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Tyler Merritt: Patience for the Ignorant

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Tyler Merritt: Patience for the Ignorant

Tyler Merritt is an Activist, Author, Actor, and public speaker. His video monologue, “Before You Call the Cops,” garnered national attention after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and has been viewed tens of millions of times.

Tyler’s new children's book, A Door Made for Me, is based on his own experience being rejected by neighbors because of his race. The book helps kids understand the injustice of racism in a way they can understand, while also preparing them for situations they may encounter in the future.

In Tyler’s first book, I Take My Coffee Black, he talks about his experiences as a black man in America, as well as privilege, religion, multiculturalism, and even musical theater. To hear him talk about it, listen to our interview with him from last year.

You can follow Tyler on Twitter at @TTMProject, and on instagram at @thetylermerrittproject.

Ken Harbaugh: Hi everyone, it’s Ken. Before we start, I want to share some exciting news: We’ve paired with Meidas Touch, so you can now watch these interviews on YouTube. Just search for the Meidas Touch YouTube channel, or click the link in the show description. Thanks, and enjoy the episode.

Tyler Merritt: There's a line in there that my grandpa says, “Make sure that you leave the door open for other kids that want to come in.” And it occurred to me while I was reading it out loud for the first time, that that's what I've committed my life to doing, is leaving the door open for the next person that wants to come in.

Ken Harbaugh: I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

My guest today is Tyler Merritt, an activist, public speaker, and author. His video monologue titled Before You Call The Cops garnered national attention after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

We had Tyler on the show last year to talk about his first book, I Take My Coffee Black, and I brought him back to talk about his new book, A Door Made for Me. Tyler, welcome back to Burn the Boats.

Tyler Merritt: What is up? I am so glad to do a double visit on a podcast.

Ken Harbaugh: We have a lot of guests back on the show to talk about their latest project or their new book or whatever. But I got to be honest, I wanted you back just so we could catch up. I enjoyed our last conversation so much, and so many people have asked me about it. I just wanted to see what you were up to, how you been?

Tyler Merritt: I’m good, man. I'm good. It's been a busy, busy, busy year trying to just be as active as I possibly can, kind of in the world.

Also, man, with COVID kind of at least making it a little more accessible to travel, I've been able to get out more into different places to talk about all the things that I do to talk about I Take My Coffee Black, A Door Made Me for Me. So, it's been good, man. It's been good. Super busy, but good.

Ken Harbaugh: Do you ever pinch yourself when you think about the path you're on, the accidental activist that you've become? I mean, when I read your first book, your backstory didn't scream political activism. I mean, you talk about musical theater more than you talk about politics, yet here you are. So many of the people who have reached out to me about our first conversation and about what you're doing now, have talked about how you've moved them politically. Did you see that coming?

Tyler Merritt: I'll tell you, when I was in high school, the only thing that I wanted to do was be on Broadway and be in Miss Saigon. Like that was pretty much the only vision that I had. I had zero concept of the idea that I would obviously be where I am now, but I will tell you what I did know; I did know that I was a good storyteller. I've always known that, and I don't think it took the form of… Let me say this; I didn't wake up and go, “I want to tell stories to the world,” I just knew that I was good at telling stories in general. Because of how my life led, you tell one story to one person, the next thing you know, you're beginning to grow. And so, I was doing that through music. I was doing that through theater. Then I was doing that through talking to kids at churches and kids in football teams. And before I knew it, my storytelling ability and my storytelling muscle began to get stronger. And if you're good at connecting with people with real life things — and I'm not talking about like let's talk in theory. But if you're able to bring people down to a real-life level, I think that they can be… I don't want to say swayed in a negative way as if it's manipulative.

But if you're able to have people be able to see you on a real ground level and be able to hear your voice, be able to get to know who you are and connect, that's the kind of thing — that kind of proximity is really the kind of thing that brings people closer and makes them want to reevaluate maybe some things that they've been in all of their lives.

Ken Harbaugh: Talk about proximity, because you write so eloquently about the power of closeness to generate empathy. I'm thinking about Brené Brown’s quote, “It's hard to hate up close.” And that is just such a driving force in your storytelling, the desire to bring people closer together.

