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As the United States grapples with the novel coronavirus, nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd insist the country must confront a second epidemic: Racism. Despite a longstanding belief that we are a nation divided, some say there are reasons for hope. Special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault talks to New York Times columnist and author David Brooks for "Race Matters."
Much attention, including ours here at the "NewsHour," has lately been focused on the push to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But some are calling racism in this country another kind of epidemic, and urging more attention be paid to ending it as well.
Despite the longstanding perception that the U.S. is a nation defined by its divisions, special correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault turns to a different perspective now.
It's the latest in our "Race Matters" series and her ongoing look at solutions to racism.
Black lives matter! Black lives matter!
Despite the unity seen in Black Lives Matter protests, Americans have often been portrayed as being woefully divided on most major subjects.
But David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, has been insisting even before recent events that this country is more united than divided.
You surely know David from the "NewsHour"'s weekly Shields and Brooks segment each Friday.
But, in another role, he's been reaching out to Americans of all stripes to understand how they're feeling in these uncertain times.
David Brooks, thank you so much for joining us.
Oh, it's so great to be with you.
You know, you have written columns in the past few months saying that the country is more united than divided.
Who were you talking to, and what was leading you to that conclusion, that we're more united than divided?
I put out a plea to my readers, and 6,500 sent me essays about how they were doing.
And a lot of them were in bad shape. And yet, when I spoke to them over the weeks and over the months, they were super impressed by how their neighbors were showing up for each other. And the things they talked about over and over again was: My local restaurant is now giving away food. My local church is now a soup kitchen. My neighbors are showing up for me.
And there was a sense that the country was actually acting for each other.
And so I think there was a feeling — especially in the first few weeks of the pandemic, a feeling of common action and common purpose and common vulnerability.
Has there been anything else, as a result of the pandemic, that has made people come closer together or realize they were more united than they thought?
The reaction to the Floyd murder has been, on the whole, a very good news story.
I look at the marches, and there was some violence in the beginning, but the violence has gone down now. They were not a Black uprising. They were an American uprising.
What's the solution to making the unity last?
I think the first thing we have to do is learn from each other and talk to each other.
My rule is — the more uncomfortable the conversation is, the more I learn from it. And so I'm hoping the first thing we do is make use of this moment of useful discomfort to face realities in our country and to face each other.
And that's the shift in consciousness that needs to take — you know, personal transformation and social transformation happen together. But then it has to be institutionalized with action.
And one of the things that needs to be happening is, because of redlining and segregation and prejudice, we have areas of concentrated poverty all across this country. To me, this won't be fixed until the school I visited in Detroit a few months ago, which was all African-American, where 3 percent of kids were reading on grade level, this won't be fixed until that's fixed.
And so getting involved in the things that join us together, the things we love together. We love our kids. And if we can focus on African-American education, education for poor people, that's part of the solution, not just police reform.
We love our work. If we can give common work, so there's a little more economic equality in this country. And then we love our neighborhoods. The people who are doing the best work are in the neighborhood.
I was talking about Watts recently. And there's an organization there, Sisters of Watts. And they have been living in Watts their whole lives. They know what Watts needs. Outside groups don't know what Watts needs. But if we got money to them, and resources and power to them, they actually know what to do.
And so getting money right to the grassroots, to the people who can't write grants because they're too busy, that, to me, is how you build up a neighborhood. And the neighborhood is the unit of change here.
Tell me about the Weavers and how they fit into your solution for unity.
So, for years and years, it seemed like, every problem, every column I was writing and every appearance I did with Mark was about social isolation, social disconnection and polarization.
And I realized — this is a problem underlying a lot of other problems. But it's also being solved at the local level by community builders, who I call Weavers. And they're creating connection. They're bridging divides. They're creating a better country, and they're finding a better way to live.
So, for example, in Chicago, in a neighborhood called Englewood, which is a tough neighborhood, there's a woman who lives there named Asiaha Butler. And Asiaha was going to move out of Englewood because she had a daughter and she was afraid for her safety. And she was going to go to Atlanta.
And she had booked the moving company and everything. On the day before she was going to move out, she looked across the street at an empty lot, and there was a little girl in a pink dress playing with broken bottles.
And she turns to her husband and says, 'We're not moving out. We're not going to be just another family that left this behind.'
And so she Googled volunteer in Englewood. And now she runs RAGE, which is the big community organization in Englewood. They have cleaned up the lots. They have created connections within the community.
Now, if you go there, there's some stores. And when stores are open, they sell T-shirts, "Proud Daughter of Englewood," "Proud Son of Englewood."
And so the community begins to get turned around by Weavers. And I find Weavers everywhere. We drop into a place, Wilkes, North Carolina. We ask around: Who makes a difference here? Who's trusted here?
And we found 75 people doing amazing stuff. And so Weavers are — I think, are leading us into a better future.
Are you hopeful, based on what you have seen, that the solutions you have seen working are going to continue? And how do you make them continue for the benefit of all of us?
When I look at the marches, when I look at the people I speak to through the Weave Project, when I look at the people I interview through my journalism, I just see such a desire for just a new era, and such a sense that this is a portal to a different future.
And I have faith in that.
David, I think that's what so many people want to hear now. And thank you for sharing that with us. And thank you for being with us.
Oh, it's great to be with you, Charlayne. It's a real pleasure.
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