Zibby Owens: Welcome, Emmanuel. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Emmanuel Acho: Of course. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: I feel like I should rename it for the night. I should call it Very Comfortable Conversations with a Mom. How about that?

Emmanuel: That’s a little more welcoming, you could say, than Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.

Zibby: My whole thing is making people feel like they can talk to me and whatever. Although, I have to say, that is your thing too. The uncomfortable is sort of a misnomer because you make people comfortable immediately.

Emmanuel: That’s the trick. People are like, Emmanuel, where’s the discomfort? I’m like, it’s not always for you. Sometimes I’m the uncomfortable person. Sometimes the listener’s the uncomfortable person. Sometimes my guest is. More than anything, I try to make people comfortable because that’s when you really get the truth out of people.

Zibby: It’s so true. I was thinking to myself ahead of time, I was like, ooh, what could I ask him to make him really uncomfortable? I decided not to do that. We can just chat. It’s fine. Take me back to May when you decided to start Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, the videos, and when your friend came and you were going to going to record together and then she bailed on you that morning and the whole thing of how you started it as the video series and then how it transitioned to a book.

Emmanuel: After the murder of George Floyd, Zibby, I was like, what do I do? I have to do something. I’m a sports analyst, but I’m a black man before I’m a sports analyst. Before the world acknowledged me as a black man, I’m a human being. It’s my responsibility to positively contribute to society in some way, shape, or form, leave the earth better than it was when I found it, when it found me. I said, okay, what am I skilled at? I’m a, to a degree, gifted orator. I can speak. I’m going to do something called Questions White People Have. I grew up with so many white people. I know they have questions. I grew up in an affluent neighborhood in Dallas, Texas, went to this affluent, white, private school, wore a uniform, all boys’ school called St. Mark’s School of Texas. I said, I know my white brothers and sisters have questions and they don’t have answers because they’ve never actually asked the questions. I’ve just heard the murmurs and the whispers. Great. I’ll get three white people together, three black people together. We’ll sit around the roundtable, clear fishbowl in the middle of it. My white brothers and sisters will pull out a question. They’ll ask it to the black people at the table. We’ll have a conversation.

Problem, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Nobody can travel. Now what do I do? I’ll call one of my white friends who can come down from Dallas to Austin, Texas; three-hour drive, straight shot, Interstate 35. She said, “Emmanuel, if I’m going to be there for you, I have to show up.” I said, “Thank you. I greatly appreciate it.” She shows up on Saturday. We’re going to record on Sunday. She spends a night in my guestroom. We rehearse in front of her mom, in front of her sister, in front of my best friend. We’re good to go. An hour and six minutes before call time on Sunday for the first episode of Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, I come downstairs. She’s in my kitchen with tears in her eyes. “I can’t do it. It’s not right. You should it by yourself. They don’t want to see me. They want to see you.” Long story short, she had a change of heart. Now I’m like, what do I do? I got to do it myself. I still didn’t want to do it myself. Transparency moment, I don’t think I’ve said this. If I have, I haven’t said it often. I called another white friend last minute. I said, “Hey, can you just stand in and ask me these questions? I’ll answer them.” Remember, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, not Uncomfortable Monologue with a Black Man.

Zibby: I was going to say that. I was just thinking monologue.

Emmanuel: The first episode was not supposed to be me talking for nine minutes, twenty-seven seconds. The first episode was also very likely only going to be one episode. If you listen closely, episode one, “Welcome to the first of hopefully many episodes.” I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do. That is how this all came to be, the ups, the downs, the highs, the lows. It was kind of ordained, a moment meant for me. I wasn’t searching for it or seeking it out. The man met the moment.

Zibby: Wow. That’s impressive. So you started doing all the videos. By the way, the quality of the videos, this isn’t like you were just propping up an iPhone. They’re highly produced. When Oprah shows up on episode three or four, whenever she came, I was like, of course she’s going to show up because it already looks like an Apple TV set that you’re doing this on.

