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Colleagues of the Week: Cylee Gutting, Nirvair Khalsa, and Joy Lubeck

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Like quite a few people in Arizona, Cylee Gutting is a definite Red. He voted for Donald Trump in 2016. But today he votes for finding common ground. 

“I wanted to lead other Trump supporters by example so they would know about this way of discussing” is how he explains his decision to join and volunteer with Braver Angels. “As a Christian, I felt I had to lead with compassion and love.” 

One of Cylee’s two fellow state coordinators – Nirvair Khalsa – is as Blue as he is Red. She is a co-founder and co-leader of the year-old Tucson Alliance, and she has a multi- year track record propelling Braver Angels activities around and far beyond her metro area, fitting that work around her day job as the principal of a Montessori school. 

Nirvair has never met Cylee (pronounced “Ky-lee”) in person; he’s more than 100 miles north in the Phoenix metro area, where he’s a director of a political consultancy. But she can vouch for his outreach, his energy, and his strong connections to state government at multiple levels – all invaluable as Braver Angels intensifies its Braver Politics initiative this year. 

Nor has Nirvair met face-to-face with Joy Lubeck, the third state coordinator and an avowed Purple. (“If you focus on the [Red and Blue] boxes, then you just have those boxes,” explains Joy.) Joy dedicated a large part of her career at Thunderbird School of Global Management, and then 10 years ago launched her leadership coaching business- Lead Fully- A Human Centered Coaching Experience. She joined Braver Angels during the pandemic – as did Cylee – but has already hit the ground running, working closely with Cylee to lay the foundations of an alliance in the Phoenix metro and also to fire up interest in northern Arizona. 

Joy’s and Cylee’s involvement adds powerful momentum to what Nirvair and her colleagues have been doing from Tucson for some years now. “In 2019 we did about a dozen workshops: one Red/Blue, Depolarizing Within, and several Skills for Bridging the Divide. Documentary viewings were also well attended reaching more than 200 people in the Tucson area.” says Nirvair. She and her co-leaders have built the Tucson Alliance with strong foundations; it remains virtual while the pandemic persists, but it has two Red co-leaders – Jay McCall and Mark Lauterbach – together with Martin Hunke as the other Blue co-leader. “We’re meeting once a month online,” says Nirvair.

But Nirvair’s vision for Braver Angels in the Grand Canyon State transcends any one metro area. “I’m really excited about doing a statewide alliance,” she says. That vision is shared fully by her co-coordinators, who are likely to be co-leaders of such an effort. 

Crucially, all three share a bigger vision still: the value of leveraging all of the resources and support available from Braver Angels nationally. “The Braver Politics initiative is great,” says Nirvair. She adds that such national events make it easier for her team to stir up interest locally with e-mail outreach and sometimes by piggy-backing their own events on those piloted nationwide. 

“We always refer people to the [national] website; we’re always encouraging people to sign up for online workshops – especially those at a national level,” says Joy. “There’s so much information available to you.” There are many instances where individual Arizonans’ attendance at such nationwide events prompts them to contact an active Braver Angel in the state. 

That was the case in northern Arizona, where a woman who’d taken the organization’s moderator training reached out to Joy. So now there’s a burst of energy in the zip codes spanning Prescott – a particularly Red-leaning town – Flagstaff, home to Northern Arizona University, and Sedona, known for its scenic splendor and its New Age inclinations. 

There is discussion around involvement with Yavapai College, a multi-campus community college headquartered in Prescott which already hosts Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) events. “We definitely want to help our northern Arizona members,” confirms Cylee. “Maybe do a virtual meet-up soon, then maybe in-person before too long.” 

Concurrently, he and Joy will shortly be kicking off a formal alliance in greater Phoenix – a big deal since the city is the fifth most populous in the United States. And collectively, the three state coordinators have made connections with other organizations such as local chapters of the League of Women Voters, The Humanist Society, Rotary International, public libraries, and others. 

But doesn’t it mean a dilution of scarce resources if there’s a major push on local alliances while promoting a statewide alliance at the same time? 

Not at all. The three coordinators contend that Braver Angels’ growth in the state should – must – happen organically, and if that means building out a powerful metro-based group in one of America’s most populated towns as well as forging stronger connections across the whole state, that’s fine. Think of it as a portfolio approach, where the big idea is that the portfolio of “investments” gains when one soars even if others don’t do as well. 

And yet, for all of this buzz in Arizona, the three coordinators can’t hide their frustration that more Arizonans haven’t been stepping forward to help. If Joy and Cylee are to helm an alliance in Phoenix, they will need co-leaders to build the kind of bench strength now seen in Tucson. Even there, Martin Hunke ideally needs a successor since he is pulled in many other Braver Angels directions. 

Nirvair puts it this way: if someone else – anyone else in Arizona – can organize a workshop, she will almost certainly make herself available as a moderator. “Just invite me!” she says. Currently there is just one Zoom moderator in the whole state – and Nirvair isn’t it. Adds Joy: “We need younger people” – which is part of the reason she is helping push for links to colleges – the three state University campuses included. 

So this is your cue, Braver Angels in Arizona. As mentioned previously in this column, don’t think of your volunteering as a commitment for life. Even if it’s on a bite-sized, time-limited basis, or it’s to make a connection with a college or to pull into more Reds, your help will be very welcome. Just talk to Nirvair at nkhalsa@braverangels.org or Joy at joy@lead-fully.com or Cylee cgutting@braverangels.org.

Your help will go a long way to enabling Braver Angels to depolarize this country. Thanks in advance!

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