In 2015, Dave Chappelle dropped into a small comedy club in Brooklyn unannounced. Kenny DeForest, one of the hosts, asked if Chappelle would like to do a set.
We start the show thinking he MIGHT come. A couple comics in, he sneaks in like a boxer with his hood up. We're in the green room smoking, drinking & joking. The dude is a machine. Every topic that came up, he had something profound for. We bring him up last, the crowd LOSES IT-- Kenny DeForest (@KennyDeForest) June 3, 2020
Since it was not a formal appearance, Chappelle asked the crowd for headlines he could riff on. As DeForest says, "Every topic, he had a perfect joke for."
Then someone suggested the topic "police brutality."
A clearly privileged white girl (she had a wide brimmed felt hat for chrissakes) shouts "Life's hard, sorry 'bout it!" and it takes the air completely out of the room. A collective gasp. Chappelle zeros in on her. "What did you say?" She repeats it. Chappelle starts going in.-- Kenny DeForest (@KennyDeForest) June 3, 2020
As DeForest recounts, Chappelle "started educating people on the history of black people and police." Rodney King. The Watts riots. Emmett Till. Trayvon Martin.
And John Crawford III, a black man who was shot by a white police officer in a WalMart near Dayton, Ohio, while holding a BB gun he had picked up from the store's shelves while shopping. (A grand jury later decided not to indict the police officer.)
Chappelle then told a story about getting pulled over while driving in Ohio, where he lives. As Chappelle put it, "I may be white on paper, but I'm still black. So I'm nervous."
The officer turned out to be the same officer who would later shoot John Crawford III.
'I know who you are Dave Chappelle' & I said 'so why do you need my license and registration?'" He gets off w/ a warning. The twist? The same cop would go on to murder John Crawford III. His take away: "I shouldn't have to be Dave Chappelle to survive police encounters"-- Kenny DeForest (@KennyDeForest) June 3, 2020
Chappelle then spoke about a South African friend who said that just before apartheid ended, the movement had hit a critical mass.
"There was nothing they could do to stop it," Chappelle said. "Once enough of you care, there will be nothing they can do to stop the change."
But that's not the end of the story.
The young woman who shouted "Life's hard, sorry 'bout it!" came backstage to see Chappelle.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry for what I said," she told him, "and thank you for educating me. I was ignorant before, but I want you to know I learned from you tonight and I won't say things like that anymore."
How did Chappelle respond?
...you said, it's your job to correct them and share with them what you learned tonight. THEN, you're no longer part of the problem, you're part of the solution."-- Kenny DeForest (@KennyDeForest) June 3, 2020
She starts crying and he pulls her in for hug "it's ok. You're part of the solution now. Do you want a picture?"
The young woman is shocked. And thrilled. They take photos. They exchange hugs.
As DeForest says, "He changed everyone in that room that night. 200-plus people became part of the solution... even a privileged girl in a privileged hat with a privileged mindset. Point is, it doesn't matter what you thought before. You can always change."
When someone does or says something you don't agree with, it's easy to forever see that person through the lens of that moment. The customer who gets belligerent. The employee who criticizes your decisions. The vendor who treats one of your employees inappropriately.
You could get mad. You could lash out.
Or you could calmly state your position. And then, if your words make an impact, act with kindness and empathy.
As Inc. colleague Justin Bariso writes, "Empathy doesn't necessarily mean agreeing with another person's point of view. Rather, it's about striving to understand, which allows you to build deeper, more connected relationships."
Change of any kind starts with understanding -- and especially with understanding that everyone has the capacity to learn, and grow.
And to shift from being part of a problem to being part of a solution.