Tim Thomas and Gerald Swilley

Recorded June 23, 2021 Archived June 21, 2021 39:02 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: ddv000933


One Small Step partners Tim Thomas (32) and Gerald "Kirk" Swilley (62) share their beliefs about war, race, and religion. They both reflect on their experiences of travel and how it has contributed to their knowledge of the world.

Subject Log / Time Code

Tim and Kirk talk about why they chose to participate in One Small Step.
Kirk talks about his upbringing in Kansas, going to college, and getting a job where he traveled the world for work. He talks about how traveling helped him grow in his faith as a Christian.
Tim on growing up in Oklahoma, determining his career path. He talks about his friend group in college and traveling abroad.
Kirk talks about his beliefs as a Christian.
Kirk and Tim share their thoughts about war and how they want alternative solutions to the violence that exists in war.
Kirk gives advice to Tim to record with his parents. Tim talks about his ritual of “birthday interviews” in his family.
Kirk talks about learning more about his family through ancestry.com
Kirk talks about his understanding of racism today in comparison to what he knew when he was growing up.
Tim talks about his belief that responses to racism might be an overreaction. He talks about his fear of being in predominantly black areas because of his understanding of their culture through rap and R&B music.


  • Tim Thomas
  • Gerald Swilley

Recording Location

Virtual Recording

Partnership Type




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00:05 My name is Tim Thomas. I'm 32 years old. Today's date is Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021. We're recording this online and I'm recording a conversation with my new friend Kirk. And he's my one small step conversation partner.

00:25 My name is Kirk fully on 62. Today is Wednesday, June 23rd. My recording partner is Tim Thomas and he is my one step conversation partner.

00:43 Kirk supposed to be here with you, for some, I'm interested to hear. Why why did you sign up to do this story Corps program, in this one, small step conversation at the risk of repeating her, our previous conversation.

01:02 Take an opportunity in this time in our country's history, to find that safe space to civil, engage with someone who may not share my political, social, or even perhaps ethical views or outlooks on the world and to try to get to understand that you and your motivations as a person and then perhaps shareware. What's based on coming from?

01:36 Yeah, I think for me check. It was really a kind of his somewhere Converse in my situation. I know I live in a pretty small bubble. I don't have a ton of variety in it on my different friends that I'm with a worker at home in my personal life. And I, and I think it's always, you know, there's a lot of people out there in the world with a lot better and I think I feel like I don't really know the world sometimes. So as I felt, this was a good opportunity to meet someone and learn more about the world feels like a plane, a plane conversation to me in this meeting a stranger to get, to spend some time, figuring out who they are for a few minutes.

02:20 Go to Kirk one thing I'm interested about is you mentioned in your bio traveling around a lot. And how that affected year your views. You said that your views have changed significantly over the course of your life. So curious to hear what you know, and like what's changed in your interviews, from all this traffic.

02:41 Oh, well it sort of give you some context. I was born and raised in small. Kansas town of El Dorado, Kansas, you live in Wichita. I drive by I'll do it all the time up there. Kansas City two lane roads, 55 miles an hour, and it was some distance apart. I mean, the communities of growing together. And as I mentioned in my bio, my father was a War II. Infantry men, who met my mother after World War II in Paris, and she was a Frisian. He spoke French. She spoke no English from a little town called, Toronto, Kansas.

03:32 And they got married in France, and Paris and he moved her back to Kansas and growing up in a small rural town like that. I had a Viewpoint that was very, you know, is very tunnel vision one black fella in the entire school. There were two Hispanic kids that I grew up with. You know, you just really you don't get it, you don't, you don't get their culture, you don't they're just Joe and, you know, in the in the other people and I went away to college, I had to plan to go to college, to be very honest with you, but I got an opportunity to go to college on a scholarship and

04:29 Ended up majoring in geology and I wanted to work for major oil company, which I eventually did after I got my masters in geology went to work for Conoco shipping me all over the world and I've been raised in that unit cultural understanding of what my mother or culture was in her influence with my father had seen cuz he was in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Germany. The whole nine yards, all the way to the end.

05:06 And in the start, seeing some of those Battlefield where he had been to stand, where I knew he had proposed to her and then like, I said,. I went to Indonesia Hong, Kong the Middle East. I actually went to Moscow, right? After the Berlin Wall, fell Norway, the Netherlands. I've been all through Europe and the Middle East go there. I made a point.

