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Building Bridges of Trust With Youth

BJ Banks at the Radio Memphis Station, Memphis, 2020
Youthful spirit—BJ Banks at the Radio Memphis Station, Memphis, 2020. Photo by Dwayne Caudill.

The World Tribune spoke with BJ Banks, of Memphis, Tennessee, about how he builds platforms of dialogue and friendship to introduce young people to Buddhism.

World Tribune: Thank you, BJ, for speaking with us. We were encouraged to hear that you have a passion for sharing Nichiren Buddhism with others, especially young people. What motivates you to do so?

BJ Banks: I started practicing Buddhism as a young man 46 years ago. I’m now 69 years old. This practice is more important than anything else I have to do. No matter what bad decisions I made, I got through it because I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. I’ve received thousands of benefits. I became a professional recording artist, which I attribute to my Buddhist practice, and I still use music as a bridge to connect with others.

WT: Where do you meet young people?

Banks: I have a songwriters’ group that I use to give back to my community. Before the pandemic, I did shows and workshops and had my own radio show. Through that, I connected with and introduced many people to Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Three of them are now solidly practicing. I’m currently developing relationships with 25 to 30 others and sharing Buddhism with them.

WT: What do you feel is most important in introducing others to Buddhism?

Banks: People don’t want to be talked at. No one does. I use music as the starting point for the conversation. But I want to know who they are, what is important to them right now.

I really take time to get to know another person and listen to every word. It takes my own human revolution to do that. I have to dig deep down to make sure that I’m truly listening.

One of the things I see in young people is lack of confidence in themselves. They don’t know who they are and are unsure about their future. You have to find out: What are their fears? What are their concerns? What are their hopes?

I think a lot of the older members have forgotten how to sit around the campfire. How do we create common ground and build platforms where we can see eye to eye? How do we create a bridge that they are willing to cross? We have to lean in and listen to the young people.

WT: Is there an experience you can share?

Banks: There is a 17-year-old kid that I’ve been introducing for three years. He has cancer and other health challenges. He has been chanting for about a year and a half. His health is improving noticeably. It took me a year and a half to get him to trust me.

Whatever your strong suit is, that’s how you start building a bridge. I just tell young people, honestly, that there is no reason they can’t achieve what they want. They have to work for it, but they have the tools to do that. Chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is that tool.

My one neighbor, I talked to him every day for four years, and he finally received the Gohonzon. He’s gotten benefits all over the place! Another guy I’ve been introducing for six years, and he still chants.

I don’t give up on people. I let them know I care about them. I’ve had cancer for 12 years, but I’ve prolonged my life drastically. I share with them about my challenges and how I’m fighting.

WT: Has it been difficult to share Buddhism during the pandemic?

Banks: Not at all. I concentrate on what I have in front of me rather than what I don’t have. I make sure that COVID is not in my way. If you allow COVID to get in your way it will stay in your way. If you put COVID first before the Gohonzon, COVID wins. But, if you make the most important thing in your life to help yourself and help others, nothing can stand in your way.

For example, I make my rounds with the people who are already close to me. I ask myself, When was the last time I spoke to that person? Then I’ll contact them and say, “Hey let’s Zoom for a bit,” or call them on the phone. I check in on them and let them know I’ve been thinking about them and chanting for them. I ask them how they have been doing. And sometimes we don’t talk about Buddhism at all. What’s in front of me are the tools that I can use and take advantage of: the Gohonzon, the computer, the telephone and my house.

WT: Do you have any determinations for 2022, the Year of Youth and Dynamic Progress?

Banks: I will find somebody that wants to open up their life so I can tell them about Buddhism. I won’t try to strategize with logic. I chant to the Gohonzon and ask myself how I can expand the conversation with others.

I chant from my heart. I chant for my wife, kids, members and the local community. When I’m not being selfish and can think bigger than myself, I can chant more sincerely.

This year, I want to make everyone feel some hope about themselves.

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