Tyler Merritt: It's like this man: Folks are out here trying to buy Taylor Swift tickets right now, and nobody wants to sit in the last row. You know what I'm saying? Even if you get in the building, you don't want to be in the last row.

Okay, maybe Taylor Swift's a bad example. At this point, people would probably take the last row. But the reason why you want to be in the front row is because you want to see that person sweat. You want to not have to look at the big screen. You want to be able to look at the person in real life. And what's happening nowadays is we have screens in our hands, which oftentimes take us from wanting to be face to face or close-up with people. And oftentimes, that gives us the privilege to be able to not have to communicate or to see people at all. And the pandemic didn't help.

So, I'll give an example. For me, from 18 until, man, two years ago or three years ago (I've lost track with COVID), I was in church every Sunday almost. COVID happened, I stopped going to church because we stopped being in the same room with people. And we were doing online church and this, that, and the other. And so many people that I know, because of that break there, a lot of those people just haven't gone back. And even though church is the structure that has been around for forever, that was also like a weekly thing that people had the opportunity to at least be around each other that wasn't work-related, or it wasn't because you were being forced to be there.

And the more that we have the opportunity, the more we give ourself the chance to really lean in to being around people that don't look like us, that don't sound like us, that have different backgrounds with us, and not in just a dreamy way, bro. Not in a way of like, “Oh, well, yeah, I have a black friend or I have a gay friend.”

I recently saw somebody that posted something that said, “If you right now do not understand why your gay friends are scared, you don't have a gay friend, you just know a gay person.” So, the idea that we can just loosely say, “Oh yeah, I have this person over there” without actually getting close to them, learning their hearts, learning their stories, learning their passions — when you do that with people, that changes you, man. It really, really changes you.

Ken Harbaugh: Are there limits to that kind of empathetic approach? And I'll tell you why I'm asking. Because I mean, that's my instinct as well, is to reach out to those people most directly impacted who are close to me and to empathize and to listen, and to hear their stories.

But part of me is just so angry on the other side at the provocations. And for context, this is going to air in a couple of weeks, but we just had this brutal shooting in Colorado Springs. I'm sure that's what you're referring to at a gay club.

Tyler Merritt: Yeah.

Ken Harbaugh: And you have a congresswoman like Lauren Boebert, who for years has been stoking this kind of hate, has been inciting folks with her anti-gay tweets and rhetoric, and slurs. And the most she can do on the backside of an attack like this is send out thoughts and prayers.

You have someone like Tucker Carlson who makes this kind of rhetoric a staple on his show. And I'm wondering where you strike that balance, how you strike that balance between bridge building and empathy and anger.

Tyler Merritt: You just jumped right into the Tucker Carlson boat, didn't you? You didn't hesitate. You were like let's jump into the deep end.

Ken Harbaugh: I mean, I saw this post, you've probably seen it too, from his yearbook in which he he's got that smirk on his face, and he's bragging about being part of a society celebrating the assassination of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians from San Francisco. I mean, it's who this guy has always been, Tucker Carlson. And to offer thoughts and prayers with that kind of history, it's gross.

Tyler Merritt: So, okay, let me say this because even talking right now, it stresses me out. Like thinking about it stresses me out. And I'm so glad we're talking about it, because I feel like my perspective might be able to ease some people’s anxiety just a little bit. Because I've been touring around the United States lately, I've been saying this to people face to face; we currently live in a society where we have the option to follow people. Like literally just press a button and follow them or choose to have them. Not everybody in the world deserves to be followed. It's an honor for someone to choose you to follow. And we have to remember not everybody deserves to be followed.