Emmanuel: Let me interrupt you. First episode, the producer was my best friend who’s an Olympic gold medalist in Rio Olympics 2016, a sprinter, anchored the 4×100 meter relay. The videographer was a wedding videographer, not some Emmy-award winning videographer. It was just my friend who’s a wedding videographer and his wife. The first episode was shot in an area that I shot my 2018 birthday video. I wanted a white psych wall. I said, wait a second, if we’re going to do this, we got to do it well. It looks very highly produced, but the reason it looks like that is because it was so simple because I paid for it. I paid for the first three episodes out of pocket all myself. I said this, people’s eyes need to be satiated, if that’s the right word. They need to be stimulated. Content is digested better if it’s higher quality. I said, let me take the $1,500, let me do this with friends. These aren’t pros. It’s a track Olympic gold medalist and a wedding videographer and myself. We were the four people in the room for episode one. That was it. Episode two, I got my friend who’s an interior designer. She was our stage manager. It was not a family affair, but it was a friendly affair of just me gathering a group of people who wanted to see the world be better and wanted to see the world change. We all garnered those first forty million views just kind of doing it.

Zibby: Unbelievable. There’s something almost metaphoric in the fact that it was you against the white background. The black man, the white background, you’ve probably thought of this before. Thought that was genius of me. Let’s go to the content of what you talk about and what you put in the book and all the rest, which by the way, was so much more than just a continuation of the videos. This is a history book. I was reading it before bed. I was just like, oh, I’m learning. I feel like I’m in school again. Also, memoir, highly engaging, but just so many facts. You must have had to go research. Do you just know all this off the top of your head? Tell me about what went into making the book.

Emmanuel: The book, I didn’t want it to just be regurgitation of the episodes because that, to me, is, to a degree, lazy. It’s also not enough. It’s accurate, but it’s incomplete. I wanted the book to be both accurate and fully complete. I wanted to give people a ton of information. Let me submit this to you because this is something I’ve had a challenge with. We learn our history too young in America. We learn our history too young. Why do I say this? I was taught about the Civil War before I cared about the Civil War. Don’t teach me about the Civil War when I’m eleven years old and I can’t even spell. Don’t teach me about that stuff then. Don’t teach me about the judicial system. Don’t teach me about the three-fifths compromise. Don’t teach me about things that have to do with my identity before I know my identity. I’ve never said that before, but I’m really having that moment of, we learn so much stuff so young that we didn’t digest it.

Now when I was writing this book and researching more information, I was having those moments of — I forgot the grandfather’s clause. Prime example. Everybody knows the term the grandfather’s clause, but we don’t really know what it means. We don’t remember what it means. For those listening, when black people were disenfranchised, they would put those Jim Crow laws together that would try to limit black people from voting. They would make you take literacy tests in order to vote after slaves became free. You had a literacy test. The problem is, black people couldn’t read because they were slaves and you weren’t allowed to read. The problem was you were disenfranchising white people because some lower-class white people couldn’t read. Rather than adjusting and removing literacy tests because that might have helped black people, we said, let’s create the grandfather’s clause. If your parents could vote, if your grandparents could vote, you can vote. Black people’s grandparents couldn’t vote because of slavery. I don’t care about that in fifth grade. I care about that as a twenty-nine-year-old. That’s when I care.

When I was rereading all the information as I was writing this book, I was like, we have this notion in our head that history is boring, outside of the few history majors that are walking the earth that we all are like, oh, those super nerds. We have this notion that history is boring when all you got to do is go watch the Hamilton musical and you’ll be like, yo, history’s kind of interesting. We just learn it too early. I kind of and went all over the place. I do think those listening will really feel that. When I was writing this, so much of the stuff, it’s so interesting. The fact that black and white people couldn’t be married sixty years ago, that’s so interesting. I think it’s Loving v. Virginia. So much stuff is so interesting. I’ll end like this, you have to know your past to know your future. You have to know where you came from to know where you’re going. I think we have to do a better job of knowing where we came from.

