Healing race relations over dinner

Can the racial divide be bridged with a meal? That’s the very simple idea behind an initiative started by Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and James Lankford of Oklahoma: “Solution Sundays.”

The idea is alarmingly simple: invite a family of another race over to your home for a meal on Sunday.

The light bulb went off for the lawmakers in 2015 after violent confrontations across the country between African Americans and law enforcement officers. “There seemed to be this dichotomy that was growing which you can either be for the police or what was happening in the black community, but you couldn’t be both,” Lankford said. “And our response was no, you can be.”

Lankford explained that he started asking people in Oklahoma and in Washington whether they had ever had someone of another race in their homes for dinner. “Very few people could answer yes,” he said.

Scott said he had a similar experience, and realized that this personal disconnect between races is a huge part of the problem.

“For me, it’s hard to hate what you know,” Scott said. “And it’s just so simple. It’s hard to hate what you know.”

So, the senators issued the challenge to their constituents and to fellow lawmakers.

“Sunday is a significant day for most families in America — still, in whatever way with their families, or faith or whatever it may be,” Lankford said. “And we said, ‘If you want to be part of the solution for race in America, set aside lunch or dinner and just invite a family over of another race, and just sit down and have a meal together.”

Part of the hesitation they found was about the conversation itself. Lankford said the question that came up over and over again was, “What would we talk about?” He explained that this “stiffness” is part of what creates barriers between people.

“While we’re dealing with voting rights, and we’re dealing with all these other inequities, and we’re dealing with all of these other things over decades, we’ve still not finished the work of the heart and of families,” he said.

Scott said he has gotten very positive feedback from constituents who have given the idea a shot.

“It’s surprising how many people come back and say, ‘They’re just like me.’ What did you expect?” he said laughing. “It’s one of the reasons why people are comfortable with people like themselves. What they don’t realize is that we’re all about the same. We all struggle with finances, with kids, with spouses, some people struggle with the Patriots. I love the Cowboys.”

The sentiments may seem old-fashioned in 2017, but the lawmakers both insist simplicity is part of the beauty.

“It doesn’t cost anything,” Lankford said. “There’s no program, there’s no website, there’s not app for it. It’s just your family inviting another family over.”

At a recent lunch at Kenny’s BBQ Smokehouse on Capitol Hill, the senators took a break from Washington’s divisive politics and replicated a typical Solution Sunday meal with a group of local community and religious leaders. Over messy containers of corn bread and ribs, the group shared stories about their experiences with diversity.

Senate Chaplain Barry Black said he grew up in Baltimore and didn’t shake hands with a white person until he was sixteen years old.

“Now how does that happen in the United States of America? But we never invited someone who didn’t look like us home for dinner either,” said Black, who was elected the Senate chaplain in 2003 and typically begins Senate sessions with apolitical prayers.

Molly Teas, who runs a reading mentoring program in Washington, D.C., pointed out that part of the issue comes down to early exposure to people who are different. She said that for her son, who is one of three white students in his school, a homogenous environment makes him uncomfortable.

“I’ll never forget taking him to Wyoming,” Teas said. “We got to the airport and he goes, ‘Mom where is everybody’?”

“It’s not as simple as I have to look at you.” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, gesturing across the table. “It’s sort of like, what do I see in you?”

Deborah Chambers, who works at an organization that helps the homeless, said there is something unique about mealtime.

“There must be something about relationships that are built around eating, around food, around the dinner table, and we have just desegregated that,” she said.

For Scott, a black Republican from the South — a “unicorn” in his words — the program is an extension of his own experience, which is why he believes it can work.

“Every day of my life it’s a Senate lunch or a meeting in South Carolina, I find myself in a room that is consistently 100% white,” he explained. “And when I go home almost every weekend I’m having meals with my family and often times that could be all black. So it happens that I get to have both experiences, and that’s how I know how close we are all. We’re very similar. Very similar.”

For the two politicians, this idea is strictly apolitical. Both Lankford and Scott underscore that the initiative is about healing outside the bounds of formal legislation.

“Legislative solutions can be additives, but they’re never primary,” Scott said. “Never has it been primary for a man’s heart to be changed by what you do in a legislative body.”

When asked if they have felt more need for this initiative since President Donald Trump’s election, Lankford stressed that it’s not about a political leader.

“His rhetoric is not artful, to say the least, and at times he makes statements that I wish wasn’t so divisive in that statement,” he said. “But I think the need still remains. This started for us a year and a half ago or so. This is not new for us. This is not new for the nation.”

Still, after an election that has left the country feeling more divided than ever, encouraging people to come together over a hot meal could be more necessary than ever.

