Our Story

Building a House United

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

"The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion."

Abraham Lincoln


The Challenge: Political Polarization

Politics is tough. It always has been. American politics is competitive, thrilling, frustrating – and infuriating. The stakes are high. Issues are important. Outcomes matter. This is why we care, and should care, about our politics.

But do our politics have to be demonizing? Does it have to bring out the worst in us? Do our politics have to destroy the goodwill of our society?  Is the dehumanizing of our fellow Americans something we should accept?

Affective political polarization (not only disagreement on issues but personal contempt and distrust) has been growing between us for at least 25 years. In other words the vitriol in American politics was a problem long before Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election.

Yet today, there is evidence to suggest that we are now as polarized as we have been since the Civil War. We are in what some are calling a “cold civil war” right at the moment when a spreading pandemic, vast economic trouble, and other national and global challenges call upon us to support each other like never before.

We do not accept this. 

At Braver Angels we do not accept this division. We reject the normalizing of this extreme polarization. We say no to the break down of political and social life that it brings. 

Our work is about restoring civic trust in the USA. It is about healing the wounds between left and right. It is about challenging institutions to be better, building community together, and discovering what it means to be American in our time. 

Our work is about supporting a more perfect union. Our work is about inspiring the beloved community. 

At Braver Angels, our work is about building a house united.

We haven’t reached the point of violence and chaos – yet. But surely in our increasingly and dangerously fractured nation, we all need to be touched by something “better” within us and within the institutions that we build together.

A Braver Beginning

December 2016: America had suffered through the most divisive election in our history. A couple days later author David Blankenhorn called family research scholar David Lapp of Ohio asking if he could bring a handful of local Trump supporters and Clinton supporters together for a weekend. Professor Bill Doherty, noted family therapist and community organizer, developed a structure and program for the unlikely gathering… 

With passions still high following the election we assembled 10 Trump supporters and 11 Clinton supporters in South Lebanon, Ohio. This would become our first Red/Blue Workshop. The goal was simple. We needed to see if Americans could still disagree respectfully – and just maybe, find common ground. Some thought it wasn’t likely.

We proved our skeptics wrong.

Republican and Democrat, native born and immigrant: these Americans liked each other. But first they had to hear one another’s stories. Black and white, Christian and Muslim: these Americans could appreciate each others opinions. But first they needed to see where these opinions came from. They could listen to each others points of view once they saw one another, not as stereotypes, but as neighbors in a country they shared. 

The first gathering was successful. Everyone agreed: this needed to be just the beginning. 

And it was. This was the beginning of the organization originally called Better Angels, and of a powerful new approach to political depolarization that would soon sprout across the country.

In South Lebanon, Ohio the first Better Angels Alliance was born. National Public Radio discovered our efforts and dedicated an hour-long segment to covering our work. 

The word spread. We began receiving emails from people across the country asking, “Can you please come to my community?”

Meanwhile, the divisions in the nation rose. Against the backdrop of demonstrations in the streets, bitter fighting in congress, national uproar over healthcare, immigration and gun control, and irresponsible pundits and politicians inflaming the discourse at every turn, Better Angels took action.  

Responding to popular demand we launched a summer bus tour, starting in Waynesville, Ohio, and ending in Philadelphia, PA. A fall tour followed, starting in Washington, DC running through North Carolina and ending in Nashville. We held workshops, trained over 100 workshop moderators, built friendships and changed lives. By the end of 2017 our members and volunteers stretched across the country.

In 2018 our work only grew. We launched The Better Angels Podcast — now know as The Braver Angels Podcast interviewing leading voices from the left and the right and changing the conversation online. We expanded to college campuses, held our first national convention, and were featured regularly in the press across the country.

By 2019 it was clear – Better Angels was at the head of a movement not just to depolarize politics, but to re-imagine what it means to be an American.

In early 2020, in the midst of our divisions, the U.S. was confronted with the COVID-19 Pandemic. Around the same time, Better Angels amicably concluded settlement negotiations related to a trademark dispute. In short – we needed to a find a new name.

Braver Angels was inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln, who not only called on Americans to summon the “better angels” of our nature — but called on us to find the courage needed to pursue a more perfect union, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right.”

To meet the current moment, at this time of national crisis, we need more than civility. We need bravery.

Our Approach

Braver Angels seeks to depolarize American politics. Our work is rooted in grassroots organizing. From the grassroots however, our volunteer leaders (supported by a small staff) leverage Braver Angels programs and unique organizing structure to impact community life and American institutions.

Specifically, our efforts are focused on:

  • Grassroots
  • Academia
  • Media
  • Politics & Government
The root of our organizing, however, begins in the transformation of our attitudes towards each other. The foundation of all our activities is what we refer to as patriotic-empathy: the idea that our love for our country is shown by our concern for our fellow citizens.

If feelings about our political adversaries can be represented on a spectrum, our objective is to move Americans from hatred or disdain to respect & appreciation. (See diagram below.)

