Elon University’s Liberal Arts Forum invited musician Daryl Davis — who famously befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan in order to change their beliefs — to speak on campus as a part of the forum’s speaker series.

The Liberal Arts Forum is a student organization that brings academic speakers to Elon to discuss interests that are prevalent on campus. President and sophomore Benji Stern, who helped decide to bring Davis to campus, said that having Davis on campus is incredibly important. 

“Daryl Davis is an incredibly dynamic speaker,” Stern said. “He talks a lot about conflict resolution and building relationships and I think that is a skill that is universally valuable.”

Other members of the forum emphasized the importance of bringing Davis to campus. 

“Elon is a bubble and it’s almost easy to ignore politics when you go to a nice private liberal arts school,” freshman Maggie Retz said. 

Davis spoke at Elon on Feb. 20, which is six months after Mónica Guzmán, who mentions Davis in her book, “I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.” While Guzmán spoke at Elon as a part of the Common Reading Lecture, the Forum still found it imperative that Davis come to campus.

“We hope the biggest thing this audience takes away from this is how to effectively combat and defang odious ideologies,” junior Fletch Donoghue said.

Before Davis started his speech, Stern was able to introduce him to the audience. 

“While music is his profession, improving race relations is his passion,” Stern said to the audience. 

Following Stern’s introduction, Davis recalled his childhood where he traveled to U.S. embassies around the world because of his father’s work as a U.S. Foreign Service Agent. 

“I began traveling the world at the age of three in 1961,” Davis said during the event. “I have been exposed to a wide variety of ethnicities, skin colors, cultures, ideologies, religions and all that has helped influence and develop me into who I have become.”

Nia Bedard | Elon News Network

“Klan Whisperer” Daryl Davis speaks in Whitley Auditorium on Feb. 20.

Davis’ childhood consisted of traveling to U.S. embassies around the world where he went to schools that were both racially and culturally integrated. Once his family permanently settled in America, he was exposed to racism during a parade where cans and litter were thrown at him when he was just 10 years old. 

“I told my parents what happened and my mom and dad sat me down and explained to me what racism is,” Davis said. “I then formed a question in my mind, ‘How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?’”

This discovery is what later set Davis out on his campaign to understand the KKK and have the members he would speak with eventually renounce their beliefs. 

“Even an African American man and a Klansman can find common ground,” Davis said.

The first Klansman that Davis ever sat down and had a conversation with was Roger Kelly, who was the state leader of the Maryland chapter of the KKK. Kelly, who did not know that Davis was black, first met Davis in a motel room that was organized by him and his secretary. Following their first meeting, Davis and Kelly would continue to meet. Davis was invited to Kelly’s house and Klan rallies, while Kelly and other Klan members were invited to Davis’ shows. 

As their friendship grew, Davis and Kelly shared respect for each other regardless of their differing beliefs. This mutual respect ultimately led to Kelly leaving the Klan and giving Davis his robe.

Davis credits the success of his journey with Kelly and other members of the Klan to understanding five things that all human beings want in the form of five core values.

“Everyone wants to be loved,” Davis said. “Everyone wants to be respected, we all want to be heard, we want to be treated fairly and truthfully, and we all want the same things for our family that anyone else would want for their family.” 

Once Davis discovered these core values, he said he found that any uncomfortable conversation can become navigable. 

“There are a lot of hot topics out here today,” Davis said. “So you might be on one side and somebody else might be on the other side, but if you apply those five core values when you have those conversations you will each learn something from the other.”

The Liberal Arts Forum’s next event will host Greek-American filmmaker and Olympian runner, Alexi Pappas at 7:30 p.m. on March 11 in Whitley auditorium.