Nikki Johnson-Huston on the courage to reach across the divide

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

Everything feels like it’s about to boil over right now. Everyone, every side, everything. Entrenched and stretched and tense. But my wonder, and yours, doesn’t stop: what’s your life like? What led you to you to the side you’re on? When things are so raw, and social media is full of vitriol, where can we begin? Where can hope for a more spacious vision for our world live without such basic conversations?

In the midst of those questions, I found Nikki Johnson-Huston. Meeting her was akin to looking into a better future. In our time of heightened polarization and division, great currency resides with leaders who can deeply empathize with people on different sides of the race, religious, gender, or political spectrum.

As a homeless child, Nikki was shuttled back and forth between the stability of her beloved Grandma, who, though very poor, had a strength of character that shaped young Nikki, to life with her mother, who struggled with addiction, unemployment, and homelessness.

Nikki went on to get a full scholarship to college and complete law school. Now, as a successful attorney, she’s beginning to speak of her wide-ranging life experiences. She embodies a rare, yet critical role as an ambassador between the working and middle class, a translator between liberals and conservatives, even a bridge between races.

Listen in as Nikki, who is featured regularly in both the The Huffington Post and on The O’Reilly Factor, discusses the tensions that she maneuvers. She wouldn’t want me to call it courage – words like that are reserved for heroes like her Grandma, she’d likely tell me. But it was an honor to listen to her wrestle with taking the leap from beloved advocate for the poor to being an emissary in the minefield of our nation’s most entrenched gulfs.

In this gorgeous, wandering, vulnerable conversation, much of it unrecorded, Nikki explores these penetrating themes. Afterwards, we ask each other: Do we dare to broach politics and race in just three minutes? Is that just an invitation for disaster? This work takes tremendous wisdom, care, and fortitude. But if anyone can rise to our society’s urgent, desperate call for bridge building, it’s Nikki.

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