Musician, Author, Compelling Unifier, Klan Whisperer, and Award-winning Conflict Navigator
“I inspire people to create conversations that ignite change and improve relationships.”
- Daryl Davis
“How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” As the only Black Cub Scout marching in an otherwise all-White parade, Daryl Davis formed that simple yet powerful question after he was pelted by rocks, bottles and soda pop cans by a handful of White spectators. This was his first encounter with racism at age ten. Pursuit of an answer led this career performing musician on a surreal journey stemming from a chance encounter with a man who turned out to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Seeking to understand, not to change minds or judge, Daryl actually built bridges with leaders from a group that professed hatred for him. Some came to quit the Klan and gave Daryl their robes and hoods when they did. In the process he has unearthed truths about conflict, hate, intolerance, and communication that are valuable today. His extraordinary journey is chronicled in his first book, Klan-Destine Relationships and the documentary about his encounters, Accidental Courtesy. As a speaker, Daryl’s impact on audiences is profound – his TEDx talk has over 11 million views.
Daryl graduated from Howard University with his Bachelor of Music Degree. He has performed extensively with Chuck Berry, The Legendary Blues Band (formerly The Muddy Waters Blues Band), and many others. While music is his profession, improving race relations is his obsession. He is known to many as “The Rock'n'Roll Race Reconciliator.”
It started during a break between performances with a band at a bar one night. A man approached Daryl and remarked that this was the first time he had ever seen a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Daryl explained that both he and Lewis were influenced by Black Blues & Boogie-Woogie pianists, from which Rock'n'Roll and Rockabilly evolved. The man did not believe in the Black origin of Daryl’s piano style even after he said that Lewis was a friend who had shared this news with him. The man then shared news with Daryl – he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
This meeting, and those that followed, would lead Daryl on a journey all over America, meeting and interviewing leaders and members from KKK, neo-Nazi and Alt-Right groups at both his and their homes as well as their rallies. With his highly acclaimed, nonfiction book, Klan-Destine Relationships, Daryl become the first Black author to write a book on the Klan from in-person interviews. The award-winning documentary, Accidental Courtesy, details his journey and has been shown frequently on PBS. Daryl, who has been to 57 countries on 6 continents, is often selected by the U.S. State Department as a highly respected expert on race relations and conflict, to present programs in various countries around the world dealing with similar situations. His next book, The Klan Whisperer will be released in 2021.
Daryl has been doing this work since 1983 and has become the recipient of numerous Klan robes & hoods and other racist symbols, given to him by people who once hated him when they didn't even know him. Now many of them have become his friends and supporters of his work. On the other side of spectrum, for his work in bridging race relations he is the recipient of numerous awards such as the American Ethical Union's prestigious Elliott-Black Award, Carnegie-Mellon's Carl Sagan Award & Prize, Tribeca Disruption Innovation Award, MLK Award, Search for Common Ground Award, Washington Ethical Society Bridge-Builder Award, among many others. He is often sought for commentary by CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, People magazine, and many other media sources.
In Daryl’s words, “Ever since I graduated from college in 1980 with my degree in music, I’ve been a full-time musician, traveling and performing all over America and around the world. What I’ve come to find to be the greatest, most effective, and successful weapon we can use to combat ignorance, racism, hatred, and violence, is also the least expensive weapon – and the one that is least used by Americans. That weapon is called communication. We can communicate with people in space but many of us have difficulty talking to the person who lives next door because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, their orientation, their politics, etc. We are living with 21st century technology in Space Age times, but there are still too many of us with Stone Age minds.”
Daryl has come in closer contact with more members of the Ku Klux Klan than most White people, and certainly most Blacks, short of being on the wrong end of a rope. What's more surprising? He intentionally continues to do so because as he says, “Ignorance breeds fear. If you do not keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. Because we hate those things that frighten us. If you do not keep that hatred in check, that hatred in turn will breed destruction because we want to destroy those things that we hate. Why? Because they frighten us.”
When he speaks, Daryl Davis’s impact on an audience is sobering yet inspirational. More than a few members in every audience remember and ask him about the fictional character in Dave Chappelle’s comedic skit in which he plays a blind Klansman who didn't know he was Black and attends Klan rallies. Daryl shares stories that would be comical, if he weren’t putting his life on the line for a purpose. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction might ever be in Daryl’s case. People will also point out how courageous Daryl was to actually turn up at Klan rallies himself. Inevitably they bring up Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman. That film depicts a Black police officer who infiltrated the KKK over the telephone and would send a White subordinate officer to Klan rallies in his place to gather damning intelligence against the Klan. The difference is not lost on the audience. Daryl had his feet on the ground in the lion's den and tells the story first-hand.
