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Relationships
November 1, 2023

We Need To Talk…

Written by: Don Yaeger

By Don Yaeger

How a painful conversation with a dear friend opened my eyes wider to the reality of racism

I believed I knew my team-mate Elton Gumbel as well as anybody I had ever worked with. We have worked together the last 10 years, and had been friends for a decade prior to that. Elton was an African American kid from Kansas City, I was a white kid from Hawaii. We had both worked hard and done well in our careers, and ended up in the small town of Tallahassee, Florida.

We had spent the last 20 years cultivating a wonderful friendship, but there was one topic we had never touched on that would drastically change our relationship, and the way that Don Yaeger wants to live his life: race.

As a kid in the Hawaiian school system, diversity was not something we lacked. Just about every year, his class was filled with children from a variety of ethnicities—Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Pacific Islanders, Hispanic, Korean, African American and the occasional white kid, which was usually him.

Don Yaeger's Photo

“With no sense of racism anywhere in my background, I rarely felt the need to discuss the subject.”

A FORTHRIGHT CONVERSATION

In the days that followed Floyd’s death, he watched the news, the coverage of everything that was happening in the country, and the pain you could see on the faces of so many people of color, a pain you could tell was not new to them.

It was in this time that Don Yaeger began to reflect on his own life, and how he is surrounded by so many wonderful friends of color yet he had never taken the time to ask what it was like to live life in this world and in this climate. He realized he had missed an opportunity to talk about the impact that these events have had on their lives, events that he had seen in the news before the death of George Floyd.

He didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about it anymore. He wanted to have this conversation with a close friend who would be honest and forthright with him about their experiences, so he called Elton. Little did he know how different this conversation would be, that it would turn into two hours filled with emotion and tears of what it was like to be an African American living in their Southern town.

Elton talked about lessons his father taught him, lessons that he never was privy to being a white male, lessons he will never have to teach his children. He learned how this amazing, successful television personality learned to keep his driver’s license and insurance in the visor of his car so when he got pulled over, which often happened, he would not have to reach down low where his hands could not be seen to retrieve his information for the officer.

TWO DIFFERENT AMERICAS

It was an overwhelming experience for Don Yaeger to think about how far he believes the country has come, but to sit and listen to this man whom he had known for 20 years and hear the heart of someone whose only difference from him was the color of his skin.

He realized that his America and his friend’s America were two very different realities.

That two-hour conversation opened his eyes and taught him so much of who he was, who he is, and who he wants to be moving forward. As they wrapped up, he could only think of one thing: How can he use his platform for good? Instead of just saying, “I’m not a racist,” how can he encourage others to ask questions? How can he encourage himself to continue to ask questions, to continue to learn and grow?

It hit him: We don’t have to be racist to fail our brothers. Too often we believe the troubles we are having in the country are solely because of racist individuals, but the trouble is also because we are not asking others about their experiences as a person of color. We cannot begin to help the healing if we don’t know how to properly bandage the wound.

Don Yaeger's Photo

“Our responsibility is greater than to just not be a person of hate. Our responsibility is to be a person of change.”

Our responsibility is greater than to just not be a person of hate. Our responsibility is to be a person of change. That change can start right now, with a very simple question to a person of color: “Do you have time to grab a cup of coffee and talk?” It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, it can be as simple as a two-hour conversation with an old friend that ignites change in your own heart.

Don Yaeger is a nationally acclaimed inspirational speaker, longtime Associate Editor of Sports Illustrated, business leadership executive coach, and author of over 30 books, 11 of which have become New York Times bestsellers. Learn more at www.donyaeger.com or contact him at [email protected].