Our approach is guided by the Braver Angels Pledge:

  • As individuals, we try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.
  • In our communities, we engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.
  • In politics, we support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.
 

 

The Emotional and Intellectual Transformation of De-Polarization

From our board of directors to our staff, workshop participants, and funding sources, we are balanced between liberals and conservatives. We call it the Braver Angels Rule: At every level of leadership we are half red and half blue. Our leaders and members range from working class to affluent, and come from many backgrounds, so that our organization can reflect the country we seek to serve.

How We Are Funded

Our primary source of funds comes from membership fees from individual Americans who believe in the mission of Braver Angels and who want to make a difference.

Sources of Funding

Our Red/Blue rule applies to our funding sources as well as our leadership. In other words, we strive for roughly equal funding from foundations that are considered to be more liberal or progressive, and those foundations that are more closely associated with conservative causes.

How We Use the Funds

Braver Angels is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Roughly half of our budget goes to  our paid staff. The other half goes to support our various programs, including Red/Blue workshops, skills training, Braver Angels debates and our Braver Angels media.

Why Funding is Needed

We strive to reflect the demographic composition of the United States, both politically and economically. We keep our dues very low so that anyone can afford to join Braver Angels, enjoy the benefits of membership and make a difference.

Braver Angels also draws funding from foundations across the political spectrum. Our 990 Forms – the annual IRS-required “Returns of Organizations Exempt from Income Tax” – filed as Institute for American Values, are the most detailed reports of our yearly expenditures and sources of income.  These reports are publicly available online at www.guidestar.org.

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Our Leadership

David Blankenhorn

President & Co-Founder

David Blankenhorn is the founder and president of the Institute for American Values as well as the President and one of the founders of Braver Angels.  He is also the author of Fatherless America and The Future of Marriage.

Bill Doherty

Co-Founder

William J. Doherty is Professor and Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the Department of Family Social Science, College of Education and Human Development, at the University of Minnesota, where he is also an adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

David Lapp

Co-Founder

David Lapp was an Affiliate Scholar at the Institute for American Values, and co-investigator of the Love and Marriage in Middle America Project, a qualitative research inquiry into how working-class young adults form relationships and families.

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Ciaran O'Connor

Chief Marketing Officer

Ciaran O’Connor is a digital and communications strategist who previously served on the 2012 Obama campaign and the 2016 Clinton campaign. He holds a BA in public policy from Duke University.

Donna Murphy

Lead Organizer

Donna Nielsen Murphy has lived on the east coast, Midwest, and west coast, and for nine years in Japan and South Korea. She has worked as an economist in both the public and private sector, most recently at the U.S. State Department, and is the author of three books.

John Wood, Jr.

Director of Public Outreach

John Wood, Jr. is a national leader for Braver Angels, a former nominee for congress, former Vice-Chairman of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County and a noted writer and speaker of issues political and racial reconciliation.

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Rachel Weinstein

Chief Development Officer

With training in computer science, Rachel Weinstein has had extensive professional experience in fundraising, technology, and organizational growth. She’s held senior positions at several non-profits and founded three companies. As CDO,  she directs Braver Angels’ fundraising activities.

Julie Boler

Director of grants and major gifts

Julie Boler is a writer, community organizer, and veteran of nonprofit management.  An interest in civil discourse led her to Braver Angels as political polarization in the U.S. reached a crisis point.  After a grant writing internship in 2019, Julie signed on to lead national development efforts.

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Hillary Luehring-Jones

Director of Administration

Hillary Luehring-Jones is a graduate of Connecticut College, where she studied film and digital media. Before joining Braver Angels, Hillary was an event planner working specifically with nonprofit organizations, and later wrote for a popular news website.

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Richard Stoff

Senior Advisor

Richard Stoff is founder and retired president of the Ohio Business Roundtable, having served five governors and hundreds of corporate CEOs over 25 years to foster innovation, improve competitiveness and Ohio’s quality of life. Previously, he was a Partner in the worldwide management consulting practice of Ernst & Young. 

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Lynn Heady

Alliance Coordinator

Lynn Heady is a life-long educator with her degree in Curriculum.  She served as Curriculum Director in two public school districts, and also helped design and direct a world-class preschool while teaching graduate-level curriculum courses both on land and online.

Steve Saltwick

Alliance Coordinator

Steve Saltwick is a bio-psychologist whose career took a path through high-tech on six continents. He studies the guiding principles of the mammalian brain especially as it relates to artificial intelligence. He has published in SCIENCE but prefers to dote on his first grandchild and two border collies.

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Randy Lioz

Director of online experience

Randy Lioz studied economics at Duke and earned a business degree at Michigan. He has several other roles at Braver Angels, including state coordinator, moderator, writer and social media manager. He worked in the auto industry for over 15 years before joining the organization.

