Daryl Davis

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How do you build understanding, calm fear, and put an end to hate and racism? One conversation at a time! Daryl Davis is a renowned blues and rock musician who’s toured the world playing with musical greats including 32 years as Chuck Berry’s piano player. But Daryl’s obsession is more serious. He’s a bridge-builder who’s engaged leaders of the KKK and White supremacist groups face to face to ask a question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” That question stemmed from his first encounter with racism at age ten when he was pelted with rocks, bottles, and soda cans by a handful of White spectators while marching in a parade. Daryl meets his detractors’ hatred with civility, patience, and listening. He seeks to understand – not change minds. His conversations spawn genuine and lasting friendships with many changing their minds and disavowing hateful beliefs. Some even gave Daryl their robes and hoods when they did. As a speaker, Daryl is an extraordinary storyteller who inspires and empowers audiences with tools they can use to ignite positive change in their workplace, their community, and in relations with family and friends. Daryl’s work is chronicled in his book Klan-Destine Relationships and the documentary Accidental Courtesy. Daryl’s TEDx talk has over 12 million views.


Daryl graduated from Howard University with his Bachelor of Music Degree. He also holds an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Post University for the unique work he has done in the field of race relations. He has performed extensively with Chuck Berry, The Legendary Blues Band (formerly The Muddy Waters Blues Band), and many others. While music is his profession, improving race relations is his obsession. He is known to many as “The Rock'n'Roll Race Reconciliation.”


It started during a break between performances with a band at a bar one night. A man approached Daryl and remarked that this was the first time he had ever seen a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. Daryl explained that both he and Lewis were influenced by Black Blues & Boogie-Woogie pianists, from which Rock'n'Roll and Rockabilly evolved. The man did not believe in the Black origin of Daryl’s piano style even after he said that Lewis was a friend who had shared this news with him. The man then shared the news with Daryl – he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.


This meeting, and those that followed, would lead Daryl on a journey all over America, meeting and interviewing leaders and members from KKK, neo-Nazi, and Alt-Right groups at both his and their homes as well as their rallies. With his highly acclaimed, nonfiction book, Klan-Destine Relationships, Daryl become the first Black author to write a book on the Klan from in-person interviews. The award-winning documentary, Accidental Courtesy, details his journey and has been shown frequently on PBS. Daryl, who has been to 57 countries on 6 continents, is often selected by the U.S. State Department as a highly respected expert on race relations and conflict, to present programs in various countries around the world dealing with similar situations.


Daryl has been doing this work since 1983 and has become the recipient of numerous Klan robes & hoods and other racist symbols, given to him by people who once hated him when they didn't even know him. Now many of them have become his friends and supporters of his work. On the other side of the spectrum, for his work in bridging race relations, he is the recipient of numerous awards such as the American Ethical Union's prestigious Elliott-Black Award, Carnegie-Mellon's Carl Sagan Award & Prize, Tribeca Disruption Innovation Award, MLK Award, Search for Common Ground Award, Washington Ethical Society Bridge-Builder Award, among many others. He is often sought for commentary by CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, People magazine, and many other media sources.


In Daryl’s words, “Ever since I graduated from college in 1980 with my degree in music, I’ve been a full-time musician, traveling and performing all over America and around the world. What I’ve come to find to be the greatest, most effective, and most successful weapon we can use to combat ignorance, racism, hatred, and violence, is also the least expensive weapon – and the one that is least used by Americans. That weapon is called communication. We can communicate with people in space but many of us have difficulty talking to the person who lives next door because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, their orientation, their politics, etc. We are living with 21st-century technology in Space Age times, but there are still too many of us with Stone Age minds.”


Daryl has come in closer contact with more members of the Ku Klux Klan than most White people, and certainly most Blacks, short of being on the wrong end of a rope. What's more surprising? He intentionally continues to do so because as he says, “Ignorance breeds fear. If you do not keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. Because we hate those things that frighten us. If you do not keep that hatred in check, that hatred in turn will breed destruction because we want to destroy those things that we hate. Why? Because they frighten us.”


When he speaks, Daryl Davis’s impact on an audience is sobering yet inspirational. More than a few members of every audience remember and ask him about the fictional character in Dave Chappelle’s comedic skit in which he plays a blind Klansman who didn't know he was Black and attended Klan rallies. Daryl shares stories that would be comical if he weren’t putting his life on the line for a purpose. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction might ever be in Daryl’s case. People will also point out how courageous Daryl was to turn up at Klan rallies himself. Inevitably they bring up Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman. That film depicts a Black police officer who infiltrated the KKK over the telephone and would send a White subordinate officer to Klan rallies in his place to gather damning intelligence against the Klan. The difference is not lost on the audience. Daryl had his feet on the ground in the lion's den and tells the story first-hand. 


Through his work, Daryl has discovered a successful method of transforming enemies into friends. The stories of his encounters with – and transformations of – White supremacists have inspired people all over the U.S. and abroad. His audiences leave his presentations empowered to:


  • Overcome Their Fears
  • Confront Their Prejudices
  • Recognize Similarities
  • Appreciate Differences
  • Navigate Diversity
  • Improve Relationships with Others
  • Better Their Lives While Creating a Positive Impact on Other


As an offshoot of his work, Daryl is an adjunct professor for Johns Hopkins University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute & Community as well as Oasis. Both are autonomous Adult Continuing Education programs that give Daryl the latitude to teach a variety of subjects he cares about most in the arenas of music and race relations.