Through his work, Daryl has discovered a successful method of transforming enemies into friends. His stories of his encounters with – and transformations of – White supremacists have inspired people all over the U.S. and abroad. His audiences leave his presentations empowered to:
- Overcome Their Fears
- Confront Their Prejudices
- Recognize Similarities
- Appreciate Differences
- Navigate Diversity
- Improve Relationships with Others
- Better Their Lives While Creating a Positive Impact on Others
In addition to his career as a performing musician, Daryl is the owner of Lyrad Music, a music publishing and licensing business. He is also an actor of stage and screen and has appeared in HBO's highly acclaimed series The Wire.
CIVIL CONVERSATIONS IGNITE POSITIVE CHANGE
It’s simply amazing what empathy and civil conversation can accomplish. Daryl Davis should know. For nearly 40 years the noted Black musician has gained acclaim for confronting extreme bias with civility. He’s engaged, face-to-face, those who hate him because of the color of his skin: members and leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and other White Supremacist groups. Disbelief is most people’s first reaction: How could he possibly be civil to “those people?” But Daryl reached out in an effort to understand – not to change minds. Those conversations forged unlikely but genuine friendships and over time many of his new friends changed their own minds and renounced their old beliefs. Some even gave Daryl their robes, hoods, Nazi flags, and other symbols of their past. Daryl is a brilliant storyteller with jaw-dropping experiences about building bridges of understanding using practical tools we can all employ to ignite positive change in our workplace, our community, and at the family dinner table. As Daryl says, “A missed opportunity for dialogue is a missed opportunity for conflict resolution.” This presentation is positively inspiring.
THE KLAN WHISPERER
Daryl Davis is a Black man who for almost 40 years has walked on the edge – with one foot dangling over the precipice – on a quest to explore racism. Along the way, Daryl has befriended White supremacists, attended Ku Klux Klan rallies, been a pallbearer at a Grand Dragon's funeral, performed hymns at an Imperial Wizard's funeral, stood in as the surrogate father of a Klanswoman bride – walking her down the aisle to be given away at her wedding to an Imperial Wizard, and spurred the dismantling of the largest Klan group in the State of Maryland. Daryl is a master storyteller whose recollections have the suspense of a true-crime podcast and keep audiences riveted to their seats in disbelief. People leave his presentations empowered with the tools to make better friends out of even their sworn enemies.
WHAT'S DRIVING WHITE SUPREMACY TODAY?
From the high influx of non-European immigration to the United States, to a Black President, to a violent and deadly White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA, to the rhetoric that inspired an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, to fear of the "Browning of America," "White Genocide," and majority-minority reversal in the year 2042…Daryl Davis is the voice of knowledge, reason, and tranquility in uncertain, racially turbulent times. For nearly 40 years he has been studying and dealing directly with some of the biggest promulgators of White supremacy, their fears, and their quest for power. His expert opinion is often sought by such leading news organizations as CNN, MSNBC, National Geographic, NPR, The Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, Newsweek, and The Atlantic. Daryl’s insights bring business leaders, law enforcement, policy makers, educators, and average citizens up to speed – helping them understand what's to be expected and what can be done.
HAIL, HAIL ROCK'N'ROLL – DELIVER ME FROM THE DAYS OF OLD
It was music that launched Daryl Davis’ crazy connection to the Ku Klux Klan. He was complimented at a show by a White man who said he’d never heard a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Daryl explained that Lewis, who was actually a friend of his, learned his style by imitating Black artists of the day. The guy didn’t believe it. He also confessed to being a member of the KKK. The ensuing conversation led to an introduction to the leader of the Maryland KKK. Daryl interviewed him for his book and became his unlikely friend. In this talk, Daryl recounts how rock’n’roll – called "the devil’s music" by its detractors at the time of its inception – broke down early racial barriers with young people in the 1950s. Daryl brings that history forward into his own story, using music as a common denominator and proving that musical and racial harmony go hand-in-hand. He has been dubbed "The Rock'n'Roll Race Reconciliator" for helping people find common ground. Daryl punctuates his captivating presentation with a thrilling musical performance, in the signature Boogie-Woogie style he honed while backing Chuck Berry and other rock'n'roll legends.
"Your presentation was riveting. You are such an engaging speaker and your story is powerful. We are humbled and inspired by the lessons you shared with us, and the knowledge that each of us can make a difference."
