Daryl Davis and Jeff Schoep are two of the most inspirational gentlemen I've ever met. Both work at the forefront of a hands-on social movement aimed at building bridges of understanding and friendship ordinarily thought to be impossible. Having had the opportunity to sit down with each of them individually (Davis Episode 24; Schoep Episode 29) they agreed to sit down with me at the same time to speak about what it will take to overcome the growing factionalism in our society.
Daryl Davis has worked to improve race relations by seeking out, engaging in dialogue with, and befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1983, he was playing country western music in a "white" bar in Frederick, Maryland, when a patron came up to him and said it was the first time he had "heard a black man play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis". Davis explained to the man that "Jerry Lee learned to play from black blues and boogie-woogie piano players and he's a friend of mine". The white patron was skeptical and over a drink admitted he was a member of the KKK. The two became friends and eventually the man gave Davis contact information on KKK leaders.
A few years later, Davis decided that he wanted to interview Klan members and write a book on the subject, to answer a "question in my head from the age of 10: 'Why do you hate me when you know nothing about me?' That question had never been answered from my youth".
Davis eventually went on to befriend over twenty members of the KKK, and claims to have been directly responsible for between forty and sixty, and indirectly over two hundred people leaving the Klan.Over the course of his activities, Davis found that Klansmen have many misconceptions about black people, stemming mostly from intense brainwashing in their youth. When they got to know him, Davis claims, it was more difficult to maintain their prejudices. The artist has recounted his experiences in his 1998 book, Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man's Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan.
Davis is not on a mission to "convert" bigots, white supremacists, Klansmen, or Nazis. Rather because of the earnest respect he offers all human beings and his core beliefs in the power of love, respect, fairness and his willingness to listen and find the heart of "the other," people are moved and transformed. Over 200 Neo-Nazis, Klansmen and others who belong to organizations that preach hate have chosen to leave those organizations and give Daryl their robes, flags, insignia, and other symbols of hate.
Jeff Schoep, once America’s most notorious neo-Nazi, now a consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and an inspirational speaker for Conscious Campus, tirelessly holds keynote talks, lectures, and workshops from his unique vantage point.
For over 2 decades, Schoep led America’s largest neo-Nazi organization, the National Socialist Movement (NSM), overseeing its growth to a nationwide movement. Beginning in 2016, through interactions with a black musician, Daryl Davis, and a Muslim film maker, Deeyah Khan, Jeff began to question not only his work, but his entire life. Experiencing relational dialogue and interpersonal relationships with those he once vilified changed Jeff’s life forever.
In 2019, he left the the NSM and publicly denounced the ideology. Jeff Schoep transitioned from mastering propaganda that promoted hatred and fear dedication to speaking about our shared humanity. He provides unique insights into the inner workings of far-right extremism from first hand knowledge and personal experience. Jeff has spoken nationally and internationally, from synagogues to universities, from broadcasts to speaking at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway with Deeyah Khan.
In 2020, Jeff founded Beyond Barriers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to a world devoid of extremism, radicalized organizations, hate, violence, coercive and violent ideologies. In addition to working alongside both community and government agencies, such as the Office of Juvenile Justice Department (OJJDP), Jeff and his organization, Beyond Barriers, have worked with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, RAND Corporation, International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), mental health professionals, academic research and development teams, as well as religious and educational institutions across the United States and abroad.