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April Larson

Director of Debates

April Lawson grew up in Kansas, studied anthropology at Yale, and now lives in Washington, D.C. with her dog June. She worked for David Brooks at The New York Times for 4 years and previously served as the Associate Director of Weave: The Social Fabric Project at the Aspen Institute.

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Del Kimbler

Associate Director of Debates

Del Kimbler is Emeritus Professor of Industrial Engineering at Clemson University. A graduate of University of South Florida and Virginia Tech, he is a Fellow of the Institute of Industrial and System Engineers. He enjoys international travel and life in the South Carolina foothills.

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Sage Snider

Director of Cultural Engagement

Sage Snider is a performer, songwriter, and music historian based in Nashville, TN— where she performs with artists across the political spectrum. She began bringing arts and politics together by designing a “Music and Democracy in Ancient Greece” program for the Yale University Art Gallery. She later ran a Civil War music program for the Smithsonian of American History. After attending a 2017 Better Angels workshop, she was inspired to write and tour a benefit show for them.

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Randy Freeman

Moderator Call Coordinator

Randy Freeman is a practicing Psychotherapist. She had been the Braver Angels state coordinator in NJ and recently became one of the NY coordinators. A member since 2016, she has moderated many red/blue workshops and skills workshops and co-hosts monthly moderator calls. 

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Tom Smerling

Moderator Call Coordinator

Tom Smerling worked for over 30 years on public policy. A native Minnesotan, Tom worked for Minneapolis Mayor Donald Fraser, and later held positions at the American Enterprise Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. He was the founding director of an NGO devoted to advancing Arab-Israeli negotiations, sponsoring Arab-Jewish dialogue and building support for U.S. mediation. Subsequently, he worked on ocean policy at NOAA and on climate communication. Tom and his wife live outside Washington, DC.

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Dee Endelman

Moderator Orientation Call Coordinator

Dee Endelman lives in Seattle, WA and has a Masters Degree in Organizational Development from Antioch University.  Before retiring, she worked on the people side of business for 40 years, first as a Human Resources executive,  and then as a group facilitator, trainer and leadership coach. 

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Bruce France

Organizer Call Coordinator

After graduating Springfield College,
Bruce France spent 40 years in business. Positions included sales, operations, management and a five-year stint running his own retail store. He is now in a second career as Executive Director for the Capital Area Council of Churches in Albany, NY.

Ron Heady

Ron Heady

Organizer Call Coordinator

Ron Heady taught in public schools for many years, primarily high school English and Latin. Since leaving the face-to-face classroom, Ron has continued teaching in various online environments , volunteers with a social justice advocacy group in Nashville, TN, and has become active in Braver Angels as a moderator in both on ground and online workshops.

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Barbara Boldt Brown

Barb Brown

State Coordinator Call Coordinator

After her life as a homemaker changed, Barbara Boldt Brown spent six years selling cars before buying and operating several child development schools. She then worked with a school district doing parenting and prenatal training along with home visits. Now she is a middle school substitute and is pursuing an M.A.

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Mark Beckwith

Partnerships Coordinator

Mark Beckwith is the retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark (NJ), and now serves as the Bishop Liaison for Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a network of 100 bishops.  He is co-host of A Matter of Faith  on NJ Public Television, and is also a spiritual director and a life coach.  

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Glenn Stanton

Partnerships Coordinator

Glenn T. Stanton is the director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of nine books, senior contributor to the Federalist blog and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the world.

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Paul Kuhne

Evaluation and Data Analytics Coordinator

Paul Kuhne works as the Roundtables Programs Manager at the Center for Open Data Enterprise, convening different stakeholders to identify best practices to improve open data use. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Temple University and an M.A. in Global Policy Studies at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Board of Directors

Hunter Baker
Associate Professor of Political Science, Union University

David Blankenhorn
President, Braver Angels

Raina Sacks Blankenhorn
Writer

Mark Boyd
Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia

Francis Fukuyama
Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University

Jonathan Haidt
NYU Stern School of Business and Author of “The Righteous Mind”

JoAnn Luehring
Roberts and Holland, LLP

Kouhyar Mostashfi
Senior Software Engineer, CSRA

Katherine Novokov
Executive Board Member & Former CEO, Diamond Mind Co-Founder, DMBS Holdings

Glenn T. Stanton
Director, Family Formation Studies and Strategic Development, Focus on the Family

Thomas K. Sylvester
Chairman

State Coordinators

Click the name of any individual state coordinator to contact them

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Paul Norris
Southern California
Randy Lioz

California
Steve Taddei

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District of Columbia

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Randy Freeman (all inquiries)
Eric Steinlauf

North Carolina

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Ohio

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Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

North, Panhandle and West (includes Dallas, El Paso and Amarillo)
George Bouhasin
Central and South (includes Austin and San Antonio)
Steve Saltwick

Upper Gulf Coast and East (includes Houston and Beaumont)
Steve Saltwick

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

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