05:45 Sensor flying be there before 2 or 3 days after. So I could learn more about the culture of the place and I really

06:04 It expanded my my viewpoint and concurrently going with. That was the growth of my face because I am a devout Christian. I was a Catholic, I sort of shied away from that and have joined the Episcopal church, but with that unit dimensional culture that I grew up with that face in as I saw these other countries and I met these other people and I learn their other Viewpoint. It really started to fold into a much different political and social Viewpoint than I had before.

06:48 So you grew up in Oklahoma to Tulsa University. What made you choose your your profession?

07:04 I'm good person for me. I grew up in in Oklahoma. My parents are both dentist. So that was, that was always something that would may be an option. But not really what I love math and science anything to do with engineering. So when I grew up there I was always for some of that advanced academics and I actually went to a boarding high school for my last two years of High School in Oklahoma city is kind of a like a magnet school for science and math. And then from there went went to University and we love computers and tinkering with things ended and Mike and Mike Reyes kind of gone all over the place there. And I graduated from University. Like I said, my wife and I served as I

08:04 Catholic missionaries for a number of years, and that was a great experience in and Leadership and spiritual religious formation. It also provided, the opportunity, kind of like we're having today to just speak the lots of people. The college campuses are really good Melting Pot of of ideas, and people, right from the lack of people that I see today, you know, and in different units of the variety of people that I see today, I just had a good variety when I'm at when I was on college campuses and lots of people kind of exploring new things and then really trying to figure out who they are. So a lot of good experience there.

08:46 To see the world in to see other people. And it may be ready for a job change at some point. Then I'd like to start my own company or start doing something, a little more. Where have a little more. I don't know. Controls. Maybe not the right word, but was it for more passion into it? Right? Something I can find something. I like really passionate about nothing for myself into that. So, when you were a kid, did you get time to speak? French right now is your mom, keep it keep it up or know my mother, of course, in always did. But at that point in time, they thought the the prevalent point of view was that you should not teach to language to your children. It would confuse them.

09:46 And so he purposely did not teach me French. I didn't learn that until I was, I did not start speaking French until I was in high school when my grandparents came over and spent a summer with me. And although they both spoke fluent English after about 3 days. My grandmother said, I'm tired of speaking English so much. It makes my head hurt. So you need to learn French. Yeah. So anyhow, so I learned a little bit of French.

10:27 It is really faded over the years and I wish I spoke more fluently like my but I always had a really, really hard time with the vowels and in everything. It's it's very difficult for the words correctly. Go back. I was thinking about something else to do, you know, it's kind of like Arabic culture in general, you know, we did a lot of a lot of dinner is a lot of cops out and have a cookout dinner cooked, a bunch of chicken and rice and eat it all together, on the floor. Just want to get that cultural. And then a lot of my other friends from China.

11:27 And I got the study abroad in China for one of my Summers and spend some time with some Mike, you know, college friends there in in their home country in there, you know, visiting their families and stuff. And I looked right. I love languages to, I'm like, always learning picking up another language, probably unnecessary, but I do enjoy it. And I think that contribute to that, that other culture to culture nature of things that I can think of is, what about say has like hold, you closer Christianity. After you've seen some of the other face, I'm assuming you've like, you know, as we traveled time, you meet people with these with each other face, or plenty of. I mean, it's like, AC is industrial prevalent today as well. What's what? What's the, what about Christianity?

12:22 You know as the track of your kept you with Christina and I feel like that's a good question and I do find.

12:34 Islam or monotheism to be quite compelling. I believe there is one God and

12:50 You know, I do believe that Christ was a son of God.

12:56 Why I still believe in that. You know that? That's a good question. Sometimes I have a hard time answering to be very honest with you, but it's, it was so deeply ingrained in me and the teachings of Christ in the New Testament are so compelling to me in regards to and you see the, the commonality across the different religions. I mean, really you could take the teachings of Christ and, and they could be a story about of Buddha. What what he might say. Or you know, though the fact that Islam holds Christ as a very important Prophet even though they don't recognize him as the son of God.

13:49 Mystifying to me why people would ever fight over someone else's religious beliefs, you know wife. Why would the Moors invade Spain? Why would the Spanish, you know decimate the populations of South and Central American like they did simply over religious beliefs, the, you know, the fights between Pradas Protestants and Catholicism may have different manifestations on it. I've never understood that. How someone could kill for their God.

14:34 For someone's different belief in God. Lasania father and your mother meeting. I feel like one of those things.

