Building world peace, one friendship at a time

By Published: May 05, 2019 12:13 PM CT

A retired white Christian pastor and a Muslim cardiologist stood together tapping their toes on a recent night as an African-American entertainer, Daryl Davis, rolled his fingers along a grand piano playing a boogie-woogie to a full and diverse room.

The two men were about to honor Davis for his ability to make friends out of his adversaries and his ability to build peace between enemies – one friendship at a time, one conversation at a time – by listening patiently. He uses the universal language of music to speak heart to heart.

“We are here to recognize those who make friends under amazing odds,” Dr. Bashar Shala told the crowd April 24. “We want to create world peace, one friendship at a time.”

Shala, who is Muslim, told the crowd “we need friendship."

"When there is so much hate around us, we need friendship.  When the country is so divided, we need friendship," he said. "When there is racism, prejudice, we need friendship. When there is violence, like the massacres we witnessed unfortunately just in the last few weeks in Christchurch, New Zealand, and this awful massacre in Sri Lanka. ...”

His voice got quieter as he asked the crowd to pray together.

A few moments later, Davis was awarded the Memphis Friendship Foundation's first Friendship Award.

Davis is an actor and author best known for befriending leaders of the Ku Klux Klan.

Davis, from Silver Spring, Maryland, told how his lifelong desire to answer a simple question began.

“It was beyond me that someone who knew absolutely nothing about me would want to inflict pain upon me for no other reason than the color of my skin,” he said. “How can you hate me if you don't even know me?"

Davis, 61, whose story was the subject of the documentary "Accidental Courtesy," said he has befriended more than 200 Klansmen who subsequently left the group. 

He displayed one of the KKK robes and hoods he has been given by exiting Klan members, one was given to him by ex-Grand Wizard Roger Kelly.

“I did not respect what he had to say. However, I respected his right to say it," Davis said.

More recently, Davis approached Richard Preston, the KKK imperial wizard who fired the shot during the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Davis and Preston became good friends, so much so that Preston and his fiancée asked Davis to fill in for the fiancée’s father when he couldn't be at their wedding. Davis walked her down the aisle.

Shala described retired Heartsong Pastor Steve Stone as his “best friend.” Shala and Stone are at the core of the Memphis Friendship Foundation.

The Foundation was created to build friendships among races, cultures and faiths. It started many years ago when Heartsong Church, which is Christian, let members of the Islamic Center of Memphis use their building while the Islamic mosque was being built.

The Foundation has gained national recognition and has grown into a long-term friendship and partnership between neighbors.


Memphis Friendship Foundation Daryl Davis Bashar Shala Heartsong Church Steve Stone

Karen Pulfer Focht

Karen Pulfer Focht is a freelance photojournalist in Memphis and former staff photographer at The Commercial Appeal. She has won numerous awards in her career, many for in-depth projects about children and families in Memphis. Most notably, she was presented with the Society of Professional Journalists' Medallion for Distinguished Service to the American People for her series on infant mortality in Memphis, "Born to Die." Karen was recognized as one of the world's top contemporary photographers by both Magnum and LensCulture in 2017. Her work is regularly published in newspapers and magazines around the world.

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