Zibby: You’re absolutely right. By the way, I was just helping my thirteen-year-old daughter study for an American history test. I had to go through all the things that happened around the 1760s, 1750s. I was like, huh, is that really what happened? When you get to be this age — I’m forty-four, so this is even more embarrassing. I learned it in school, but it hasn’t really come up that much more since, and so all the details get a little foggy. Yes, I think knowing your history and also positioning — history needs a rebrand. I think we should call history class amazing stories or something. I totally agree with you. You need the context. I’m also curious about — I know so many people are watching you and listening to you. You’re engaging people, everyone from police to just so many people about things that they’re unwilling, perhaps, to look at or haven’t thought about before. I’m wondering what you, deep down, believe is the potential for change. Do you think that the right people are listening? Do you think people can change? You asked that amazing question with the police when you said, “Do you think we’ll ever get to a place where a young black child could look to a policeman as someone who’s a safe haven?” The answer was sort of up in the air. What do you think?

Emmanuel: We have to make incremental leaps, steps, and then eventually bounds. Here’s what we have to understand. The people that are on extreme sides — my black brothers and sisters on extreme sides that are just, I hate white people because of what they’ve done and the history and I just will never forgive white people, we got to move off that fence. The white people on the extreme side of, racism doesn’t exist, systemic racism doesn’t exist, black people just need to get over it, things have been equal for fifty years now, there’s not a problem, got to move off that fence. We all got to get away from our sides and get towards the middle because the truth of anything lies in the middle. The truth of most arguments, it lies in the middle. It doesn’t hover on extremes. How can we move forward as a country, as a world, as a nation? We have to have real dialogue. The biggest thing for me, Zibby, and it’s the simplest, conversations. I was talking to the group of police officers — my latest episode, for those that are listening but haven’t yet watched it, it’s a group of twenty-five Petaluma police officers in Northern California, and predominately white. This a population of sixty thousand but that’s less than one percent black. My first question I asked the officers was, “When’s the last time you had a dinner, a conversation, with a group of black people?” Two officers that I asked said, “Honestly, Emmanuel, we never have.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing right with that either. Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think it’s malicious. You have to understand, if you’re not going to expose yourself to a group of people that don’t look like you, don’t sound like you, aren’t cultured like you are, then how do you expect to interact with them? However you think you’re interacting with them, how can you think you’re interacting with them properly if you don’t even know the them that you’re interacting with? I went to an all-boys’ preparatory school. I told you this, high school. I didn’t have girls in my school from fifth grade to twelfth grade. Didn’t go to school with girls. Some perks to that. You don’t have to worry about wearing cologne and looking good and all that other stuff, but there’s some negatives. When I got to college, I was like, there are girls here. There’s some women here. What do I do? I had to learn and relearn how to navigate, how to act, how to be. Don’t be so aggressive. Don’t be so hostile. Don’t be so curt. I had to learn some things because I hadn’t been exposed on a daily basis to a large people group. It’s the same thing. I don’t even remember the question you asked anymore.

Zibby: That’s okay. Whatever. It doesn’t matter.

Emmanuel: Nonetheless, I think that’s what we have to do to become better as a nation. We have to just have real conversations.

Zibby: So we’ll get rid of all-boys’ schools. That’s the answer.

Emmanuel: Basically.

Zibby: I worry. My son is at an all-boys’ school right now. I’m like, what is he going to do when he gets face to face with women? Do you feel like you were behind the other guys when you got to college, or what?

Emmanuel: Yeah, but it’s a quick learning curve. It also depends on — I was still going to church on Wednesdays and Sundays. Then I have two older sisters. It’s not like it was a completely foreign species, like, oh, my god, brain malfunctioning. I see someone with longer hair. I don’t know what to do. That didn’t happen. It was just different being in class. Now you got to figure out how to navigate differently. It’s just different. I submit that it truly is the same thing with black and white people. Just because we’re all people, no; Emmanuel Acho navigates differently around white people than he does around black people. He just does. We just have to understand that and move and navigate life accordingly.

