(WGHP) — Bill Goebel and Odell Cleveland come from very different places. Cleveland grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, in the early days of integration.
“White kids and Black kids would fight all the time,” Cleveland said. “They would call us the n-word. but more important than that, a lot of times the teachers who were white would buy into it also.”
Goebel is from an all-white suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
“The only Black people that came into town was usually the bus driver,” he said. “It was known that if a Black person drove through town they would probably be stopped by the police and escorted out of town.”
Their paths crossed during a ministry event a few years ago.
“Over time, our wives became friends and that really bonded us,” Goebel said.
This summer they took the conversations they’ve been having as friends to the airwaves with a radio program and podcast called “The Common Ground Show.”
“We believe that in today’s society if you can have a civil conversation about race, that’s a positive thing,” Cleveland said.
Whether people hear them through the radio show or the podcast, these two men hope the example of their friendship can help other people walk this journey of life in unity. That means taking people out of their comfort zone. Goebel says that’s an adventure, not a burden.
They talk about race, marriage, religion. They bring guests, often newsmakers, and talk about their stories. They always end with asking “what is your common ground?”
They shared parts of their journey with FOX8.
“At one time I hated white people,” Cleveland said. “And as a Christian, it’s hard to hate because now I want to make it into Heaven. So how can you hate people and you say you’re a Christian… When you start letting your guard down, you realize everybody’s not the same way.”
Then there was the time Goebel and a room full of white guys got defensive when a Black woman brought up white privilege.
“She went on to explain no you’re missing the point. It’s not about this. You had doors open that wouldn’t open for us. So I started reflecting because it got my back up when I heard it,” he said. “It’s not white privilege. It’s white advantage. I had an advantage being white. I could walk in — I could walk into a law firm and ask to get a job in an all-white law firm back then and it was pretty well accepted.”
They hope to reflect and become aware of their own biases.
“Don’t pre-judge people,” Cleveland said. “If we can walk away with that, I think that opens doors for a dialogue, and listening and a lot happens when we allow people to show us who they are instead of pre-determining who they are.”
They’re optimistic about what can happen if people can find common ground.
“It’s hard. And it’s not for weak-minded people,” Cleveland said. “But we’re going to talk our way through this. We can’t fight our way through it. We can’t destroy each other because we’re all Americans.”
“God opens doors and he’s opened this door,” Goebel said. “I have found that if I don’t go through that door, he will bug the snot out of me. God has opened this door to have this conversation. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable because of the things I say, and the things I get back from my white folks, my Republicans that don’t agree with me.”
He’s OK with that because these conversations are bigger than red and blue.
“I’m optimistic we can fix those things and bring them to the surface.”
You can check out the podcast and find out how to tune in to the radio show at their website.