GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP)– Two friends with very different backgrounds are working toward the same goal: bringing people together.
Bill Goebel’s initial reaction when his friend, Odell Cleveland, presented him with the idea to take their private conversations about race to the airwaves was hesitance.
“I said absolutely not,” Goebel said. “I was actually afraid to do it, because I wasn’t sure where it was going to take us.”
Odell was thinking about the bigger picture.
“One thing is so important. If you only talk to and listen to the people who look like you in that echo chamber, you’re really just talking to yourself,” Cleveland said.
Bill eventually agreed, and the Common Ground podcast was started in 2021 in a small recording room in Greensboro. It was just two friends sharing their loaded conversations with whoever was willing to listen. The hosts leading the discussions couldn’t be more different.
Bill is a white man from Ohio.
“There’s so much for me to learn about the Black community because I grew up in a white community,” Goebel said.
Odell is a Black man from South Carolina.
“I grew up in the 60s in Charleston, South Carolina, through integration and where being a Black man in Charleston was not fun. We were poor. We grew up in public housing. So in a lot of cases, when you walked through quote-unquote ‘the white neighborhood,’ they would throw rocks at you and call you the N-word,” Cleveland said.
But it was their differences that made their small idea blossom into a platform now reaching thousands of people. Two years after launching, they broadcast in 36 countries and have picked up some sponsors.
“We’re talking now to MyPillow,” Cleveland said. “And some of them say, ‘Why would MyPillow be interested in what you all are doing?’ And the other answer would be, ‘Why not?’ Because MyPillow is like anyone else trying to find common ground.”
Their success is because they speak their truths but also listen to other viewpoints. The very thing Bill was afraid of resulted in their own personal growth and the growth of their audience.
“Everybody is not good and everybody is not bad, so it helped me as a person evolve and grow. And I thank Bill and the friendship for understanding that because I didn’t like white people. I didn’t like them at all. At all. Because they didn’t like me,” Cleveland said.
No matter how big the show gets, the goal is the same.
“You may not agree with them, and you may never change your opinion and that’s not what we’re trying to do. But we want to at least get an understanding on why someone else believes or thinks the way they believe. And then it’s a better way,” Cleveland said.
“We’ve had rabbis, we’ve had congressmen, supreme court justices, and we always ask them at the end how do you find common ground?” Goebel said.
The key to helping others find their common ground was first finding it themselves.
The Common Ground show posts new episodes every Friday.