With that being said, I have conversations with people all the time that say to me, “Tyler, how can we be friends with people that you know have actual political issues with who you are as a black person? They feel a certain way about gay people, this, that, or the other?” I want to say this; I think there is a genuine actual difference between having a black dark heart, like having a dark heart than having a history and a background that has placed you in the place that you are. I really do believe that there are real life breathing individuals, 85-year-old white men or women who grew up in, let's say the south, I'm just going to draw this story — who grew up in the south, they were raised with- hearing their parents use the N word. They were also raised with only being able to see black people as kind of like slave mentality, never really understood what it was like to look someone else in the eye and see them as human. Now, that doesn't give them a pass. Let me be very clear, that doesn't give them a pass. But now, me, if I stumble upon this 85-year-old white man or woman and they begin to talk to me about their history of how they feel about black people or gay people, I'm able to at least go, “Okay, I have a little bit of understanding because of where you came from. I have a little bit of understanding because of your history. I have a little bit of understanding because of how you were raised, your lack of proximity. Building your ideas of who I am as a black person based on your biases, based on your assumptions.” So, I now can look at you and go, “I may not agree with you on any level at all whatsoever, but I can at least understand where you come from.” And if I can understand where someone comes from, that at least allows me to go, “Okay, are you in the dark heart category, or are you in the …” and I don't mean this in a negative way, I mean this literally; “Are you in the ignorant category?”

And some people don't have patience for the ignorant. And oftentimes, I can hear somebody making ignorant comments and think to myself, “That's not coming out of a place of you being a horrible, horrible person, that's coming out of a place of you actually ignoring the reality of the beauty of other people in your life and not knowing about them or experiencing them personally.” That allows me to get a lot more grace than the average person would give. And if I'm being honest with you, bro, as a black person (and this is just the truth), I'm experiencing ignorant people on the daily. You know what I mean?

So, I can't just throw somebody to the side when I look at them and go, “Oh no, ooh, you're a Tucker person.” I have to really take a minute and go, “Okay, do you really hate? Do you really hate? Or do you just not know?” Because if you're in that category of just not knowing, I can work with that. Like I can work with that. And so, there's some grace and there's some hope for you and us.

Now, just let me speak really quick to Tucker, because you opened up this can, man. Tucker has the power that we have given him. I mean, he's a multi-millionaire. He's a multi-millionaire. Tomorrow, if Tucker had a come to Jesus moment, tomorrow, if Tucker tomorrow, if his kid came out as gay or trans and he had to learn how to love his child in a brand new way, and in secret, Tucker was looking at his gay or trans child and was walking through real honest life issues — I don't know if that would transfer to Tucker giving up the millions of dollars in the persona that he gets to put online. And what scares me is, is not only do I not know if there's anything that will ever pull him away from being the Tucker that he is, I also don't know if he realizes — no, I think he's fully aware of the kind of influence that he has and the damage that he makes, and I just don't think he cares. And that's what makes me sad.

Ken Harbaugh: I think so much of this is performative. I mean, there are people with dark hearts to be sure. But having dabbled in politics as a candidate, knowing some of the people in Congress and what they have to deal with, so much of what you see from folks like Lauren Boebert or Tucker Carlson or the extremist right, is a weird kind of role playing, and I don't know that that makes it better. Because it's just so cynical to stoke other people's hate and prey on other people's fear for your own political gain in the case of someone like Congresswoman Boebert or monetary gain, in the case of someone like Tucker Carlson.

I want to talk about your approach to overcoming the ignorance though, of people who follow the Tuckers and the Boeberts of the world. Because as much as you talk about proximity, you're not really talking about geographic closeness. I mean, you can live right next to someone and if you are not having the right kinds of interactions, the right kinds of conversations, it's not doing a whole lot of good. And I don't know that everyone watching will remember or have even listened to our first conversation. But can you talk a little bit about Eutaw, Alabama, and your family's history there? And as someone who went to high school in Alabama, this hits close to home. You can be in a certain geography and still not develop that reflex of empathy that should come with proximity.

Tyler Merritt: 100%. So, I'm going to give people some context. This is a pre-Thanksgiving conversation that we’re having, like Thanksgiving's really close. So, over the next 24 hours, I'm going to go visit Eutaw, Alabama. My mom is there and she came in from Las Vegas, my mom and dad, and all of my family is kind of gathering in this tiny little black town called Eutaw (E-U-T-AW), which they love that I talk about it in my book, I Take My Coffee Black because they're like, “We're on the map.” But when I talk about it in the book, I talk about how when I was eight-years-old, I went there and I grew up in Las Vegas, but my family of course, was from this deep area in the south.

