Live from Music Row, Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Human Events magazine’s news editor Brent Hamachek to the newsmaker line to talk about Common Ground Campus, his new initiative to inspire communication and dialogue among college students.
Leahy: We welcome to our microphones good friend Brent Hamachek, with the Human Events Group. Good morning, Brent. Thanks for joining us.
Hamachek: It is a pleasure to be here, Mike. Thanks for having me back.
Leahy: So what’s with this Common Ground initiative? I mean, we don’t have common ground anymore, do we? Tell us about it.
Hamachek: Well, we might not have it, but we sure as heck need to try to find some. The Common Ground program you just referred to for your listeners is something that my partner and I, Felicia Blodgett (I CANNOT CONFIRM THIS PERSON/SPELLING — I CROSS-REFERENCED NAMES, ORGANIZATIONS, ETC. ), put together going back into last year.
We had an idea as a way to try to get people to do something that they don’t typically do anymore, and that is to sit down and talk about something that is divisive and troubling and actually try to find a way to solve it, as opposed to debate it.
And so what we put together is we created a program called Common Ground Campus – and people can visit the website commongroundcampus.com – and the idea of the program is to go onto a college or high school campus and find out what sort of issues or troubles are facing that particular campus and then put together students onstage who represent what you could call two different sides of those issues.
And instead of debating the problem, we force the students to sit one across from the other and say, what do you think the problem is? Why does this matter to you? What do you think a solution could be?
And we engage in questions back and forth, and we share ideas and perspectives. And then, ultimately, we try to find common ground. So we launched this program at the University of Georgia campus this past April 14th.
The program can be viewed on the website. And what we did is we talked about race on the University of Georgia campus. And we asked the students ahead of time, we said, what are the problems on the University of Georgia campus with race? What do you see?
And so they shared those with us. And we spent an hour onstage in front of a live audience talking about three different race issues that were present at the University of Georgia campus.
And on all three, between students of differing views, we were able to find common ground, a way to move forward and address those different problems constructively, instead of just sitting onstage and debating them for an hour and taking an already riled student body and riling it up more. Because that’s all the debates do on college campuses.
Leahy: The different groups, it looks like you’ve got the Turning Point USA kids, and then this Democracy Matters group that was founded by former NBA star player Adonal Foyle. You know what my connection to Adonal Foyle is?
Hamachek: I do not.
Leahy: He’s a graduate of Colgate University, which is about seven miles from one of the little towns I grew up in upstate New York. In fact, I went back for our 50th high school reunion at that particular high school this past week, and I went up to Colgate and just walked around it just to remember, because I went to some summer camps there when I was a kid.
So Adonal Foyle, I followed his career with great interest, and I think Democracy Matters is sort of, I don’t know, sort of more center-left but not crazy?
Hamachek: I’m not sure what the positioning means in the continuum, the way we refer to it. It’s like for a whole separate interview.
What I can tell you is that the students involved in the organization tend to hold views that are opposite the views of those tending to be held by the Turning Point USA-type students.
And what’s most important about this is that at the end of the event itself, instead of sending the kids out the door and into the student union, we had a pizza party inside the room. And I have to give all the credit for the pizza party to Felicia. I thought the idea was a little cheesy.
Leahy: Boom shaka-laka. Pizza party. That’s a cheesy idea. Very good.
Hamachek: I know it’s early in the morning, but here’s what happened, Mike. We had a room filled with the people who had participated in and observed the event. We had parents there with their high school kids.
So we had adults from the community, and we had all sorts of students, and they stood around and they ate pizza, and they said the following – you can sum the response up this way: This was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this. You need to do this on every campus in the country. That was the universal response from the people who attended.
And by the way, you mentioned Human Events, which, of course, is owned and operated by our friend Jeff Webb. This event couldn’t have happened without Jeff and Human Events‘ sponsorship.
They were our prime sponsor, allowing us to be able to make the event happen. This first event. You know it’s always hardest to do the first one.
Leahy: Absolutely. I’m looking at the video right now, and there you are wearing your gray Georgia sweatshirt – one side of you, you’re sitting in a chair.
On one side of you are a couple of guys sitting in chairs wearing red Georgia sweatshirts. And then on another side of you are a couple of guys wearing black Georgia sweatshirts. Was this intentional? You’re gray in the middle, and they’re red and black?
Hamachek: Yes, it absolutely was intentional. Look, we wanted to create a college atmosphere, right? And of course, sweatshirts do that.
It also creates a bit of a team atmosphere. So you’ve got opposing jerseys, almost, if you will. So we wanted to show distinction between the sides with the color.
We wanted to show unity between the sides because they’re all University of Georgia students, right? And so there’s a visual impact to that, right? And again, such things are beyond me.
I would have had everybody showing up in flip flops and a tank top, but the shirt concept was Felicia’s idea. But here’s what I told the students ahead of time, and I think this is important for your audience.
When we went into this event, I said, I want you kids to look across the stage at the other side, and I want you to pretend it’s your significant other and they’re about to break up with you, and you don’t want them to.
(Leahy laughs) Because in that moment, we all know this feeling, right? If somebody that matters to you is about to leave, you sit down and you look at them and you say, look, I don’t know what’s wrong.
Tell me what’s wrong. I want to listen. I want to fix this. And so we asked them to bring that attitude to the stage.
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Brent Hamachek” by Brent Hamachek.