When Odell Cleveland and Alex McFarland met about a year ago, they became fast friends.
“We just figured let’s just invest in this friendship,” Alex recalled. “We’re both in the ministry. We both have been published and written. In many ways we’re similar and in some ways we’re different. We thought it would just be healthy to talk about things.”
Things like culture, politics and race.
“And we said look no matter how we land on issues, I love you as my brother. You’re always going to be my friend. We’re going to be respectful,” he added.
“We put voice to things that other people talk about and think about,” Odell said. “And it’s like, ‘OK, how do you ask a Black person this?’ Because you know white folks are awkward talking about race. They stumble around, and Alex is awkward and I’m straight to the point. At the same time, I’m glad we’re having a conversation about race. I want to tell him how I feel as a Black person. But at the same time, I want to understand how he feels too.”
They started a podcast called “I Hear Ya.”
“It’s two guys interacting, sharing, but really together on a journey to understand each other,” Alex explained.
“You have to have the honest questions where Black people ask a question or a white person asks you a question, and if you’re not careful, as people of color, I get offended for what’s this white guy asking me this for, and maybe vice versa. But here is a safe place where we can talk about hard conversations and come up with some kind of resolution,” Odell said.
In this podcast, we get to hear those conversations as they play out live. One example is when they talked about the perception many Black people have that most white evangelicals are racist.
“I had a bias in my mind of what they were, what they’re not based on how I see them performing on the national level,” Odell told us. “All white evangelical Christians don’t see it the same way. That was important to me as a Black democrat Christian. I see it differently. But then again, all Black folk don’t think alike either.”
“One thing I learned is he sometimes wears camo,” Alex added. “I did not know that black guys ever wore camo. I thought that was all my brothers in the pick-up trucks.”
And they talked about the time Alex was invited to a KKK meeting.
“I’m driving through Atlanta having a conversation, and this very well-to-do person in Charlotte invited me to a KKK meeting, and I literally almost ran off into a ditch. It was like I was hit in the head with a 2×4,” he said.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Odell. “I was surprised that he was surprised. Now it’s great to talk about it, and that’s kind of where we are.”
These men believe in the words of Mister Rogers: “There’s nobody you couldn’t love if you only heard their story.”
They say that comes through relationship.
“One person at a time because we learn to hate one person at a time,” Odell shared. “We learned to be biased on grandma’s porch sometimes. So that’s how it is: people to people based on relationships.”
“We’re not going to agree on everything,” added Alex. “But I can love my neighbor. I can get this great blessing of having a new friend. And I think a part of it is just to hear each other and care about each other, understand each other.
Odell encourages everyone to talk about this elephant in the room.
“Let’s not be afraid to talk about race because we’re talking about it amongst ourselves behind closed doors. So let’s talk about it with each other so we can resolve it. When you talk to everybody who’s just like yourself the bottom line is you’re talking to yourself.”
You can download “I Hear Ya” wherever you get your podcasts. The latest topic is: “Can we celebrate the achievements of Conservative Blacks?”