As I went home to visit, this kid came up to me and said, “Hey, are you Ken?” And I went, “Wait, what? Am I who?” He was like, “Are you Ken?” And I was like, “No, I'm not Ken.” And I looked over at my cousin like, “Why is this kid calling me Ken?” And he was like, “No, he's asking if you're kin, if you're family, are you family? That's what it means.” It was this little black kid. And at the time, it didn't really occur to me why he was asking or why it mattered. But in Eutaw, Alabama where there's just one freeway that's separating kind of the black part of town from the white part of town, a town where they still have theaters, movie theaters there where the black folks used to sit upstairs and the white folks downstairs, and they still have water fountains that were separate, still to this day. Though you had a community of black people and white people literally living right across the tracks from each other, proximity is a heart job. Proximity is a heart positioning. Proximity is a motivation from the heart.

And so, it's really easy if you say, “Hey, Tyler, man, I live in Detroit. So, as a white person, I'm around black people all the time, I get what you're saying. Yeah, man, I really appreciate what you mean.” To me, it does not matter; your location, sure. You can say, “Hey, I have people around me,” but the question is, are you actually leaning into the beauty of who those people are? And this is really important, man, this is really important, Ken.

As I'm touring, people will say to me, “Oh, Tyler, I read your book and then some folks from my church, we decided that we were going to go to this certain part of town and really help a community out.” No, no, no, no, no — this isn't a savior complex. Proximity isn't a “What can I do for you, someone who is lesser than I am?” That's not how proximity works. Proximity is inviting someone to your actual table. Proximity is going, “Tell me about what it was like growing up as a kid.”

Because I'll tell you this, man, getting back to the dark heart part, we talk about this in my book, in Safe Place. When I brought a group of people together, and there was a white woman in the room — Safe Place was this experiment that I do where I brought a bunch of people together from all different races. And this white woman said in this room, full of black people, she said, “My family used to own slaves and I still have the receipts.” And everybody turned and was like, “Why would you keep the receipts? This isn't Target. Like are you planning on returning … like why?” But as she continued to talk and get emotional about her family, her history, the people in the room though, they did not understand the slavery piece on any level at all whatsoever, what they could understand is the idea of wanting to honor your family. Now, though this honoring was the worst way possible, the idea of understanding that this wasn't for her, this wasn't a matter of going, “I just want to keep these receipts in my house.” This was a part of feeling like my parents’ parents, parents’ parents are represented in this singular thing.

Now, is the thing that it's represented in wrong? 100%. But what it tells me about this woman is that there is something in her that wants to appreciate people on some level. I just feel like the way she goes about appreciating can be massaged. Again, that, I can work with. That is the piece I can work with.

But I'll tell you, if I just look at this lady and she goes, “My family used to have slaves and I have the receipts and I'm leaving the room now,” I'm like going, “Oops, somebody go follow her and make sure she doesn't beat up a black kid outside.” You know what I'm saying? But there's a piece of me that goes, “Man, if you give me your time, if you give me your story, if you let me get to know your heart, that at least puts us in the same circle to kind of evaluate where we want to go from there. But if I keep you away, there's no chance.”

Ken Harbaugh: Well, when it comes to sharing your story, giving people your story, your latest contribution to that effort, A Door Made for Me is just such a poignant telling of something that happened in your childhood.

Can you share with us a brief overview of the book? And then if you're able to, I would love for you to pick a passage from it and share that with us as well.

Tyler Merritt: For sure, for sure. I was joking with a friend of mine when they said, “When you're writing a kids book, what's the most surprising thing about it?” And I told them and they laughed. I said, “It's the fact that kids are reading it.” I was like, “I kind of forgot about that when I wrote it.” And they were like, “What do you mean, you wrote a kids book?” And I'm like, “Yeah, but I don't have kids.” Because I don't have kids in my mind, when I think about a kid's book, I remember when I used to read it for my nieces and nephews.

But what happened Ken, is that even on Instagram, I posted a picture of this young white girl. I want to say she's probably six or seven. Her mom posted a picture of her holding a fishing pole dressed kind of like me out of the book. And she was like, “Hey, my daughter had to pick a character to go to school; character from a book day, and she picked you. And so, she sent me a picture of her holding the fishing pole and kind of dressed like me. And she said, “I wanted to go to school as Tyler today because I wanted to let people know that I want to open doors for them.”