In addition to his career as a performing musician, Daryl is the owner of Lyrad Music, a music publishing and licensing business. He is also an actor on stage and screen and has appeared in HBO's highly acclaimed series The Wire.


Speaking Topics - 




Conversation can build bridges or walls. It’s up to us. Daryl Davis should know. The noted Black musician gained international acclaim by confronting, face to face, leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacist groups who hate him simply for the color of his skin. Daryl’s was an effort to understand them, not to change minds, but those civil conversations forged unlikely and genuine friendships. Over time, many of his new friends changed their minds and renounced their old beliefs. What can we learn from Daryl’s inspiring and jaw-dropping experiences?


Sample Takeaways:


  • Apply universal tools to create positive change wherever conflict or disagreement exists
  • Prepare: Understand the other person’s position and reasoning before you engage
  • You needn’t respect what people say but you must respect their right to say it
  • Learn to listen, understand, and keep emotions in check, even in incendiary situations
  • How to recover/repair a relationship with a colleague, client, friend, or family member




“We spend too much time talking about the other person, talking at the other person, and talking past the other person. Amazing things can happen when we spend some time talking with the other person.” So says Daryl Davis, whose jaw-dropping experiences engaging KKK and White supremacist leaders hold lessons that inspire audiences to think differently about how they engage others who don’t share their views, backgrounds, religion, etc. The more we talk, the more we understand each other and discover what we have in common. That’s when the possibilities open up and the importance of our differences diminishes.


Sample Takeaways:


  • Learn to build bridges and ignite positive change in the workplace, community, and at home
  • Everyone wants the same 5 things – learn what they are and how they drive behavior
  • Spend 5 minutes together and you will find things in common with even your worst enemy
  • A missed opportunity for dialogue is a missed opportunity for conflict resolution
  • The power of empathy – put yourself in the other person’s shoes




The forces of hate are on the rise in America, making more headlines each day. What can be done about this troubling trend? With over 40 years of engaging KKK and far-right White supremacist groups as a Black man, Daryl Davis provides answers and tells audiences what’s driving this domestic terror, including fear of 2042, the year America is predicted to become a non-White majority nation. Fringe groups are stoking people’s worst fears about that – fostering hate that is very real and extremely dangerous. In this talk, Daryl reminds people, hate is learned – and what is learned can be unlearned. Engaging and educating, not shunning those with toxic beliefs, is crucial. Sharing his powerful personal stories of building true friendships with the same people who once hated him simply for the color of his skin, shows how to build bridges and be a force in creating a better world. Engaging those who don’t share our beliefs promotes understanding and respect, even in the face of serious disagreement or differences. Daryl believes we can all play a part in ending hate because, as he says, “There’s only one race – the human race.”


Audiences leave Daryl’s lecture understanding:


  • How fear drives hate and engagement overcomes it
  • The key to changing another’s reality through perception
  • Ways to overcome one’s prejudices, biases, and fears
  • How one person can make a world of positive difference
  • How to navigate a world of ever-growing diversity




At its inception, Rock ’n’ Roll was called “the devil’s music” by its detractors. Some cities banned it altogether. Rooted in Black R&B and Blues, its infectious beat led young people in the South to leap over the rope that segregated Whites from Blacks in the audience. The 1957, Chuck Berry lyric, “Deliver me from the days of old,” in his hit song School Days, celebrated the music as a turning point in race relations. Daryl brings that history forward into his own story, using music as a common denominator and proving that musical and racial harmony go hand-in-hand.


Sample Takeaways:


  • How musical inspiration differs from musical appropriation
  • The Elvis conundrum: How he was crowned King of a genre he didn’t create
  • How Country and Blues are the same music, and why society separates them
  • How a Black musical genre improved race relations and elected a Black president
  • Why music is a cultural necessity and not a luxury

Daryl Davis's Experiences

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“... the impact you had on members was certainly felt long after you left the property. Your name came up SO many times inthe post-event feedback (no surprise there!), including this particular share when members were asked to mention a standout part of the Live Experience: ‘Daryl Davis without a doubt. I am still buzzing mentally about that talk.’ This was, of course one of many.”

Head of Community Relationships & Member Experience, MMT

“We had a great time tonight with Daryl. He did not disappoint! He got two standing ovations, a first for us! 800+ students and community members hung on every word from beginning to end.”

Director, Public Affairs Support, Missouri State University

“Daryl Davis really connected to our audience in ways that are difficult to measure. The past year we’ve all been living through difficult and trying times and it’s nice to hear someone who can break down barriers and remind all of us of our humanity. Daryl has proven that one person can make a difference and we should all strive to emulate his accomplishments. His message is simple, yet so important at the same time. I would recommend Daryl as a speaker for any audience, at any age.”

President & CEO, National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (VIRTUAL EVENT)

“We do have a new bigotry in America...we don’t want to be around anyone disagreeing with us. We self-select our news sources and self-select our encounters. I admire this guy [Daryl Davis] because he did exactly the opposite. You can’t have a culture of encounter if you say I want to encounter interesting new people who know more than I do about nuclear physics but dear God I don’t want to encounter anyone who fundamentally has a different take on things than I do.”

President Bill Clinton

“I have a lot of respect for Daryl Davis.”

Former KKK Imperial Wizard