“There is nothing better than a piece of cake” said comedian Greg Walloch as he spoke of coping with discrimination at USA Network’s “A More Perfect Union: Stories of Prejudice and Power” event in Washington, D.C., Wednesday night. Walloch has dealt with prejudice against both his sexual preference and cerebral palsy. His ability to see the glass half-full has helped him find happiness in his life. In a 10-minute stand up, Walloch spoke of how even when there is much to be upset about, the simplest things can always free your mind, especially a delicious piece of chocolate cake.
Walloch is not the only person who has dealt with discrimination during his life, and that is what USA network and the non-profit storytelling group The Moth shared with a standing-room only audience at the capital’s Newseum. Character’s Unite, USA network’s movement fighting intolerance and prejudice, has organized a national tour with stops so far in New Orleans, New York, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, and now DC, finding unique individuals to share their struggles of being different. Future events will take place this fall in St. Louis and Atlanta. The D.C. venue featured famous folks such as Meghan McCain, daughter of U.S. senator John McCain (R-AZ), and actor/artist Forest Whitaker.
On Thursday, USA Network and The Moth took the storytelling to a D.C. high school where students had the opportunity to get in front of their peers and tell their stories of prejudice. USA’s “Covert Affairs” star Christopher Gorham kicked off the evening. He spoke of the storytellers and how their message mattered, repeatedly stating that “being heard…is important.” In theme with USA’s slogan “Characters Welcome,” the speakers were introduced as characters before they told their stories.
Meghan McCain spoke of her role in politics and her struggle of dealing with a reporter calling her “plus sized.” “Apparently I had a weight problem according to the media,” recalls McCain, despite her healthy number on the scale. McCain turned this into a positive negative by using it to help campaign that people from all walks of life should be tolerated in the Republican Party.
Not all of the stories had a feel-good ending. Jeffery Rudell, a graphic designer, spoke of trying to gain his parents acceptance when he revealed to them he was gay. Though he thought of his parents as loving, they cut off all ties with him after her came out. He flew home from college months later to surprise his mother, trying to make one last effort to tie loose ends. When he showed up at his mother’s work, she looked at him, turned and walked away. “How is it possible my parents could teach love and tolerance in excess of what they possess?” asked Rudell. Weeks later, he said he received a black wreath from his folks with a note that read “in memory of our dead son.”
The most emotional story of the night was told by Kevin Jacobsen, a retired NYC police officer. His youngest son Kameron was a victim of excessive bullying at school, and as a parent he felt trapped. He wanted to help him out, but worried his involvement would make things worse. One day after dinner Jacobsen heard his wife scream, and ran upstairs to find his son had hung himself. Jacobsen choked up and said, “I couldn’t revive him.” Since then he has told his story all over and preached anti-bullying, including at a summit last month that USA and other cable networks participated in.
The touching event by USA Network and The Moth showed how prejudice can truly affect people’s lives. This surely isn’t the first time people have been hurt for being different. Almost every person has had their experience facing bullying or discrimination. But it’s about finding a new strength by embracing the experience. All of the speakers have made the best of their situations, and have been able to affect change in some way.
And remember, if the tough ever gets going, you can always have a piece of cake.