Man, I underestimated the impact of what a kid's book would have on actual kids' lives. I just was like, “I'm putting together this really cool story that I think is great and I'm pulling it out of a story, out of I Take My Coffee Black.” But A Door Made for Me is a really super simple story of how I, at a very young age, experienced racism for the very first time. Now, I'd always known that I was black, I just didn't know that my blackness was going to be a problem for some people.

And in A Door Made for Me, I try to tell a kid friendly version of how that affected me from getting the opportunity to go visit a different area, a different part of the country that wasn't what I was used to growing up in Las Vegas, and kind of walking through the steps of meeting a white friend who I thought was a friend, a young kid. And him and I go fishing, and after we go fishing, we catch so many fish that we want to go tell his friends. He's like, “Let's go tell them about what we did.” And then that kind of births into the experience that I end up having. And what I was able to do in A Door Made for Me (I'm going to read a passage here in just a second), is it allowed me to create pages that allow for parents and students, parents and kids to ask some hard questions, but in the form of a story that seems familiar and makes sense, and that they understand.

And for me, I didn't want the book to just be about racism, but I wanted the book to be about opening the door for anybody who's in a marginalized position. And kids have really been able to attach to that piece. Can I read a repeat part from it?

Ken Harbaugh: Please.

Tyler Merritt: Alright, let’s see. Okay. This is just a part. It's right after we catch our fish and Jack, who's the character's name, he's like, “Let's go tell my friends.” So, starts here:

We went house to house, knocking on doors and asking if Jack's friends could come out. At the first house, a large man told us Jack's friend couldn't come out as the door quickly closed.

The second house was the same. We couldn't go in and no one came out. Suddenly, my stomach was doing flips; what's going on, I wondered. Why won't Jack's friends come outside?

We figured we'd try one last time. We walked up to a house with a beautiful wooden door. I knocked and we waited patiently until *creek*, the door swung open slowly. A woman towered above us frowning, another adult, I thought, and she doesn't look happy.

Jack asked if his friend could come out. The woman shook her head and pointed at Jack, “You can come in Jack, she said, but not that little black boy. He needs to stay outside.”

I felt all the air leave my body as Jack walked inside to show off the fish we had caught together, “I'll be right back,” he promised. The door shut tight behind Jack, followed by the loudest lock I had ever heard. I turned and left my share of fish baking in the sinking sun.

So, I had the opportunity in this book to tell a story of my childhood, and I wanted to make sure that I gave options for parents and for kids in the real, actual story. And this story actually did happen to me. Jack and I walk off together in the real story. We leave. But when I wrote it, I had my nephew, Declan, who at the time I believe, was nine-years-old. I had Declan read it, this little white kid, I love him to death. I had him and his sister Zoe read my book because I was like, “I need some kids review before I go and publish it to the world.” And so, in the original version, Jack and I walk off together. And Declan said to me, he's like, “Tyler, let me tell you what I would've did if I was Jack. I would've looked the woman in the eye, and I would've said, ‘Don't you talk this way to my friend.’ And I will come in and I will bring him with …” And like he got really emotional about all the things he was going to do to protect me. And it didn't occur to me that as kids were reading this, they would be thinking about what they would do in their situation. But Declan just automatically leaned into that. Do you know what I mean? Like that was his first reaction. Like “Let me tell you what I would do …”

And so, after talking to him, I changed the story and to where Jack walks in the house, and what it does with Jack walking in the house, begins to let you have the conversation as a parent or as a reader, as a kid, to start to go, “Would I walk in the house, what would I do there? How do you think Tyler felt being left on the porch?”