14:53 Definitely.

14:55 Kind of a mystifying is the reviews. I don't know what may be frustrating is the word. I would use our kind of confusing. Like what why are we still are? We fighting all the stuff? And I feel like today is today's climate is is is a little more tame and in some ways, you know, I feel like there is more of a

15:17 Coexist or kind of those mentalities, but I still feel like there's plenty of War rampant in the world, right? You know, I don't think it's it's not that I feel very isolated from the ear or it where I live and what I see, you know,

15:35 What I focus on but I feel like it's yeah, it is out there. And it is kind of mystifying as you're saying in discouraging. Like I said, I think it's discouraging with her so much. So much more out there. One of the headlines of today that really

15:51 Disturbs me is after.

15:56 I was young, man. I was in college when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. And as a matter of fact, I was dating a girl who would have been on the 1980s Olympic team feel. But the US boycott of the Olympics because it was to be held in Moscow. And, and so to see us after 20 years leaving Afghanistan.

16:27 You know, you have to ask yourself. Was it worth it? The last week this nice young couple comes in with a child and he's wearing shorts and he's got the prosthetic leg and a big Jagged scar across the back of his head. That the hair won't grow, and you wonder wasn't wasn't wasn't worth it. I mean, I certainly understand we were attacked with 911 and there were bad people who did that. There were in Afghanistan.

17:03 What was it worth it? If perhaps, I don't know we spend trillions on armaments without a question. Do you know? There's never been a? There's never been anybody really saying Hey, to much on, on war in Afghanistan. A war in Iraq.

17:27 But people get really upset when they talk about taking some of that money, and giving it to build schools in Iraq or Afghanistan to build up their infrastructure. And to help those people have a better life.

17:45 I I just, I don't know the answer, the less sure. I am about the answer to anything interesting perspective. Is it just seems like for god sakes there. Ought to be a better way to solve something, then to bomb the crap out of somebody to spend, as much time and energy, as we are in creating autonomous weapons. So we can kill other people, is it in it in? That's where it really hurts because when you compare it with our pay cuz us to Time Warren and things like that as we do as much as our Time treasure Talent.

18:45 Let me know. I wonder what the alternative is, right? And I don't I don't think it's possible to convince military Endeavors and they go into a citizen of mode and I wonder what would happen. Right? If we as a as a whole country, would you just say we're putting our weapons down or not going to or not going to be putting me in a smoking, anybody? You know, I don't know what would happen to be honest. I don't think we could. I mean, I really don't think we could somehow the Swiss figured out how to do it. I mean, after all the Swiss army knife Swiss were Fierce People and they defeated the, the austrians for their to create a nether.

19:34 I don't know it just it it saddens me and especially as I think about it in Afghanistan right now all those people who looked at us as liberators, like my mother looked at the American troops when they liberated friend over and they work with the Americans in our allies to help, defeat the Taliban and now we're leaving and we're leaving them behind the bad part is we know we're leaving them behind to certain death.

20:09 And not just saying they'll kill, not only them, don't kill their parents or kill their children, and everything else. It just it really saddens me and I don't know the answer. I find it frustrating, especially in light of my face.

20:24 So that's that's one of the things that has changed for me over the years. So

20:34 Are your parents still alive? I did it. Ask this before Kirk, and remember, probably her that my mom turn 65 this week. So she's okay. I did that. I would encourage you as a young man to do is a into early and often. I have a few recordings of my parents telling their stories, their life stories and I wrote some of them down. I don't have near enough of them written down. When I retire, agendas spend a lot of time doing

21:21 Yeah, do that while they're still alive cuz I have a lot of questions for my parents that I can get answered. No day interview. So, essentially, anytime it's someone's birthday. We get out the video camera in life interview them on, you know, mostly just like, what's your favorite color? Type stuff? But but we ask them, you know, why things that are interesting and try to kind of set the deck, a little bit to get some catch, some of the Year, from what they did, or what they learned, or where they argue. No, but I

21:57 Or if it happens, that was some story about some time when they were younger. Something just on the on the film seek after that. I'm sorry. I think it's the same as you have to get a reminder, is important. And we just went and saw my grandmother here, this past month in a who is 93. Now, you know, and she's getting pretty old and we got to do some of that I record on the table, whenever he's eating dinner and start asking her questions about, you know, what works and other parts that just to kind of understand. Hey, what was your perspective? What what did it mean to YouTube to listen to that? Right? Because I feel like my mind was like a half a century ago, because that's what I learned about it. It was until fifty years ago, but it's like coming up on it pretty soon. It'll be gone. It'll be a, it'll be a hundred years old and it won't be people sitting around telling you what their experience is. Like, at least from it. So,

22:51 Yeah, I know. It's a great place to do a fascinating. Was I did the ancestry.com genetic test. Yeah. Yeah. And

23:13 Boil. A lot of a lot of things that I had thought were true, you know, like my mother some friends, right? So my genetics should be on 50% bright.

