Colleague of the Week: Jeannie Burrus

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Jeannie Burrus is a master of time management. She has to be, as a single mom with a busy professional career and an array of commitments to Braver Angels, to her church, and to herself. 

And therein lies a lesson for every Braver Angel – every volunteer anywhere, in fact — who feels they’re approaching the point of burnout or might soon be if they say yes to one more project. Few people can contribute for long to an organization they intend to help unless they stay healthy and balanced themselves. 

“I’m still pretty guarded about what I attend,” explains Jeannie, who leans Red. “I attend all of our local Braver Angels activities here in Arkansas but not generally the national stuff. I’ve been a single mom since 2009 when my husband died, and evenings and weekends have been the only times to do what I need to do in my life. I was very upfront with [state co-coordinator] Glen White about that. When I help with things, I’ll give 100%; I will give quality but not necessarily quantity.” 

“One of the things we’ve found most successful is when people share personal stories of why they feel the way they
do about a particular topic.”

And give she does. Jeannie jokingly calls herself “the flunky” – not only being the point person for Braver Angels at the Central Arkansas Library System where she manages programs for adults and is the assistant manager for patron services, but also in doing whatever Braver Angels needs to have done. That means everything from providing feedback on Zoom presenters and acting as a Zoom participant manager to participating as a designated Red volunteer in a breakout group. 

As a professional with a master’s in library science, she has also researched and distributed left-leaning, center, and right-leaning articles to inform those tasked with taking positions about various topics for Braver Angels debates.   

Her involvement goes back to 2018 when she met with Glen; he, with other Arkansas Braver Angels, sought to use the library’s facilities to run a program. Jeannie facilitated the space; she read a little about Braver Angels, attended the event, and was hooked. She has nothing but high praise for Glen – “he’s been the anchor; if he didn’t help to the extent that he has done, I would have quit,” she says – as well as for David Childs, Glen’s Red counterpart at the state level. 

Yet Jeannie has found more ways to give to the organization while staying whole. About five months ago, she stepped up to become the Red co-chair for the Braver Angels Central Arkansas (BACA) alliance. To a large extent, her new role is a continuation of her prior one, since the BACA group is fairly lightly structured. But it enables her to see other needs – the need for the alliance to hire her Blue counterpart, for instance – and to act on other initiatives that can further the Braver Angels cause in Arkansas. 

One of those initiatives: a possible tie-up with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, a non-profit whose vision is “… a future where every person is empowered to bring their unique perspective to bear on the most monumental of challenges and participate in the search for solutions.” 

Another initiative: Arkansas Table Talk, a program that Jeannie started with the goal of pulling in more potential members around political topics of local interest, beginning with a Zoom event on homelessness. But the second program in the series didn’t do so well, attracting a tiny handful of participants to discuss government roles and actions in a pandemic.   

“We need more relationship-building activities. They don’t have to be so tight and formal; they can be just low-key social settings,
like going out for pizza.” 

Jeannie cannot explain – as nobody can, really – why such events don’t take off. The topic? The timing? The general anxiety in post-Covid times when part of the world is at war? She is quite sure of one factor, though: “People are getting burned out doing things on Zoom,” she says. 

Her response: Braver Angels needs to get back to in-person meetings as much as is humanly possible. “I don’t want to have to sit in front of a screen again after work. We need more relationship-building activities. They don’t have to be so tight and formal; they can be just low-key social settings, like going out for pizza.” 

Jeannie extends that philosophy to content formats as well. “One of the things we’ve found most successful is when people share personal stories of why they feel the way they do about a particular topic,” she explains. “Unless you’re a frigid robot, there’s going to be a human connection that will make it easier to find common ground.” 

All of which, in Jeannie’s mind, comes together to call for a more human, less process-driven approach to events that make them more intrinsically alluring for Americans. “You are always competing with whatever else is going on in the community,” she says. 

It’s not just that people have plenty of other things to do. Jeannie’s point is that people are simply exhausted by Covid, by political partisanship, by the great rifts over issues such as abortion and gun control and police conduct, and so they gravitate toward anything neutral and light – a movie, a baseball game, yoga classes – that will get their minds off of the big macro worries. In times like these, people don’t just need solace – they need community, and contact. “They’re just trying to reconnect with whatever, whether that’s their faith, or their community, or getting out in nature,” says Jeannie. 

Beyond that, she contends that Braver Angels should be forging closer partnerships with many of the other non-profits that are also set up to resist and ideally reverse polarization in all its forms. Jeannie is a big believer in strength in numbers. 

Meanwhile, she takes every opportunity to get more people involved in Braver Angels – “taking it to the streets,” as she puts it. And she herself is looking forward to the prospect of an in-person convention for the entire Braver Angels community some time in 2023 – a gathering she believes would inject a huge boost of energy into the organization. “That’s something I would take time off work for. It would be a high priority for me!” 

You and so many other Braver Angels, Jeannie Burrus!

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