– Office of Congressional Workplace Rights
"By learning from [Daryl's] most extreme experiences, and from those who sit on the extreme side with whom he engages, we could learn leadership lessons that might help all of us... It’s through his courage that we may all explore some of our own."
– Executive Director, Leadership Rhode Island
“We do have a new bigotry in America…we don’t want to be around anyone disagreeing with us. We self-select our news sources and self-select our encounters. I admire this guy [Daryl Davis] because he did exactly the opposite. You can’t have a culture of encounter if you say I want to encounter interesting new people who know more than I do about nuclear physics but dear God I don’t want to encounter anyone who fundamentally has a different take on things than I do.”
– President Bill Clinton
“Daryl Davis is an inspiration in my personal and professional life. From him, I have learned that no conversation is impossible and no person, no matter how hateful, is beyond reach.”
– Peter Boghossian, Philosopher, Professor and Author, How to Have Impossible Conversations
“Things went very well as usual! Students were left talking about Daryl and his work for the rest of the day and later into the dorms as well…a very successful day…”
– Dean of Equity & Inclusion, St. Paul’s School
“… Our campus LOVED having him here. Very impactful.”
– Director of the Forester Lecture Series, Huntington University
“At all points Davis approaches his quest for information with equally impressive helpings of honesty, good humor and huge reserves of sheer nerve. Davis never ‘spins’ their rationalizations. He just lets his subjects talk, and invariably the wounded, confused and fearful psyches under the bluster are laid bare. Davis consistently approaches each of his subjects as individuals; some he comes to respect and even like. The man has earned his right to preach.”
– Ann Arbor News
“Daryl Davis is hands down one of the most incredible people I have ever met. Daryl is world renowned for his music, & if you ever see him play you will know why. Beyond his amazing musical talents, he has a natural gift for reaching others through dialogue & understanding commonalities. Daryl helped me change my life, & I have seen him do the same for so many others. In today's modern society we often hear people talk about sports stars as heroes, but the real heroes are those who alter the course of lives through change. Daryl is one of those unsung heroes. Daryl's willingness and desire to understand hate, and the psychological manifestations of it have driven him into situations and scenarios that few men would ever dare to walk into, and he does so with a pure heart and unconditional love for humanity. Daryl is the kind of person we should all strive to be like.”
– NSM (National Socialist Movement) Former Commander
“He was fabulous! We had a great turnout too! Couldn’t have been better. Daryl exceeded our expectations!”
– Director of Community Programs, Roanoke College
“Daryl Davis is a voice of reason in the midst of a lot of noise. By word and example he demonstrates that civil discourse across differences is not only possible, but is the only way to change hearts and minds.”
– Director of College Events, Carleton College
“I have a lot of respect for Daryl Davis.”
– Former KKK Imperial Wizard
“Daryl was wonderful! We had a nice crowd and I received a lot of positive feedback… he really connected with those students. It was so impactful to them and it made a sincere difference in their week and their time on our campus. Thank you for working with us so Daryl could speak here!”
– Director, TRIO Student Support Services, Hibbing Community College
“It was awesome. He did really well. Everybody loved him.”
– Peace Studies Program Director, Golden West College
“I trust you [Daryl Davis] more than I trust some of my own Klan members.”
– Former KKK Imperial Wizard, Current American Patriots USA
“It was awesome. He had a great impact on our community. One faculty member said that he was “the best MLK Day speaker in the 21 years that he’s been here.”
– Dean of Multicultural Education, The Governor’s Academy
“Daryl was the right person at the right time for Manchester. His message, timeless, was well, WELL received and is still being talked about on campus almost a week later. We had over 500 people in attendance, the most my Office has had for a presentation like this on campus in the six years I’ve worked for Manchester…”
– Director of Intercultural Services, Manchester University
“I just wanted to let you know that Daryl Davis far exceeded my expectations! I, along with the audience, was very pleased with his presentation.”
– Manager of Student Affairs, Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus
“The lecture itself was captivating. Daryl is such a great story teller…he really draws you in. I wish we could have let him speak longer so that he could have shared more stories of his encounters, more video clips & some more of his amazing piano skills. There were women on either side of me who could barely contain themselves – they were ready to boogie when he tickled those ivories! Daryl received a much-deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of the night and I saw many community & campus members approach him for a handshake and photo before his departure.”
– Convocation Committee, Franklin College (Indiana)
“I'm proud to be a friend of Daryl Davis.”
– Former KKK Grand Dragon