23:27 Now, I'm not 50% fresh, and I knew that she had mentioned that her grandfather on her mother's side was, was German in her mother was French, they lived in outside, which is of a blended border area was, I'd always thought with the last name, swilley that I was Irish cuz that's a, that's a, there's a town called swilley.

24:01 And indeed, I am a little bit Irish, but I'm mainly scotch and Scandinavia in Northern Germany, really surprise me.

24:16 And this one was it popped up on 3% from Congo in the Cameron?

24:25 Yeah, but my parents are dead. So I can't ask them how that happen. I suspect it comes from my mother's side. But then I've got a very uncomfortable question that arises in my mind. Did my ancestor, who was black in her into that relationship to give birth to?

24:49 One of my ancestors of their own free will.

24:53 Or was it was it a colonialist in the Congo? Which the French were in Congo?

25:03 It's very uncomfortable discussion.

25:16 And I think I figured it was had to be in the 1700. My mother wasn't, but my father was very, very, very prejudiced. I grew up hearing that a lot and it was only after I left. Then I went and saw these different cultures, is starting Dawning on me that our president is just really, doesn't fit in with my religious, to use for the reality of what I saw in the world, but I'd love to see my dad's face. If I had handed him that you

26:04 What do you think about? And I really want to call it set of race. Racism conversation? What what's your take on it?

26:23 For me, it was like I said, I didn't grow up around black people. I have one friend can't, we was black but we never, you know, I never really thought about it was just a start traveling and spending as much time as I did in other cities that really became problem. And I remember,

26:48 Having a young man work for me super super nice guy. And he drove his pride and joy, he had the most beautiful this beautiful. Audi sedan.

27:03 And he grew up on Compton and took advantage of Education educated himself out of that area. He was actually rapper in new, be people who started rap. Quincy Jones was apparently a father figure in this was when cell phones were

27:31 Oh, and he said, I'm going to be late. I'm pulled over right now. I'm driving back from Oklahoma. City is Monday morning, and I'm pulled over right now, but I'll be in as soon as I can. And when he came in 3 hours away.

27:53 You okay or no problems? You got to see. I just got pulled over by the. I got pulled over by the

28:03 Highway Patrol.

28:05 Oh, okay. You got a speeding ticket. He goes. No, didn't get speeding ticket for black and he goes. Oh, yeah, I didn't. I didn't get a ticket but I got pulled over because here I am a young black guy with a shaved head.

28:29 And he's pretty muscular to driving a brand, new Audi, whatever it was.

28:36 Across the state line from Oklahoma to Kansas.

28:40 And so we talked for a while and he started telling me, he does. Oh, yeah, I've been stalked for driving while black many times.

28:48 And he started telling me about growing up in LA.

28:52 And then, as I got,

28:55 Went through life. This most recent thing is one of my best friends that I was a mentor to the young black man.

29:06 Out Nashville.

29:08 And when all this was happening, I called him up and ask him what he thought about it. I won't tell you what, I quit running in the neighborhood. I live in and he lived in the same neighborhood as my nephew who lives out there very, very nice neighborhood. Cuz it's young black man is a very successful business. We joke about him someday. I need to be as short full and he said, I quit running in my neighborhood by and he said, because I had too many people looking at the windows with a pistol in their hand, after the black lives matter, and I was off and pushing the baby stroller with my son in it.

29:54 So, you know, I just it's hard for me to imagine what they've lived through and what their perspective is. And then when you reconcile it with the fact that

30:05 I'm 3% African in the Senate and who knows?

30:13 How that came about?

