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Barbershop Guys Take Time To Listen (For A Change!)


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly visit to the barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer Jimi Izrael, with us from Cleveland. In Washington D.C., though, we have Dave Zirin, sports editor at the magazine The Nation, Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University. Normally, he's in Austin, but today he's here. Mario Loyola, chief counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and a columnist for National Review magazine. Take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Fellas, welcome to the shop. How we doing?

PAUL BUTLER: What's up?

IZRAEL: So today is the National Day of Listening. This is part of StoryCorps' plan to honor their loved ones by listening. So instead of heading to the mall, we can take time today to kind of hear each other. Michel, you listen to us every week. And in the spirit of Thanksgiving gratitude, I thank you.

MARTIN: You're welcome, first of all. And I thank you for occasionally letting me get a word in - occasionally. For people who don't know, StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects in the country. They invite people from all backgrounds to share the stories of their lives by interviewing someone who's had an effect on them. StoryCorps has mobile trucks that travel the country. They invite people to come in and interview each other. And over the years, if you've listened, you've heard from crisis hotline operators, brothers talking about getting kicked out of their houses, teens, patients talking to their doctor, students to their teachers. There was even a couple who interviewed each other about running a sanctuary for mistreated rats. And this year marks the 10th anniversary of StoryCorps, so I thought that each of you could just share your stories while we listen. And the StoryCorps folks suggested a theme for this year's Day of Listening. It's this - everybody has somebody who has affected him or her, who's helped him or her in their life, and share that story. So let's see. Jimi, how about you?

IZRAEL: You know, the person that I want to talk about that has had the greatest effect on me is my dear beloved wife, Teshima Walker Izrael. Now, you know, Michel, this is going to surprise you. But Teshima wasn't the most patient person in the world and very strong headed. So when we got together - me also not very patient, me also very strong headed - you know, it was kind of a weird thing. It was a weird thing to people that didn't know us. And it kind of looked weird on paper. But the thing that my wife taught me that nobody else had been able to teach me up to this point in my life was to be a patient listener. Now I guess most people don't know that virtue about my wife, that she was particularly patient. And, I mean, I think this is fairly well known. I have the patience of like a three-year-old. You know, I want it now. You know, I'm not - I don't suffer fools gladly. That's just not who I am or who I was, I should say. But my wife taught me the value of grace, and gave me the ability to be patient with really despicable people. You know, I mean, I'm just going to put that out there. I mean, all types, you know, of people. And I thought I knew patience. I thought I knew a great many things before I knew my wife. And together, we shared a joy in this world that I never thought I would ever have.

MARIO LOYOLA: So the next time Jimi's patient with us, I'm just going to think, wow, he thinks I'm despicable.

IZRAEL: Well, no, no. It's certainly not, I mean, my barbershop brothers.


IZRAEL: But, you know, people in the street, you know, some of my relations. You know, I mean - and, I mean, I'm just going to keep it out there. I mean, she was really good putting me in a place like, hey, you know, just breathe, Jimi. It's going to be OK. And just - yeah, it's difficult to explain. But it's something that we shared between the two of us, you know, because I think I did that for her, too. I mean, she wasn't necessarily known for her patience either. But I think when we got together, we were forced to listen to each other, you know, 'cause we got together when we were older. But when you're older, you know, you're kind of embedded in your worldviews. So here you are, you've married somebody else embedded in their worldview. And now, ding, ding, and they're off, you know. And, you know, and then the nails come out, you know, supposedly. But, you know, we really found a place, a happy place the two of us. And I like that. I miss it a great deal.

MARTIN: Teshima Walker Izrael, for those who may not remember, was the executive producer of TELL ME MORE. The two of you met while doing the show. She passed away in August. We still miss her. And, Jimi, I remember all those things about her. In fact, she was an excellent listener. Thanks for reminding us of that. So, Paul Butler, it's your turn.

