The fight for clean water is not just a battle in Flint, Michigan, but indeed around the world. The new children’s book, “Touch the Earth”, seeks to bring back a love for the planet and for reading books together instead of getting lost in our screens.
The author is musician, Julian Lennon, the eldest son, of course, of John Lennon. “Touch the Earth” is part of the work he’s been doing with his White Feather Foundation. Julian, good to have you on this program, sir.
Julian Lennon: Thank you very much, Tavis.
Tavis: Tell me about the foundation, first of all.
Lennon: Well, it’s a bit of a long story, but it initially arose from a meeting I had that came out of the blue while I was touring in Australia. I was in Adelaide and got a phone call from the hotel saying, “Excuse me, Mr. Lennon. There’s a group of about 30 to 50 people down in the lobby of the hotel with an Aboriginal tribe and a couple of cameras crews.”
I said, “You’re joking, right?” He said, “No, no, no. We’re being very serious. Could you come and take care of this?” I’m going, what am I going to take care of? So I go down and, as I walk into the lobby area, they’re in a sort of semicircle with the indigenous tribe called the moaning in the middle.
This woman elder who was the tribe’s elder, one of the tribe’s elders, walks up to me with both hands and presents me with a white feather, which is a male swan’s white feather, which is about yay big and said to me, “Can you help us? You have a voice.”
I mean, the back story to this is, of course, that Dad said on the rare occasion that I saw him, “If something happens to me, then to let you know that he would be all right or that we were all going to be all right would be in the form of a white feather.”
So you see white feathers on a daily basis pretty much, but being presented like that directly like that from, you know, one of the oldest indigenous tribes in the world, that was goosebumps through the roof right there. So it really was a question of sort of either just remaining a rock and roller or stepping up to the plate. I’d heard a bit about their history, their past.
So I spent 10 years making a documentary about them with a few friends. And at the end of it, which is called “Whaledreamers”, by the way, at the end of it, you know, we thought, well, if this makes any money whatsoever, then I want it to go back to the tribe to keep their culture alive and to keep them protected, because there was a lot going on.
The only way to that at that particular point in time was to do it through a foundation. So the director and myself were throwing ideas on the table and logically the White Feather Foundation came up. Initially, it was just a vehicle purely to get any profit from the film back to the tribe. It was only years later really, and I kind of thought that was it, you know. All right, back to the rock and roll. Get on with it.
And it was only after sort of social media came into play and I put a website up expressing what we were doing that I really started getting a lot more emails, a lot more emails, requesting for help. It was overwhelming, in fact.
You know, I had to really think about that. What was important to me? What stood out to me? What could I take care of? What I want to take care of if that the position I was in? What would I choose to help? I was invited out a few years go by a friend called Scott Harrison who started an organization called Charity Water, who have gone on to bring clean water to literally millions.
I was invited to go with him to Ethiopia on one of his trips where we ventured all over the country to look at scenarios where there was no clean water, where they were in the process of building wells and where they had thriving communities which was beautiful to see. So we did a campaign with him for a clean water well and that really touched me. It was the first trip I’d ever been on like that.
At the same time, within the same time period, I was able to go to Kenya to see part of the Millennium projects, what was going on there. They were dealing with health and education and also, you know, schools. So we spent a fair amount of time going to the health clinics, going to the schools, listening to the kids in the girls schools, especially asking them what they need.
So White Feather has embarked on all of those issues, clean water, health and education, and also the protection of indigenous tribes from all over the globe.
Tavis: So I’m glad you took that meeting then.
Lennon: Oh, yeah [laugh]. You got that right.
Tavis: I’m glad you went downstairs and took the meeting, and accepted the white feather.
Lennon: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s been, you know, I’m joined at the hip now. It’s forever part of what I do.