And then something else that's in the book, and spoiler alert, it's a kid's book, so don't be mad, I won't spoil it for you. Unlike a lot of kids' books that are out there right now, this book doesn't end with a really tight bow. It ends with my grandfather speaking some words of encouragement to me that really helped change my life in saying, “Make sure you continue to leave doors open for kids that want to walk in in the future.” But at the end of the book, Jack comes back and wants to play with me, and I say to my grandpa, “My feelings are still hurt, and I don't want to play with him.” And my grandpa says, “That's okay. It's okay to have your feelings hurt. It's okay to take in the fact that the world can be a hard place sometimes.” But my grandpa says to me, “But don't give up on him. Don't give up on Jack just yet. He still has the opportunity to become a better person, to grow more, to understand more. And you need to be there for him when he does.” And that version of the book where that landed — the first time I read it out loud, Ken, at the book release, I broke into tears about halfway through the book, man. Because there's a line in there that my grandpa says, “Make sure that you leave the door open for other kids that want to come in.” And it occurred to me while I was reading it out loud for the first time, that that's what I've committed my life to doing, is leaving the door open for the next person that wants to come in. And hopefully, with what I do in the world, I can encourage people to do the same. I don't care if you're gay, straight, trans, black, white or whatever you are. If I can leave this world, if we can leave this world feeling like we left the door open for the next person, God, what a great world that would be, man.

Ken Harbaugh: I think one of the most powerful things about the book, and it was frustrating when I first read it, but I get it. I got it then. But I understood why you're doing it, is that it doesn't have a Spielberg ending. It doesn't, as you put it, have a tidy bow on it because life doesn't.

And I was going to ask you this at the top, but you already answered it. I mean, you're not writing this book for just the kid left at the door or the kid who's let in or the parents, you're writing it for everybody.

Tyler Merritt: Yeah. Like I said a minute ago, I underestimated the response I was going to get from kids. And so, parents will leave me messages, or they'll send videos of their kids talking to me, and their kids will…

I'll tell you something that's really beautiful: A lot of white kids will read the book, and white families, they really do not understand why I wasn't allowed to come in the door. Like not until we get to the part where the woman says, “I'm not going to let that black boy in.” Like the kids are really like, “Why are they not letting them …” Their flames come out, like, “I don't understand, I don't understand.” And then finally, I've had families and kids write and say like, “Ooh, it was because you were black, that's dumb.” But they are able to understand other reasons. Like other things that they're going through personally, or they've seen people get bullied at school and they've made that decision going, “You know what, that's Tyler there. Like that's a door that's closed for him and I want to be the one that opens it.”

So, you're dead on. I purposely set out to make this broader and bigger, and similar to how I do in I Take My Coffee Black. Like my story in I Take My Coffee Black is a very black story. Because it's my story, it's my individual black man's story.

But what I love about what's happened with I Take My Coffee Black is I've made friends from all over the world who say, “Tyler, I am not a black man, but I understand the hurt and pain that you've gone through, through your church hurt, through your romantic endeavors hurts. I know what it's like to have a very interesting relationship with your father and what that feels like.” And the more that we just understand that as different as we are — and let me be really clear, I am not that guy that tries to come along and go, “We're just all the same if you look closer.” Like that's not how I feel. We are wildly, wildly different. But there are some heart things, man. There are some heart things, that I don't care how far away we are from each other politically. We may be able to land on some of those hurt things if we really take the time to look into them.

Ken Harbaugh: I heard you say something in an interview right after the midterms. And it really struck me because I Take My Coffee Black is about your experience as a black man in America, and trying to create that proximity through storytelling. But you said that “In the voting booth, this time …” and I'm paraphrasing, but here's my best shot. You said “It felt different this time. In the past when I walked into a voting booth as a black man, I'm thinking about myself as a black man in America today. This time, I thought about women more than I ever have. I thought about parents of trans kids. I thought about anyone who's lost a loved one to gun violence.”

Talk to me about your thoughts about where we are today as a country, where the extreme right is. I mean, there are targets on a lot of people's backs now.

Tyler Merritt: Here's what breaks my heart a little bit. Like let's just for a minute, shut out all of the actual, like things we can get angry about and all the things that we think like immediately that attach to us. Like I know there's people that just heard what you just said, and they're like, “Oh, gun violence.” Or they think, “Oh my gosh, Roe v. Wade …” For so many people, these political issues are not theoretical ideas. For so many people, these political issues are actual real-life things that affected them on a very specific level. God forbid, if you've lost a child through gun violence. If your child was gunned down with an AR-15 and you had to go retrieve your child's body, you had to go attend the funeral. You created a funeral for your child. God forbid that that's your story, which is an actual real thing that is happening to people in real life right now.

