Karamo Brown in Critical Conversations @Soka

February 21, 2020
Karamo Brown
Photo by Pablo Cabrera

Karamo Brown, three-time Emmy winner and culture expert on the Netflix reboot of Queer Eye, spoke at the Critical Conversations @Soka event on Feb. 19. The Critical Conversations series aims to ignite conversation, connect community, and transform personal, local, and global issues in a positive way.

Brown shared the stage with Michael Hyter, an author, public speaker, and global organizational leadership consultant who was named one of “The Most Influential Blacks in Corporate America” by Savoy Magazine in 2018.

During the interview Brown explained how he reconciled his Christian faith with his sexuality as a black, openly gay man. By age 12 Brown said he knew he was gay, which made growing up in a homophobic household difficult. But after studying the Bible, he realized that many of the verses used as rhetoric against homosexuality were taken out of context. Confident that he was on the right path, and despite a difficult relationship with his father, Brown persevered and thrived. He is now a successful author, father, social worker, TV star, and podcast host, offering advice to people around the world on challenging situations affecting their lives.

One of his key messages is the importance of listening with empathy. “I’ve become a better parent by being an empathetic listener,” he said.”I listen more than I speak, and I try to really listen to my kids, and understand what they’re saying, what they’re going through.

“When my kids come to me to talk about their issues, the first question I ask them – and this is something that’s not just for parents but also for any relationship you’re engaging with, whether it’s at work, in your intimate relationship, or in friendships – is I say ‘You’re sharing. Are you just wanting for me to listen? Or do you want advice?’”

Other key messages:

“Comparison is the thief of joy”: In response to Hyter’s question about how he got to where he is today, Karamo said that he tries to keep in mind the mantra “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Constantly judging yourself in comparison to others is unhealthy and detrimental to your own happiness and success.

On living your dream: “If it wasn’t for my son asking me if I was living my dreams, and then me doing the work to challenge my fears, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of you today,” he said. “Life throws us curveballs, and in that moment we can either be afraid of it, or we can say ‘You know what? I’m gonna embrace this.’ And one of the biggest things I learned was that embracing the things that we’re scared of and asking for help is actually where you find the most growth and [you] get closer to what you want and deserve.”

Audience Q&A

On race: “What can white people do to educate their kids about race in our country?”

The first step: “Google it! …The first step is taking 15 minutes out of your day to just Google something.”

The second step: “Continue that conversation in spaces where people of color aren’t around.… Pretend that someone you love [who’s of color] is at the table and think about ‘What is something that they might want you to bring up?’ The conversation doesn’t always need to be two hours or deep, but if you at least bring up the conversation, it becomes part of your everyday conversation instead of just being something you only talk about when there’s something traumatic or dramatic in the news.”

The third step: “It’s important to invite people of color into your spaces. If your university, your neighborhood is all white, it’s important for you to say,‘I need to be taking my kids out of this space to be around other people of color so that they can learn.’ And not just have it be something where it’s once a week, but make sure you’re actively putting them around people of color because that’s where you learn the empathy.”

Prior to the event Karamo made himself available to the campus community for hugs, handshakes, high-fives and photo opportunities at a reception in the Black Box Theater co-hosted by the Soka LGBTeam. By the end of the evening he was so uplifted by the campus experience, he said he was going to invite his son, who is currently researching colleges, to tour SUA.

—by Nagisa Smalheiser ‘21