On the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder tomorrow, it’s still plain to see that “we’ve come a little ways and we have a very long way to go” when it comes to U.S. race relations, says Richard Harris.
He and Kenneth Stephens, both associate pastors at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church and professors at Southeastern University in Lakeland, want to help others get there at a free speaking event in Sarasota tomorrow evening at The Church of the Redeemer called "Steeped in Hate, Saved by Love."
It's an unlikely partnership that tells a story of hope. Each man will each share his different yet parallel journeys from racial hate to anti-racist action. Stephens calls part of the strategy CAR: communication, accountability and reconciliation. But the “C” also stands for “civility,” he says.
Harris joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1974, and when he was 18, became the Grand Dragon—head of the organization—of the Indiana KKK chapter, the second-youngest to hold that title at the time.
Stephens, a Black man born and raised in Florida, “was shaken to the core,” he says, after his brother, serving in the military at the time, was murdered in 1984 by two fellow white soldiers in a plot for money. “No matter what color, we trust each other with our lives and are brothers and sisters in arms,” he says, “My hurt turned to hate.”
Harris and Stephens met 15 years ago at Southeastern University, and “over the years we've become best of friends,” Harris says. With hard work and a relationship with God, the hate they had in common has turned into the motivation they have today for speaking out about equality and a better future for all.
“Our main message is that change is possible. If I can be transformed from the Grand Dragon of the KKK into someone who preaches against racism, anything is possible," Harris says.
Although they credit their relationship with God for their journey out of hate, the event isn't just for the religious. The message is for "anyone who carries hate or whose been hurt by hate. It's about reconciliation and the process of getting there," Stephens says.
"But it's not easy. It was a long journey. But hopefully, my long journey will turn it into a shortcut for other people," Harris says.
Click here to register. The event is free and open to the public and will also be live-streamed on the website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Check out Harris' book about his journey here. Hear Stephens' spoken word here.