Today, there is a mother and a father that are having to bury their gay child after being shot at Club Q last weekend. That's happening now, that funeral is happening this week. If you don't think, because that has happened to that person, that when they begin to go and think about gun violence as a political issue, they're willing to do anything.

This isn’t to argue about ‘Do guns kill people?’ ‘Do people kill people?’ ‘Is this a mental…’ That shit doesn't matter at all. Take all the guns, take them all, take every last one, take all of them. If you tell me I could have my kid back because all the guns are gone in the world, take them all. If you're telling me it's going to cost me so much more of my taxes to make sure every single child has mental health in America, take my money. If you're telling me that we need to put locks on doors, if you're telling — all the arguments you want to tell me as to why we need to make things better. If that happens to you, if you live through that, this theoretical political issue that we spend so much money, the NRA, this, that, or the other, trying to figure out — this is no longer just a theory. This is real life.

When I think about the women who, and hear me, man, like I need you to hear me on this when I say I'm sure that there are listeners to you, it's a far cry. It's always hard for me when I hear people talk about abortion, they use the word abortion so loosely, like the word doesn't actually mean what it means. Like people will be like, “I love abortion.” You know what I mean? Like “Just hold on, wait, go back. Like I understand that you're not saying that you love to just kill or whatever, but I understand what you're saying.”

But when I think about abortion in the way of having to choose… if I'm a husband and I have to choose if my wife is going to survive because she has to have a child, which is an actual thing that happens, Ken, an actual thing. And you suddenly want to come to me and take the right of my wife being able to choose whether she gets to live or the baby has to go, and suddenly, this becomes a political issue that you get to decide; when we take that away from a theoretical thing and we put it into the real life of real people — when I walk into the voting booth now, that's where my head is at.

I'm not looking at these things like, “Oh, I think I think this is going to be just cool or I am so proud to vote blue.” No, no, no, no, no, no. I'm going in and I'm pressing a button or I'm checking a box, I'm thinking about the real people that are walking this earth right now, and the work that I've done to get into their face so that I see their faces when I'm in that booth.

And listen, I've spent most of my life trying to tell people about my black experience so that they can do that too when they walk into the booth. So, they think beyond George Floyd, they think about their neighbor, they think about the young black kid that goes to school with their child. But this time, when I walked in, man, we're in a different time where it feels like there's an attack not just on black folks.

And “attack” is a hard word because sure, we can say… I've heard many people say the word “attack.” I don't even think about it as an attack. I just think about it as just this absolute wondrous lack of empathy for real people. And I can't walk into a voting booth without having a real, actual, empathy for real people.

Sorry, I obviously get a little opinionated about all that.

Ken Harbaugh: Tyler, I'm glad you do. If anything could top our last one, this one did. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

The book is A Door Made for Me. We'll put a link in the show notes and we'll make sure to direct people to the Tyler Merritt Project, doing extraordinary work in achieving real proximity. Not just geographic closeness, but bringing real people together. Thank you again, Tyler.

Tyler Merritt: No, hey, let me thank you really quick. Thank you for giving me the opportunity and so many people that you do on this podcast, man, to be able to have real life conversations, not only political, but things I think that really touch people to the heart.

It means a lot that you created this atmosphere, man. Thank you very, very much for having me back. Can't wait until I write the next book so we can chat again.

Ken Harbaugh: You got it. Well, let's not wait that long. Good talking to you, Tyler.

Tyler Merritt: Thanks, bro.

Ken Harbaugh: Thanks again to Tyler for joining me. Make sure to check out his books, I Take My Coffee Black and A Door Made for Me. You can also follow him on Twitter at @TTMProject, and on instagram @thetylermerrittproject.

Thanks for listening to Burn the Boats. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We're always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more follow us on Twitter @Team_Harbaugh. And if you enjoyed this episode, don't forget to rate and review.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Our producer is Declan Rohrs, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our audio engineer. Special thanks to evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss. I'm Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

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