Zibby: Wow. You must have written this book really quickly. How did you fit this in? You already have a busy schedule. You’re hosting a show. You’re all over the place. When did you do this?

Emmanuel: Well, I don’t have a ton of fun right now. I have a ton of work. I did it from the last two weeks of June to first two weeks of August. That was like, hey, let’s knock this out in six, seven weeks. That was before I was doing a lot of talking and public speaking. In my free time, I would just start notating the stories, notating the concepts. Where do I want to go? Here’s the thing, though. I realize the end of something before I ever start it. What do I mean? 2015, I’m playing for the Philadelphia Eagles. I get a direct message on Instagram from a fan, Zibby. “Hey Emmanuel, if I get two thousand retweets, will you go to prom with me?”

Zibby: I saw that.

Emmanuel: I say, “If you get ten thousand, you got yourself a deal.” I never thought it would happen. Here’s what I also said. I said, “May the odds ever be in your favor,” a quote from the famous movie Hunger Games. That’s how it was ended. I said, in the event that she gets these ten thousand retweets, I want there to be a cool story, a cool response, so I ended with that. Long story short, Elizabeth Banks, the lead star of Hunger Games, ends up retweeting the story. I had gone to the end before I ever got to the beginning. When I was getting thousands of emails after my episodes, I was favoriting the ones that were really good questions. I said, in the event this ever becomes a book, I want to use these questions in the book because I want to be able to talk to real people and answer real questions. It was easier to write because as I was always thinking about it, I always thought, I don’t want this to just be a moment of sizzle. I want it to be a moment of substance. Books are more substance. Spoken word is sizzle. I was always preparing for the potential.

Zibby: Interesting. Were there any questions you considered putting in the book or making an episode of your show and you felt like they were just too uncomfortable or you just didn’t want to go there?

Emmanuel: The biggest place I don’t want to go is politically. Some people are like, hey Emmanuel, why don’t you bring on somebody on the hard-extreme end who doesn’t even think racism exists? Then I submit this, Zibby. I say, I want to have an uncomfortable conversation, not an uncomfortable argument. If your mind was already closed, what am I going to do? I’m not here to bang on a door that’s deadbolt locked. I’m there to knock on a door that’s cracked open. If you’re already closed-minded, it’s not going to do me any good. I’m not sitting here trying to get into a yelling match. Racism is real! Zibby, if you were like, hey Emmanuel, the Earth is flat, I’d be like, okay, you’re wrong, but you’re entitled to your wrong opinion. People that are like, systemic racism doesn’t exist, okay, you’re wrong, but you’re entitled to your own wrong opinion. We’re not debating opinions. We’re talking about facts. I’m not going to get into an opinion-based debate over factual matters. That’s, to answer the question, what I’ve been asked most to do that I just don’t bother with.

Zibby: Where is this whole thing going? I know it started, you didn’t plan it. You just responded emotionally. Then you put this enormously brilliant whole thing together. It’s already been expanding. Oprah’s been on your show and put you on her list. The book’s going to just blow up. This is probably releasing right after the book. I’m sure by then it will have already blown up. Where do you see this going? Do you have a vision? Are you going to be the president one day? How big? What do you see? What’s your secret hopes and dreams?

