Former White Supremacists at Listen First in Charlottesville


Listen First in Charlottesville hopes to be an impactful event for a hurting city and an inspiration for America as a whole. With national media coverage and many partners from across the country joining us for the weekend, it will kick off the first annual National Week of Conversation. Local and national influencers will model and practice Listen First in Charlottesville—where the collapse of civility in America was tragically put into stark relief. One of those influencers is Christian Picciolini.

As a former leader in the white supremacist movement, Christian offers a poignant and eye-opening perspective on the abject hate and racism that visited Charlottesville last year. His story of falling into, then abandoning the movement and spending the last 20 years helping others escape hate is one of pain, transformation, and redemption. I asked Christian how listening has played a role in his work. He told me the following.

"People want to be heard, not talked to, so I listen more than I speak. I listen for potholes -- the trauma, fear, shame, joblessness, mental illness, poverty, privilege -- that detour people's lives. And then I fill them in. It's amazing how building human resilience, self-confidence, connection to others versus a culture of blaming others can obliterate hate without ever saying a word."

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Christian shared this message on 60 Minutes recently when asked what he says when he first sits down with someone lost in hate. He replied, "I'm there to listen because they're used to people not listening to them." On the Today show, Megyn Kelly asked what his message is to adults worried about young people falling into such darkness. Christian said, "We need to listen I think more than we speak."

Faced with an opportunity to change, and even save, someone's life, Christian listens first. His example in such a high stakes situation should inspire us to do the same when we're attempting to change a mind, advocate a cause, or build a relationship. 

In this gripping video, Christian challenges us "to go out there as human beings every day to make good happen and to show compassion and empathy for the people who you think deserve it the least, because chances are good they're the ones who need it the most."

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I've just finished listening to Christian's new book White American Youth, and strongly recommend it to you. He ends the book by saying, "what becomes of the human race is everyone's responsibility... when one of us refuses to be part of what is wrong with the world, the world becomes brighter for all of us... we all have the ability to make good happen if we just try." Amen to that! One conversation at a time.

Christian's friend and partner in this redemptive mission, Shannon Martinez, a former skinhead herself, recently shared her own story of trauma, rage, and relationship on the Today show. We're honored to have Shannon and Christian both joining us at Listen First in Charlottesville on April 21st.