Two best friends from New York state wanted to start a dialogue in their community following the death of George Floyd, which sparked . Benjamin Smith, who is white, and Marcus Ellis, who is black, set up some lawn chairs, opened some beers, and invited others over to chat.
The friends put signs in front of Smith's Pittsford house that read: "Black or white, relax and have a beer."
Smith, a Marine, and Ellis come from very different backgrounds, but they became friends after meeting at work, building cellphone towers together. "Batman and Robin, exactly what it is," Ellis told CBS Rochester, New York, affiliate WROC-TV. "I think we're just goofy, silly, and like to have fun. We don't care what people say."
For both men, the recentand the protests that followed struck a chord. "I fought for a free America, a just America," Smith said. "When I heard about the George Floyd incident, it really, really upset me. That's not what I fought for."
"Another one down. It's pretty sad," Ellis said. "People have a right to protest, people have a right to share their voice, but there's a right way going about things, and a wrong way going about things."
So, the friends decided to do something small, yet powerful. They put out the signs asking people to join their conversation — and many from their neighborhood showed up.
The image of a white man and a black man sharing a beer spread on social media, and they received thousands of reactions. "It's insane," Smith said of the widespread attention. "It's such a cool feeling that we're making such a big impact across the community, and what seems to be across the U.S."
"It's awesome," Ellis said. "It feels so great."
One of the many people who heard about the men's story was country star Brad Paisley. He couldn't show up for the conversation in person, but he did speak to the men via Zoom, according to WROC.
Before he joined the video conference, the singer sent Smith and Ellis hundreds of dollars worth of beer for their community chat. Paisley bought out all of the the Budweiser and Bud Light at a nearby store.
"Man, I am so thrilled to meet you, face to face like this," Paisley said during the Zoom call. "I'm so inspired by you, and we thought we should deliver more beer than you could possibly drink."
While drinking beer outside together is fun, Smith, Ellis and Paisley didn't lose sight of the initial reason behind their conversation. "I'm trying to hear out my friends in the black community, that's what you guys are doing together, [it's] the same thing," Paisley told the men. "I'm all ears, always have been. I've had big ears my whole life," he joked.
Ellis said Paisley's call meant a lot. Smith even got emotional talking about it: "Through the rioting and protests, I felt like I was being torn apart, and it was rough ... And this is what builds it back up."