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From the feel of everything that surrounds us right now, especially in this COVID-era and post - George Floyd and pre-election times, people in America (and around the world), people seem more divided than ever. Each side believes the other side is the reason for all evils, emotions are running high and finger pointing is the attitude of choice.
If you focus on social media, the news and even most of the celebrities, the feeling of a profoundly divided country is what you get. And it is depressing. You might even think that we are headed for self-destruction. After all, what is possible when everyone is shouting at each other and even shooting at each other?
So while most people are digging in their heels in the beliefs of their "tribe", one man and his team never forgot that progress happens when we all come together and who "believe that there is also a reservoir of hope that runs deep within the people that make our cities, states and nations great!" His name is Bishop Omar, and he and his team for the Urban Specialists, an organization transformingUrban Culture through the elimination of irrational violence.
When we move away from social media, the news and most celebrities, and rather focus on our neighbors, families, co-corkers, the people who work at our grocery stores, etc... we start to see it everywhere around us: perfectly decent and reasonable people, who (just like you) want to live a happy, peaceful life, providing for their family and being a good fellow citizen for their community, nation and the world. Regardless of political affiliation, gender, skin color, etc...
It is this deep anchored yearning for Goodness and Love in most of us that Bishop Omar relies on whenever a crisis arises. In heated times as the ones we are currently in, he knows the only viable solution is to bring people to the table, a table where each person will get to express their feelings, however hurtful, hard or disturbing those feelings might be. Bishop then literally turns into a translator for the hardest language there is in the world: Compassion for the other.
Eventually each person gets to the place where they feel they are being heard, which is the moment when the magic happens. A transformation happens when we feel heard: we become receptive to each other, we might still hold grievances but we can forgive, and most importantly we are now open to seeking a solution that takes into account each party's concerns. This is how sustainable progress happens.
Bishop Omar has worked this "magic" so many times over the past 20 years, often behind closed doors and in private venues.
And because of the urgency of it all today, he recently decided to bring his unifying skills to the nation, city by city, with the "Healing America Tour". During these public sessions, he brings on stage people you would never see in the same space unless they are going at each other's throat. When I attended the first gathering that would later become the "Healing America Tour", it was in Dallas, and Bishop Omar had assembled a group of characters that made me cringe with my heart racing at first because I was sure they would probably start fighting each other before too soon, literally! I mean, imagine this cast of people, all sitting less than an arms-length away from each other: "Sen. Ted Cruz; U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson; Bradford Jordan, known as the rapper Scarface from the Geto Boys; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters; and Valerie and William Bell, whose son Sean was one of three unarmed men killed in 2006 by New York police officers, three of whom were found not guilty of manslaughter. Olympic bronze medal winner John Carlos, who turned his win at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City into a political statement by raising his fist during the national anthem at the medal podium was also on the panel"(see photo of the panel enclosed).
This past July Heal America Tour took place in Dallas, and Bishop Omar invited me to speak along with others such as Mark Cuban, Van Jones, Deion Sanders, etc....
While most of the other speakers and panels focused on police brutality and the work being done on Criminal Justice reform, I centered my message around our shared biological fact that we all have biases, because as most evolutionary biologists will tell you, "If you've got a brain, you've got biases". It comes with the territory and is a phenomenon we explain thoroughly at Skinisskin. So while most other panels focused on the externaal factors of discrimination, we focused on its internal factor from the standpoint of how each of us contributes to it, but most importantly how each of us can transcend this part of our nature.
As usual, and anytime I participate in a Heal America session, I am in awe with our ability to come together, when called to it. The music, the prayers, and witnessing people sharing their most intimate feelings about very hard (sometimes traumatizing issues) in the most genuine way there is, all under the loving guidance of Bishop Omar, a sort of urban spiritual guide. When you watch a group of people that everything in life seems to set apart from each other, such as the 3 ladies who convened in the last panel of the evening during the 1st Heal America Dallas. "There was Andricka Williams, the mother of the three children of Alton Sterling, who was shot several times and killed by two police officers in 2016 during an altercation outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There was Garafola and Trenisha Jackson, the widows of East Baton Rouge sheriff's Deputy Brad Garafola and Baton Rouge police Officer Montrell Jackson, who were killed in 2016 along with sheriff's Deputy Matthew Gerald in an ambush during unrest after Sterling's death. All three women described their loved ones along the same terms: men who cared for their families and other people as if they were members of their families."(see more for about the evening here) By the end of their panel, they were hugging each other crying, having formed a new sisterhood. I do not know a single person in the audience who was not crying. Peace and reconciliation has happened right before our eyes. This is us, at our best. This is how America Heals with Bishop Omar. And this is hope we live by and through at skinissskin. And this is why we were proud sponsors of the event :)