America Amplified 2020: Episode 1- Talking About What Divides Us is What Will Help Heal America

Oct 21, 2020

America Amplified: Election 2020 is a national talk show that will dive into the challegnes facing America before and after election day on November 3. This six-part, one-hour weekly radio talk show will air Sundays on WFYI from 3 to 4 p.m. from October 11- November 15. Learn more about Episode 1 below. 

This episode of "America Amplified: Election 2020" explores what is dividing our country right now and what can be done to unite us. Guests include former mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin, Katherine Narvaez Mena, a DACA recipient, and Ben Barto, who sells Trump-related products in Wyoming.

Episode 1 guests include former mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin, Katherine Narvaez Mena, a DACA recipient, and Ben Barto, who sells Trump-related products in Wyoming.
Credit America Amplified

From childhood through college graduation, Shirley Franklin couldn’t imagine becoming the mayor of Atlanta. 

And yet, in 2002, she was elected the first African American woman mayor of a major Southern city.

“It was the hard work and sacrifice of many thousands of people … that changed the laws that made it possible for me to be elected mayor of Atlanta,” Franklin says. “I am the living witness that change can happen.”

Franklin, who now teaches at The University of Texas at Austin, shares her story on this episode of “America Amplified: Election 2020,” which explores the topic: What divides us?

The show is hosted by Rose Scott of WABE in Atlanta and John Dankosky of New England Public Media.

The episode looks at where people see division right now and what can be done to overcome it. 

While Franklin says there is currently a lot of tension -- 2020 “is one of those years that has everyone on pins and needles” -- she also has reason to be optimistic, namely in how young people have organized protests demanding changes to “make America better.”

This optimism was echoed by the show’s other guests and voices.

RJ Young says he’s terrified to be a Black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 99 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Still, he says in an audio diary from KOSU in Oklahoma: “I’m not so scared that I don’t want to engage with you in meaningful ways, I haven’t lost hope in the idea of the impossible being within our grasp. The impossible is the least one can demand.”  

Immigrants and empathy

Guest Katherine Narvaez Mena volunteers to help register voters in Atlanta even though she, as a DACA recipient and as an immigrant from Guatemala, can’t yet vote herself. She talks about the importance of developing empathy for people by putting faces to the issues. 

“Immigrants have fought for decades, rallied … and armed ourselves with strength, courage and resiliency,” Mena says. “If you are not part of this revolution, you are missing out on the change that is coming.”

Perick Sarmiento, a community organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción in New Haven, Connecticut, sees division between Black and Latino communities and is working to bring the groups together to talk about what they have in common, which includes the racism and stereotypes both groups face.

“My hope is my people, all people come together,” Sarmiento says.

Being ‘uncomfortable’ in Nebraska

Living with racism is at the heart of an audio diary from Megan Feeney of NET Nebraska and America Amplified.

Omaha high school senior Brooke Belsky, 17, and her mother Bridget Belsky share how being women of color in a largely white community is an “uncomfortable” experience for everyone. 

“It just angers me that a society that says don’t judge a book by its cover is doing exactly that,” Brooke says. “All of America is just uncomfortable.”

“The whole system is set up based on the preservation of one race,” Bridget adds, “and that’s the white race instead of the human race.”

A conversation across party lines

Wyoming native Ben Barto, who sells products bearing President Donald Trump’s name, sees America becoming more and more divided because of politics — and racism. He worries about the Democratic party moving “so far to the left to the point of socialism.

He also says racism is still too prevalent in our country. With the recent protests, he says  - “We’re sitting in a little quiet space of the world here in America wondering what in the hell is going on?”

Barto is one of the people Nate Hegyi of Boise State Public Radio met on his recent 900-mile bike ride along the Continental Divide.

Florida college student and political organizer Dylan Hellebrand agrees with Barto, saying he feels that today’s political climate has created “tribal groups” around one party or one issue. Hellenbrand, who participated in a listening session about voting with WUSF and WMFE in Florida, says he’s glad to be in conversation with Barto.

“It’s really important to have people from both sides of the political spectrum to talk, this is what’s going to heal America,” says Hellebrand, who tells Barto that he watches a variety of cable news shows to draw his own conclusions. “I see it from both sides, I’m not someone who believes it’s my way or the highway.”

Barto says the problem is with the leaders of both Republican and Democratic parties.

“The big leaders on both sides are so at each other’s throats right now, I don’t see them coming together and this country can’t come together until our leaders come together,” Barto says.

To which Hellenbrand responds: “I one hundred percent agree with my friend from Wyoming. We need to start talking about what unites us, what issues we can agree on.”

The overarching theme of the hour centered around hope for unity.

“I’m speaking from my heart here, I think we’re at the boiling point and I pray to God that we can come back together,” Barto says. “I hope that we’re not that far apart that we can’t come back together.”

For former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, that unity can be found not in political affiliations but in how we define our values and aspirations.

“The most important thing for us to remember is we are not building this country for old folks like me, we’re building it for young people, we’re building it and working hard so that our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and their children can be successful.”

‘Riding Through Existence’ from Tulsa, Oklahoma

Jerica D. Wortham, a best selling author and award winning spoken word artist, is project director of Greenwood Art Project, an initiative of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre Centennial Commission.

“It is my hope that me utilizing my voice, that I’m inspiring others to utilize their voice so that we can continue to grow in sharing alternate narratives in America,” Wortham says.

For this episode, she reads her poem, “Riding Through Existence.”

Related Content From Side Effects Public Media

Over the past few months, Side Effects Public Media’s Darian Benson has followed four young activists as part of an audio diary project for America Amplified reporting initiative. The series includes: Taylor Hall, a 20-year-old who helped organize one of the summer’s largest protests in Indianapolis. Dyna Martinez, an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis student who was deeply influenced by her childhood in Honduras. Tyshara Loynes, a college student working to protect a street with historic significance for Indianapolis' Black community. And Maria Duenas Lopez, a first generation Mexican-American who now advocates for immigrants.