30:16 Yeah, the front from my perspective. I often feel that the

30:23 That I feel that it's

30:31 I think that everybody's overreacting, maybe that's the way to describe it, right that? But I again, if you're the one who's experiencing the, you know, that like you said, that, that kind of hate and stuff, then maybe you may be overreacting is not quite the right term, you know, but but from my perspective, I think there are

30:55 There's Miss. Listen to say, people are not so much overreacting but there's there's deep misunderstandings on both sides of the issue. You know, I think that from my perspective at least they're probably all kinds of systemic issues in in, you know, Police Department of Highway Patrol, whatever, right. Or, you know, schools. Are you you name a lot of biases that are like suit of embedded in the Inn on the fabric of those organizations in the system strength, but whenever I hear some African-American music that'll here often times whether to wrap or whatever in the message is so very depressing. I mean, it it's it's that the message is very

31:46 It's like a product of

31:50 The the culture in the world that I feel like, it's so much whether it's, you know, in the Bronx or Compton to wherever these places are, you know, I feel like there is a really really negative and and kind of bad culture. That's that exists, you know, somewhere so that I wouldn't feel comfortable being there in this place. Has a lot of times and not cuz I'm not going to the color people scared. But only because of the attitudes in the stuff that I hear coming from those areas, you know, in the same way that I would be afraid perhaps to be in some places in the Middle East or something. You do not now because I think that, you know, that nothing has a skin color, but because of like the perceived understanding I have a certain cultures, you know, part is that

32:40 I ate and I do feel like I judge people and I ate and I have some sort of you know Prejudice and maybe it's not the right word prejudice against cultures and I use the word culture, really kind of loosely to mean like any sort of the way people live in the world that they have in the way they can approach the world right now.

33:03 I do have prejudiced Against the World Views, but not so much skin color. So like there are plenty of people who I know who have black skin or white skin and whatever, kind of skin, who share a really similar world you in like it's really their white color. Like me there just like, you know, living their kind of their own little life, you know, they have their house. They have their kids the other dog have a job and that's kind of their thing. Right? And that's what those people are easy to get along with because they think like me, you know, is that the hard thing for me I think is when I go to other cultures in and I use that word Loosely like whether it's whether it's in the Bronx or somewhere and and there's, you know, that after crying or whatever like that. I don't like being around. People that I think are like, you know, sort of crime you do Tendencies towards crimes and stuff, right? Like

34:03 Sexually talk to me, call me. Right? If I don't feel threatened, like they're going to be no attack me or Rob me or something. Like, I'm happy to talk to anybody. But I do think that's what makes it so hard for my perspective. It's just that. I feel like there are lots of serious issues and cultural norms that are established in places. Like I said, you listen to rap or something. Often times that the message was in the song is very scary. I mean, I don't care who you are or what you know, whoever right like I don't care about your skin color, you're scaring me with your thoughts, you know, and the way that you're acting. So I don't know. That's my, that's my perspective. I feel like that the black lives matter is that

34:45 Is a movement that is it seems to be a little misunderstood, but I know that's why. I'm so this interesting for me to try to understand your perspective, the different direction. I'd say my closest.

35:15 Friends, I mean, it's like this young black man. His name is James. By the way, I love James like a son, really do and we he work for me. We work together. We did a lot of work together, but there was just something about him. That was so compelling. I'm as proud of him in his business accomplishments today. As I could have been, if I had

35:45 You know, provided the genetic material for it. And I have some other friends who are black, who I know, there's a lady who I just love. Like my like my sister. She's my same age and everything, and if you had asked me when I was 18, if I would ever have those experiences and I saw, so, I probably wouldn't have believed you, because I said that,

36:21 And his time with by, you know, I just kept reconciling the fact. Okay? Why would God, why would God make a different race?

36:37 Dad should be subjugated by another race. Just have a hard time believing that he would do. That wasn't about Conquest. Jesus wasn't about power. Jesus was about love and, you know, his stories.

37:00 You know, how it, how could I be a Christian and be prejudiced? I just, I found it. I had to choose thing I can under, I can't really understand their anger. I can, I can somewhat empathize with it. I can, I can say I, I understand it because it's never happened to me. I did have a couple instance in other countries, but they were minor compared with what it must be like to grow up.

37:40 With that in everything. So, you know, and the video of what police officer did to George. Floyd just angered me, sad me. So shocking. And if I had been in a culture that I would see so much of that, it would be very difficult for these turned into violent protest. But that seems like it's going going back the other way in perfect, you know, perpetuating the cycle. This time. Extensive, Kirk. I appreciate this time to speak. This is been a good conversation.

38:33 Anda.

38:35 And you know, we live in the same time. I'd love to get to know you and your family a little bit more in the end everything. Perhaps we could meet for a cup of coffee or better yet a beer.