Tavis: I can only imagine — you said it was goosebumps through the roof, but I can only imagine what that must have felt like to have had your father tell you that this would be the sign and then…
Lennon: Well, I have to say that it was a pretty weird one. I mean, especially because, you know, I would have been anywhere between, I don’t know, 10 to my early teens when he would hold told me that. So it would have been quite a weird thing to say.
Because I remember him saying it and I thought, well, that’s a bit odd. When I told my mum, and she’s said that’s a bit odd. But, lo and behold, you know, 20 years later, really beyond taken aback.
Tavis: You’ve laid out what the foundation does, so I’m glad I asked that. So I know all the work that you do. Tell me specifically about this children’s book, “Touch the Earth”.
Lennon: I’ll come around to it [laugh]. I always tend to — yes, everything I do is connected to the White Feather Foundation.
I’d met a friend, Bart, who we were going to talk about putting a biography together because I was worried that time is flying by, which it is, and a lot of my friends have passed away and, you know, who knows when? So initially, we were talking about a biography. Then Bart was sort of delved into all the work that I was doing.
He said, “Well, you got all this stuff going on. You write songs about the environment and the humanitarian issues, you’ve made documentaries about this stuff. You’ve started the White Feather Foundation, but have you done anything for the kids?”
Well, yeah, I’ve done some animated TV shows and a couple of CDs for charity for kids here and there, but nothing directly from me. He said, “Well, what about that?” I said, “Well, I think it’s a great idea as long as we can incorporate everything of what I do is part and parcel of it.”
So a year ago, we just started writing and decided that it had to have environmental elements to it and, for me, it had to be reminiscent of days gone by when I remember at nap time or bedtime, you’d sit with your mother or your grandmother and you’d be arm in arm and you’d go through the pages of the book and you’d go on an adventure.
And, you know, it was such a fond memory of that sort of time of bonding and nurturing which we see little of today with today’s technology. You know, kind of stealing that a little bit with iPads and everything else. So that was really, really important for me to bring that back and to be able to do it with beautiful illustrations.
Tavis: I was going to say, the illustrations, of course.
Lennon: Smiljana did an amazing job and it’s a very simple book, but it tells a beautiful little story to bring in education a little bit to get the kids to really start — because I think at this age, sort of threes and onwards, a lot of people call it the “why” age. Well, why is the grass green? Why is sea polluted? Why is the plastic bad?
I think that’s really good at opening the conversation for kids and empowering the kids into understanding what’s going on in their life and around them, but also not a bad reminder for the parents too.
Tavis: For as little time as you spent with your father, it is amazing to me that you embody so much of his spirit of using your artistic gift to love and serve other people.
Lennon: Well, thank you for that, but I think it’s more so than that. It’s my mother that gave me that heart because after seeing what her life was like and how she’d been treated, the one thing for me was that that shouldn’t happen to anybody, you know. So empathy began early at home and the only thing I wanted to do was make Mum proud…
Tavis: Don’t we all.
Lennon: Yes, exactly, along my journey. So I try to be the best that I can be and try to do the best that I can do through this journey called life.
Tavis: Well, you’re doing it, and I’m honored to have you on the program, Julian.
Lennon: Thank you so much.
Tavis: The book is called “Touch the Earth” by Julian Lennon. Wonderful illustrations, as I said earlier. And what better gift as we celebrate Earth Day tomorrow to give to your children than a great book like this. Julian, good to have you on, my friend.
Lennon: My pleasure, my pleasure.
Tavis: Last year on this day, we lost the iconic artist, Prince. We love him. I certainly miss him, but tonight we close with Prince on a lighter note, sort of giving me the business as he always did. I hope you enjoy the clip. This is our show for tonight. Goodnight from L.A. Thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.
Prince: And, you know, Tavis, I love to laugh [laugh]. I’m kidding [laugh].
Tavis: Yeah, he’s funny [laugh]. Yeah.
Prince: I’m kidding. I told her I was going to say that to you one time. That was for her.
Tavis: You got it out. And on that note, you can get outta here! [laugh]
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