Reflections on the humanity of Norman Lear


I have vivid memories of a handful of television series we watched faithfully during the ‘70s and ‘80s in our family home. These included Norman Lear’s creations of “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Maude” and “One Day at a Time.” Scenes with outrageous dialogues between Archie Bunker and George Jefferson, compared to the respectful conversations between their children Gloria and Lionel as young people of different races, shaped my awareness and understanding of society’s complex issues as a child. Powerful messages on race, class and sexism were embedded in his groundbreaking television shows. Not only did he make us smile or laugh, but we were also able to see at pinnacle moments our shared humanity in these weekly episodes. As my colleague shared this morning when we reflected on his life together, “He had a hand in your childhood, whether or not you knew of him.”

Several years ago, I had the privilege of meeting this legendary communicator when WKKF leaders began conversations with Mr. Lear and his team to explore opportunities to bring racial healing and ways to change the narratives about race and racism to the entertainment industry.

Our president and CEO, La June Montgomery Tabron and other WKKF leaders attended and promoted the premiere of his biographical documentary during the Sundance Film Festival. “Just Another Version of You” highlights Norman Lear’s life journey as a child, as an adult, as a prolific television and film writer, creator and producer, bringing to the forefront his deep love of our common humanity. It contains messages around healing, dialogue and long-standing beliefs that need to be challenged, and how he used storytelling to raise awareness of issues of race and racism. Our partnership with Mr. Lear aimed to elevate these topics for conversations nationally.

Under La June’s leadership, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has been on a journey of learning, understanding and promoting racial equity for several decades, boldly attacking the belief in a human hierarchy and promoting one humanity.

“The false beliefs and narratives have damaged our human potential, for children, families and communities of color and for all of us,” La June said when she spoke about working with Norman Lear. “His legendary contributions to television and film give me hope, as they made vivid the possibilities for more positive narratives to promote racial equity.”

He was a frontrunner in the entertainment industry for representing the humanity of people of all races, classes and sexes. I’m inspired by his journey marked by great challenges both as a human being and as a changemaker for the benefit of more equitable communities. Mr. Lear was with us in Carlsbad, California at our Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Summit, where the genesis of the National Day of Racial Healing was born among more than 500 community leaders from across the United States. As we head into the 8th National Day of Racial Healing, I think about Mr. Lear’s vision for our shared humanity and how we can connect, build relationships and bridge divides to create a more peaceful society.

“I wish I knew how we achieve the goal of world peace. My bumper sticker reads ‘Just Another Version of You.‘ The sooner we agree that we’re just other versions of each other – we human beings – the sooner we will find some sense of world peace.” ~ Norman Lear

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