10 Important Lessons We Learned From 10 Interesting People We Met in 2020

(from top left to bottom) Comedians Bassem Youssef and George "Redd Speaks" Rojas, actor Stephen Tobolowsky, Afiya Center executive director Marsha Jones and artist Molly Sydor said things this past year that you should hear, uh read.
(from top left to bottom) Comedians Bassem Youssef and George "Redd Speaks" Rojas, actor Stephen Tobolowsky, Afiya Center executive director Marsha Jones and artist Molly Sydor said things this past year that you should hear, uh read. Jane Goodall/Dale Fields/David Carlson/Jonathan Armstrong/Rachell Mathews
One of the perks of working for the Dallas Observer is getting to meet interesting people, and pretty much every encounter gives us a nugget of wisdom that has the potential to change the course of our beliefs.

2020 has been a dark year, and we've all been waiting for the sun to come out again, so we thought we'd take a look back at some of our favorite interviews from local, national and even global culture contributors over the past year and pull out something from each one that we call all learn from and use to make 2021 a better year for everyone.

1. Mentalist David Magee
North Texas' most famous mentalist brought his Las Vegas spectacular to The Fort Worth Club last fall, and he knows something about the human mind. He has to, because magic isn't real. Don't get mad at us. Magee said that.

Since there's no magic involved, that means Magee is a master of reading people — especially when they aren't talking. That's important to remember when the bulk of our conversations happen online.

2. HGTV's Grace Mitchell
The Fort Worth designer and star of HGTV's One of a Kind has spent her life seeking a way to harness her unique creativity — from her writing to the designs she concocts for her show. The path she took to get there is just as unrefined as the pattern on some of her wallpaper choices.

Mitchell started out as a blogger, writing about design and style for her own site, A Storied Style, and as a freelancer for outlets such as Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living. There isn't just one way to get there, and sometimes it takes more than one way to do it.

3. Comedian George "Redd Speaks" Rojas
2020 may have been a rotten year for you, but chances are it wasn't "going to prison" bad. The Dallas-Fort Worth comedian had a year like that. Well, technically, it was 10 months with time off for good behavior.

A couple of friends pranked Rojas in 2018 by staging a fake arrest on stage at the Arlington Improv. Rojas said at the time that he thought it might be real because he had some unpaid parking tickets. He was actually wanted at the time by the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office for driving while intoxicated while on felony charges he committed 10 years before then. Rojas says he realized after the prank he didn't want to spend his life in fear of being caught and prolonging his fate, so he turned himself in a week later and served his time.

4. Artist Molly Sydnor
The Wisconsin-born artist who created a showstopper in "Temporal Jungle," a Sweet Tooth Hotel installation, has struggled with identity and a heart condition that doctors discovered while she was recovering from a car accident when she was 17. She's also queer and biracial, so she says she "always had to explain" who she was to people who only chose to see her based on their preconceptions.

The work of art featured last year at the Sweet Tooth Hotel explores her memories and struggles while trying to determine her identity, one she still hasn't exactly solved. She learned and expresses through her art that no one can define another person's identity.

5. Actor Stephen Tobolowsky
The Dallas native and star of the small and big screen restarted his storytelling podcast The Tobolowsky Files after a three-year absence when he began writing again to maintain his sanity while in quarantine. It's one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic.

The stories may sound disconnected, but Tobolowsky says he learned that connectivity that runs through the whole of humanity thanks to a dream he had that he later learned was also described in a book by Carl Jung. The pandemic also forced him to face his own mortality again; these epiphanies led to an important observation about the magic of storytelling.

6. Reality Show Star Chris Sapphire
The star of the isolating Netflix reality show The Circle had a lot of time to think while he was stuck in an apartment and away from other human beings who may or may not have been catfishing him to win the grand prize.

It turns out that being isolating was also a good way to prepare for the radioactive landfill that was this year. He had a simple strategy for navigating such a brain-taxing challenge, and it's a good strategy to have even if you're not competing in a televised endurance contest.

7. Comedian Bassem Youssef
The Egyptian heart surgeon turned TV star and satirist, who fled to the U.S. to escape a military dictatorship, knows the power satire can wield in the face of authority. It can, at the very least, serve as a rallying cry to people who feel oppressed and frustrated.

Youssef told us that satire, however, isn't enough to create change. It's only effective if it gets you to move and help create the change that needs to happen.

8. Former Cowboys Cheerleader Hopeful Meagan Pravden
Beauty standards can be unreasonably high even in this woke day and age, and few people know the toll they can take on a person's psychology than cheerleaders. Sadly, it's one of the few professions left where a woman's weight can determine her employment status.

The former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader hopeful has the unfortunate distinction of being criticized for the way she looks on national television when she appeared on an episode of the CMT documentary series Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team. Her experience caused her immense emotional pain that she's still trying to unravel. Six years later, she posted a photo on her Instagram page that showed the degrading experience and wrote about how it made her feel. The post went viral and the responses showed she wasn't the only person made to feel by others that their appearance determined their worth.

“Your best physical shape can look different than someone else’s, and that is what I want to see change." Meagan Pravden

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9. Cartoonist Christina Moreland
The artist behind the uplifting and insightful comic strip Daily Tips for a Better Quality of Life uses her cartoon drawings to assault ignorance and improve humanity. She's also doing it in a place that could use something positive: social media.

Moreland's cartoon series' Instagram account offers simple but important messages about acceptance, empowerment and determination.

10. Afiya Center's Marsha Jones
The conversation that needed to be started long before the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer reminded America that racial discrimination is far from dead. For some misguided folks, the conversation drew new lines between people who are more connected than they'd admit or even realize.

The executive director of The Afiya Center reminded us why understanding each other can still be a struggle. 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.