'Going There' In 2014

Dec 20, 2014
Originally published on December 23, 2014 11:57 am

We've been privileged in these last few months to share the stories of many Americans, some of them famous, but most of them not. We came together through some avenues we know well — books, music and theater. Sometimes, we found each other through pathways that have only recently become a big part of our lives, such as the #BeyondFerguson hashtag that brought so many young people to an August community meeting in that city. Our New Year's Resolution is to keep these honest and vital conversations going. We are going there.

Here are some highlights.


In August, I moderated a conversation at Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Mo. It was the first time that the community had the chance to address James Knowles, the mayor of Ferguson, after the shooting of Michael Brown, and the protests that followed.

I asked a young activist, Alexis Templeton, what was the most important thing she wanted the mayor to know.

"I can explain to you that my First Amendment rights have been taken away. And that I have been told directly by a police officer that I don't have this right when I know for a fact that I do," she said. "I was told that I did not have the right to assemble. And I know for a fact, you know for a fact, we all know for a fact that we have the right to assemble."

Diversity On Broadway

Four of the country's most exciting playwrights joined me in New York to discuss whether Broadway is diverse enough, and why it matters.

Kristoffer Diaz was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010 for his play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. It's a comedy about professional wrestling that asks big questions about what it means to be American. He explained where he comes from as a writer, and how that influences what he wants to see on stage.

"When I moved into the city from Yonkers, I was an 18-year-old Puerto Rican kid who used to go to Broadway shows in Timberland boots, big baggy jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, and I was never sitting next to anyone else like that. I would find myself sitting next to the Broadway audience, which tends to be, you know 60-year-old white women with some money ... So I'm aware of that, and I'm not going to write a play that's alienating the folks who are going to be there in the room. But I'm also not going to write a play that makes [the] 18-year-old kid in the hoodie feel alienated either. I want that kid to feel as safe and sound in that room, and accepted into that room as I wanted to when I was 18 years old, and sometimes did and sometimes didn't."

Ray Rice And Domestic Abuse

When a video showing NFL player Ray Rice punching his wife in an elevator sparked discussions about domestic abuse, a tweet caught my attention:

We followed up on this by asking women more about why they stayed in abusive relationships. This is what one woman told me:

"I thought I could fix it. I thought that, as a wife, it was my duty to do all that I could to protect the marriage. I think I probably misunderstood the context of God hating divorce. I thought that, you know, because nobody is perfect — I did focus a lot on my own shortcomings and tried to use that almost as an excuse that, you know, 'well, I have things I need to work on as well, and he didn't leave me.' So I shouldn't leave him."

Latino Influencers In Charlotte

Just before the midterm elections, I went to Charlotte, N.C., to talk more about voting rights. While there, we learned more about the growing Latino influence in the city from five members of the business community.

Milagritos Aguilar is originally from Peru, and is now the manager and owner of Royal Roofing LLC., a roofing and solar panel company. She moved to Charlotte in 2008, and told me:

"As a minority businesswoman, I started my business five years ago, with no money and no experience. When I see that Charlotte opened doors for me and gave me so many opportunities, I thought that I had to give in return something. And little by little, I start having my business get successful and, little by little, saw that Charlotte also gives me the opportunity to speak out about my country."

Carlos Santana's 'Light'

Guitar legend Carlos Santana needs no introduction. After we sat down to talk about his new autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, this was the thought he shared with us that stayed with me and many of our listeners:

"I'm not Latino, or Spanish; what I am is a child of light. I want this book for people to understand that you don't have to be the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, or Mother Teresa, or Jesus Christ to create blessings and miracles. Keep repeating, 'I am that I am; I am the light.' "

Editor's Note: These projects involved collaborations with NPR member stations. This year, we were able to partner with St. Louis Public Radio, WNYC, and WFAE in Charlotte, N.C.

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