whom he sought restorative justice. Both displayed strength in their humility, courage through vulnerability, and determination to rise above negativity and mistrust.

They opened their minds instead of clinching their fists. And it made all the difference.

The two men I describe shared their mutual stories at Columbus Urban League’s Empowerment Day event last November. Daryl Davis, a Black musician, is pursuing a lifelong quest to understand the extremist perspectives of white supremacists. His pursuit of these relationships has caused some to leave the Klan and even give him their robes and hoods.

Doug Jones, a former U.S. Senator and a former U.S. Attorney from Alabama, felt compelled to respond to the resonating pain caused by the 1963 Birmingham church bombings that killed four young girls. He understood why the girls’ families mistrusted a justice system that failed them for 30 years. But instead of defending himself from their critiques, he persevered, and he eventually successfully prosecuted two of the criminals who committed this heinous act.

Daryl, Doug, and others who reach through conflict for common ground can teach us profound and critical lessons if we, too, stop and listen.

We must be able to ask challenging questions

I thought of their examples recently when watching three women college presidents undergo sharp questioning by a congressional committee. The presidents were called to explain why and how they dealt with antisemitism and what constitutes free speech on campus. These hearings and the controversies that prompted them – along with the subsequent resignations of two of the college leaders – evoke tough questions:

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