Emmanuel: Great question. I think any answer would be too small. If you would’ve asked me on May 30th or May 31st, I never would’ve told you that I would’ve got a call from Matthew McConaughey, Oprah Winfrey, and Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, all within a month and a half. My mind can’t fathom the reach in which this could have, nor do I want to. I’ve said this before. When I was a kid, you would lay a hundred dominoes, the black and white dominoes, and you’d push the first one in hopes that you would see a train of a hundred dominoes fall. It was just the coolest thing ever. The first domino, Zibby, didn’t care about the hundredth. It just cared about knocking over the second one. I’m not worried about the two hundredth or hundredth domino. I’m just worried about the next episode. I’m worried about the episode with the police officers. Then I’m worried about the next one. Then I’m worried about the next one because I just want to keep making pockets of change, keep making pocket of change. Then I’ll look up and be like, oh, this is pretty cool. So many people have been like, Emmanuel, have you not stopped to celebrate? Are you not super excited? I’m like, I don’t have time. I got work to do. I’m going to stop and look back one day and reflect. I’ve had one waterworks, tear-jerking, god, thank you so much moment, but I don’t have time. I don’t have time to celebrate. I’ll look back at the end, and I’ll be grateful that I was used as a vessel in the moment. I don’t have visions of where I want it to go. I just want to keep staying focused and true to the moment because I think our society will benefit.

Zibby: Did you feel like you had room for a calling before this happened? I was looking at your before-Instagram. I’m like, what was he up to before? It’s not like you were doing nothing. You already had a whole — singing and this and that. This came in and clearly has just ignited every sense of you. You’re in it, you said earlier. Did you know there was room? Can it just happen? Did you long for something?

Emmanuel: Can it just happen for other people?

Zibby: I guess. Did you know that there was something that you wanted to do to make meaning and then this fell in your lap? Were you waiting for something? in other words.

Emmanuel: I wasn’t waiting for this. I was trying to create content around love shows and create a crazy type of entertaining content. It was never this. Let me answer your question. There’s a difference between your career and your calling. I think your career is what you’re paid for. Your calling is what you’re made for. Many people have heard that being said before. Your career is what you’re paid for. Your calling is what you’re made for. My career is sports. I was focused on my career, but I was still attentive to my calling. I got three calls from no-caller ID numbers during the course of these Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. The first one, Oscar award-winner Matthew McConaughey. He calls me. “Acho, McConaughey here. I want to be a part of your second episode.” Matthew McConaughey. The second call, Oprah Winfrey. “Emmanuel, I love what you’re doing. Would love to have a conversation,” etc. The third one, commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. “Hey Emmanuel, I just saw one of your episodes. I want to be a part of this conversation.” I say that to say this. Your calling will call you. Pick it up. Your calling will call you. Make sure you pick up. My calling called me. I didn’t dial any numbers. My calling just said, okay, Emmanuel, now is the time. Remember, I wasn’t trying to do this alone. That’s what people don’t understand. I was trying to do this with anybody else, but I couldn’t. I just still knew I had to do it.

Zibby: Last quick question, do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Emmanuel: Man, that’s a really, really, really good question. I have tons of advice. To aspiring authors, I would say stay true to yourself. Stay true to your intention. When I first talked to Oprah, the very first question she asked me — she made is sound way more elegant than I will. She said, “Emmanuel, what is your intention? Your intention will drive you.” I said, “Oprah, number one, I want to change the world, and I actually believe I can. Number two, I want to be a catalyst for racial reconciliation through dialogue and conversations.” My intention’s not to get a lot of Instagram followers. My intention’s not to get a lot of clicks. My intention’s not to get a lot of fame. My intention is to change the heart of at least one person or at least change and open their aperture of understanding. To my potential authors, stay true to your intention. Don’t be focused on selling the most books, selling the best book. Sell the book that is truest to you. That is the best book. Whatever it is that your intention said, this is what I want to do, that is what you do. Everything else will come. Lastly, there’s a different between success and significance. Pursue significance, and success will come. Pursue success, and you may miss both. If you pursue significance, success will follow.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you so much for your time. This has been such a treat. I can’t wait to watch your star continue to rise. I’m so glad we got to spend some time together.

Emmanuel: The pleasure was mine, my friend. Thank you.

Zibby: Take care. Buh-bye.

Emmanuel: Bye.