BUTLER: Yeah, Jimi, thanks, man, for sharing that. That was really beautiful. So the person who I want to lift up is Mr. Gill (ph). When I was a boy growing up in Chicago, my parents were separated. My dad was an actor. When I was a kid, he wasn't really a presence in my life. So Gillier Robinson (ph) - Mr. Gill - was my mother's sometimey boyfriend. And I imagine his relationship with my mom was a lot more complicated than his relationship with me. What he did with me was take me fishing. So we'd get up really early in the morning when it'd still be dark outside, and we'd do these long drives to the Mississippi River. And I was scared to death of the bait box 'cause it had all these oozing worms in it. And he would make me put it on the hook. And I never wanted to do it. And he'd just say, grab the worm and put it on the hook. Grab the worm and put it on the hook. I don't know, but somehow in that, I kind of learned how to be a man. So I always think of him as not my father but my dad. And the thing was, he was just this ordinary dude. He didn't - you know, he was a carpenter. He didn't teach me how to apply to Yale, or make me want to be a lawyer. What he did was listen to a little kid. He talked to a little kid. And I didn't have that from any man but him. And I don't know why that feels so important, but it does.

MARTIN: Paul, thank you for that.

DAVE ZIRIN: Do you still fish?

BUTLER: I don't.

ZIRIN: I was really curious.

BUTLER: Yeah, I don't. I'm still kind of scared of worms.

MARTIN: Where is Mr. Gill now? Do you know?

BUTLER: You know, it's funny because you know how you get to an age and your parents are always like, oh, guess what happened to - and you know what it's going to be. And I never wanted to have that conversation with my mom. So I'm - he was older. I'm sure he's no longer with us. And I'm sure he's in a great place 'cause that's where he deserves to be.

MARTIN: You're listening to a special edition of our Barbershop. Today is the National Day of Listening. That's part of the StoryCorp project. We're taking some time to listen to each others' stories, something we don't do very often here. We're joined by writer Jimi Izrael, sports editor Dave Zirin, columnist Mario Loyola and our law professor Paul Butler. Mario Loyola, you are next.

LOYOLA: Well, I want to thank the American people on behalf of my family and on behalf of all Cuban-Americans in this country really for taking us in, for taking our families in and, you know, for treating them with dignity and generosity after the very bitter betrayal of the Cuban Revolution. Just how many Cuban-Americans remember that. I mean, that's something that a lot of people don't appreciate outside of the Cuban-American community is, what a painful legacy of betrayal my parents' generation, and especially my grandparents' generation, have carried with them all of these years. You know, these were all people in the middle-class, broadly supported Castro before he came to power. And at the beginning, after he came to power, and then Castro started to show a side that people don't know outside of Cuba, which is a very controlling and sadistic side. When he started throwing people in prison and taking people off to the stadium for mass executions and carting people off on the back of pickup trucks to the wall. It wasn't just his betrayal. It was also the fact that so many Cubans, even Cuban teenagers, running after the trucks yelling, to the wall, to the wall, as if it was some kind of entertainment. And that's something that - I mean, just imagine, you know, your people turn against you in such an unexpected way. Then, to come to this country, like my mother did in 1962 at the age of 13, with nothing. I mean, the communists didn't let any of those people take anything. And they came here, and, you know, through different charities and religious organizations through the church and different things, they were able to find a decent place to live. They were able to find decent jobs. They were able to put their kids in decent schools. And little by little, Cuban-Americans took advantage of those opportunities and worked their way out of the penury that they arrived here in. And it's really a testament, not just to this country as a land of opportunity, but also to the generosity of spirit of the American people to take in so many. And I know that the Cuban-American experience is hardly unique. In fact, there's hardly an ethnicity in this country that hasn't been received here in the last hundred years - start with Ellis Island and all of that -with such open arms. And so I just want to thank the American people for taking my folks in.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for that. So, Dave?