Follow this story

Florida man leaves shoe behind after robbing Cocoa home, deputies say

A Titusville man left his shoe at the scene of the crime after he stole guns, a PlayStation, cash and other items from a home in Cocoa, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office said.

The homeowner’s surveillance video showed Joseph Knight, 27, and another unidentified man entering the residence around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. When Knight and the other man leave the home several minutes later, they’re carrying guns, and Knight is missing one shoe and his baseball hat, the report said.

The two men get into the Toyota Corolla they arrived in and drive a few feet away before the car stops and one of the men gets out and tries to bend the license plate as if to conceal from cameras, deputies said.

The Corolla returns to the home and Knight goes inside, according to the affidavit. He comes back outside carrying items wrapped in a blanket and the two men leave in the car. Knight was still only wearing one tan slip-on shoe but had put his orange and black baseball hat back on.

The homeowner told deputies that guns, a PlayStation, an Epson Projector, a Harbor Freight wall mount safe, bills and titles, and $300 cash were stolen. 

Deputies located the Corolla at a home in Titusville. The owner, who is Knight’s mother’s boyfriend, gave deputies consent to search the vehicle. A slip-on shoe matching the one left at the crime scene was found inside the car, deputies said.

The owner of the Corolla was able to identify Knight as the man in the surveillance video.

Knight was arrested shortly before 4 a.m. Friday on an armed burglary charge.

Follow this story

Harrison Ford says he was distracted when he flew over plane

 Actor Harrison Ford said he was distracted and concerned about turbulence from another aircraft last month when he mistakenly landed on a taxiway at a Southern California airport after flying low over an airliner with 116 people aboard, according to an audio recording released Friday.

“I’m the schmuck who landed on the taxiway,” Ford told an air traffic controller shortly after the near-miss on Feb. 13 at John Wayne Airport in Orange County. Recordings of Ford’s conversations with air traffic controllers were released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The 74-year-old actor was told to land his single-engine plane on Runway 20L, but he instead landed on a parallel taxiway. An American Airlines flight was on the same taxiway, waiting to take off.

A video released last month showed Ford’s Aviat Husky plane from behind as it descends toward the airfield where the American Airlines Boeing 737 is slowly taxiing.

“Was that airliner meant to be underneath me?” Ford asked the air traffic control tower as he landed in the wrong spot.

“Oh. I landed on Taxiway Charlie. I understand now. Sorry for that,” Ford said.

In a phone call with an air traffic controller after the incident, Ford said he “got distracted by the airliner” and also mentioned “big turbulence” from another plane that was landing.

The American Airlines flight, with 110 passengers and six crew members, departed safely for Dallas a few minutes later.

When an air traffic controller told the “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” star to take his time getting the number from his pilot’s license, remarking it isn’t a big deal, Ford responded: “It’s a big deal for me.”

Landing on a taxiway, instead of a runway, is a violation of Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The agency’s probe of the incident is still underway, spokesman Ian Gregor said Friday.

Ford’s publicist did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

Ford, who collects vintage planes, has a long record as an aviator. He has had several close calls and a serious accident in March 2015 when he was injured in his World War II-era trainer. It crashed on a Los Angeles golf course after engine failure.

___

Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 .

Follow this story

Lyft says round up your fare and donate to charity

Lyft thinks it has found another way to differentiate itself from its rival Uber.

The ride-sharing company announced Sunday morning that it will soon allow passengers to round up their fares to the nearest dollar, and give the difference to charity.

Round Up & Donate will launch in the coming weeks, most likely with a single organization that can receive donations, Lyft executives said. The company expects to gradually expand the program and highlight local community organizations.

Lyft is the smaller of the two most well-known ride-sharing startups. The two companies compete vigorously against one another. Uber has become the dominant name around the world, and it’s valued at more than $60 billion.

But Uber’s explosive growth has come at a cost. Uber is investigating public allegations of sexual harassment of women at its offices, and the hashtag #DeleteUber has trended on social media. CEO Travis Kalanick has said he needs leadership help and is seeking a second in command.

Lyft, which is focused on the United States, announced in January that it would expand to 100 more U.S. cities this year.

Lyft originated as a lighthearted ridesharing option, initially encouraging riders and drivers to fistbump before rides. Drivers also used to put large pink mustaches on the grill of their vehicles.

Research from The Rideshare Guy, a popular industry blog, has found that Lyft drivers report higher earnings than Uber drivers. Lyft allows drivers to receive tips through its app, whereas Uber does not.

Lyft is not the first to build charitable donations into ridesharing. RideAustin, a nonprofit company in Austin, Texas, has a similar program.

Follow this story