The Origin Story: Part Two

In the last post, I mentioned some of the seeds of The Listening, which stemmed from a desire to engage with like-minded individuals who just wanted to kick it and enjoy art and music.

I neglected to mention, however, the catalyst for actually setting the wheels in motion. Every movement is preceded by a spark, an instance in time where you are almost helpless to making a move.  I’m not sure how else to describe it, and if that sounds too ambiguous for you, I’ll get very specific in a moment.

The idea for The Listening came from a number of influences and sources, mostly personal and creative. In 2008, however, if felt as if my worldview experienced quite a shift.

My identity has gone through its fair share of transitioning. Fully aware of my blackness, my malehood, my Christian faith, I assumed certain things. Coming to college, many of these structures were challenged, some were modified, others were strengthened. In undergrad, my frame was generally simple, colored with your primary colors of reds, yellows, and blues.

Some of you may remember, and may even be reminded due to our current political climate, but in 2008, it was an interesting time to be black, male, and Christian. Barack Hussein Obama’s nomination, campaign, and successful election polarized the student body at my alma mater, Liberty University. Conservatives and liberals clashed on what seemed like a daily basis. On Election Night, there were reports of pockets of hostility. As an alum and a Black man, this confused and saddened me.

It wasn’t as if each side didn’t have sprinkles of merit either. Yes, people wanted to celebrate the new reality of there being a non-white/Black president. Yes, people were frustrated at the perceived threat to their fundamental values. From my vantage point, I saw the valor. But I also saw the fear. I saw people, friends of mine, become distortions of the people I knew them to be. What started as an exercise in their freedom of speech turned into Christian-ized, Republican-ized, Democrat-ized, Afro-American-ized hate speech.

I didn’t know what to think, what to say. At the time, I thought it better to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. After all, what could I say? There was ugliness all over, and no stance or statement was safe. Minus the pun, there was only black-and-white. You either agreed with one stance or you became a villain of the nastiest sort. Worse than Voldemort A-Town stomping on the Quran or Hitler crip-walking on the Book of Psalms.

And it didn’t have to be this way.

It should be okay to have different opinions and thoughts in this country, right? We should be okay with opposite, maybe even opposing thoughts. It shouldn’t have to directly lead to disharmony in the community. Shouldn't we be able to express ourselves without fearing bodily harm or social exile?

So, naturally, I started thinking.

Wouldn't it be cool if there was a place for people to actually feel how they felt and share those thoughts? Maybe, but that’d be dangerous. Feelings might get hurt. Some real stuff might actually be said.

This encouraged the thought even more.

I found that at their core, people have very sincere reasons for why they believe what they believe. Reasons that, if shared, might not change anyone else’s mind, but would encourage some understanding, at its very least. I’m of the thought that, once we get to understand someone and where they’re coming from, we engage in a completely different way. Each of us have life experiences that has taken us on a certain life trajectory. We then act a certain way, believe certain things, and maybe even vote based on these experiences. It determines our religious beliefs, where we shop, what clothes we wear, and so many more things.

Going into the core of our origins details so much more of us as people. Speaking candidly, I tend to care less about agendas, and more about the people. If I know you, where you come some, where you’ve been, I’m much more sympathetic than being beat over the head with political platforms that have been so distorted these days. (That’s a different blog post for a different blog on a different day.)

So, naturally, I started thinking again.

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a place where people could share their passions and their stories without being worried about associating with any particular agenda? Is there a place where it could be okay to be queer or Christian or black or simply a person?

There are stories all around us, but it is not always safe or comfortable to share these stories, for fear of persecution or being misunderstood. There are countless songs and poems and words and voices aching to be heard, searching for people to just listen to them and not simply wait for their turn to retort or offer a sales pitch.

In the words of George Costanza, we are living in a society, aren’t we?

In Lynchburg, where can they all come together, and be as passionate as possible? Where can we come together and honestly listen to each other?

I didn’t know. But I thought, why not try to get that started? Why not offer that stage?

On Saturday, February 27th, hopefully we’ll see what happens when some of those voices and stories get together. I really hope to see you there.

We’ll be listening.