ZIRIN: One of my closest friends - I'm honored to call him a friend - is somebody who I wrote a book with is John Carlos, who was one of the Olympians in 1968 who raised his fist in Mexico City. And what I love about John - first of all, every time he sees me, he says, David. And first of all, that - I got to say this because the only people in my entire life who've ever been able to call me David without my skin crawling are my mom, my grandfather and John Carlos. To everybody else, I'm Dave. My wife called me David. I'm like, no, call me Dave. You know, but John Carlos can do it. And he goes, David, I love you more than yesterday and less than tomorrow. And that just first of all just makes me feel so good. And I say that to my own kids now. I love you more than yesterday and less than tomorrow. And John and I, we traveled the country together with the book, and I got to see him speak to a wide variety of audiences. And his ability to connect with people of all ages was so inspiring to me. And what he would say to people, the thing that would just always connect most sharply is when he would look at them and say, you know what? After I raised my fist in Mexico City in 1968, I had years of poverty, years when I was in the wilderness, years where no one would return my calls. And yet, when people ask me if I have regrets, I always say no. But you want to know who does have regrets? The people who have regrets are the people who were there at those Olympics in 1968 and didn't say anything because they're the ones who are asked, hey, were you one of those people who stood up in 1968? Were you one of those people who stood up when apartheid countries were allowed at the Olympics? Were you one of those people who stood up when there were so much injustice in the world after the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy and the Mexican students who protested outside of those Olympic Games? Were you one of those people who said this shall not pass, this is not the kind of world I want to live in? And the people who say no, they didn't do anything, don't feel very good about saying that. And he's proud of being able to stand up and say, when it was my moment to say that I don't want the world to look the way it does, I stood up and said something. And when he says that to young people, it's really powerful because it makes them really think about, like, long-term. I mean, we're a society that's so microwavable. Where, oftentimes, people aren't thinking past their next iPhone app, basically. And he really fights to try to get kids to take the long view and really think about the fact of how they're going to be remembered 10, 20, 30 years down the line. And it's had an enormous effect on my life, an enormous effect of how I relate to my own children, my children's friends and and enormous effect on the kinds of choices I make on a day in, day out basis. And he gives an amazing hug...


ZIRIN: ...Which is always nice.

MARTIN: Interesting. I wonder - I mean - I mean, I think if you follow sports at all, if you follow the Olympics at all, I think that picture of those men on the podium raising their fists is one of those pictures that just you've seen. I don't think a lot of people knew just exactly how high a price they paid for that.

ZIRIN: A tremendous price.

BUTLER: It was on the wall in my house growing up in Chicago. We had a picture of Angela Davis with the Afro. And right next to that, we had John Carlos and the other brothers with their fists in the air.

MARTIN: Dave's book is called "The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World." So thanks, Dave, for telling that story.

ZIRIN: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you, all of you. I want to thank all of you for sharing your stories. It's so funny that we talk about a lot of things, but we very rarely talk about ourselves here. And so these are things that I didn't - never heard about any of you. And so I really appreciate all of you being willing to share these things. So I want to remind everybody it doesn't have to end here. You can take the time to listen this weekend. And there are plenty of suggested questions. And if you want some help getting started, you can go to storycorps.org and check out their suggested questions. They even have instructions for recording your interview because as we've pointed out, unfortunately, here today, you know, we don't know how long our time here is going to be. So, you know, hearing that person's voice, that special person's voice, I'm sure a lot of us would like to hear that special person's voice right now. So think about it. You know, think about recording it. If you - just, you know, just try it. I think you can put it away someplace in the drawer, and maybe some years later you'll be really glad that you had that, so.

ZIRIN: Michel, anyone you want to say who you're thankful for?



MARTIN: ...'Cause, you know, I'm a crier.

ZIRIN: Oh, geez.

MARTIN: And I'm on the verge...

ZIRIN: You're on the verge.

MARTIN: ...Right now anyway.

ZIRIN: Got you.

MARTIN: That was Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine and host of SiriusXM Radio's Edge of Sports Radio. Paul Butler was also with us from our Washington, D.C. studios. He's a law professor at Georgetown University. Mario Loyola was also in D.C. He's chief counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a columnist for The National Review. And Jimi Izrael is a writer and adjunct professor of film and social media at Cuyahoga Community College. He joined us from NPR member station WCPN in Cleveland. And remember, if you can't get enough Barbershop Buzz on the radio, look for our Barbershop podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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