Chapter 20: A Public racist
“Ah, the video’s not working,” a man’s voice echoed through the PA. I squinted through the spotlights at the sound booth, the epic swell replaced by my stomach-twisting anxiety. “So—can you go on without it?” the voice asked.
Before I left Kenya I had filmed a two-minute video of Michael telling his story: where he was from and why we had started a school. And at the end, Michael gave me a ringing endorsement to speak on his behalf. I showed it any time I asked someone for a donation to Daylight. Over the last year, I had sat down with hundreds of people trying to raise money and I noticed they always seemed more comfortable after hearing Michael speak. When Michael pointed at me and said, “Nathan and I are here in Nairobi, excited as ever to reach out to the children of the nomads in northwestern Kenya,” it brought the reality into focus. I wasn’t there to parade around pictures of frowning hungry kids from some faraway land, lay on the guilt, and then hit them up for money.
I was sticking my neck out because Michael was my friend and he needed help. And friends helping friends seemed to make a lot more sense to the people I talked to than trying to solve a desert war they couldn’t really wrap their heads around. Michael wasn’t just another cause with a 1-800 number. I would watch them sit back in their chairs and chuckle as Michael explained the first time he stepped onto the frozen Minnesota lakes. “Yeah, I had a cousin from Florida who said the same thing,” one wealthy businessman had told me.
But without the video, I was just some suburban kid with a cause. “So can you go on without it?” the voice from the sound booth repeated. I felt my armpits liquefying and my lungs constricting as I stared at the silhouetted man wearing headphones waving at me. “Sure fine, I’ll talk without it,” I said into the microphone as I loosened my tie.