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The Tour D'Angels

Over the past 16 months, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with some incredible people from around the country—first on the effort to migrate Braver Angels workshops from on-land to online, and more recently on refining our large-scale events and working with our development team to bring in the money to make our organization more effective.

I’ve also been building relationships with folks from all different walks of life, with many diverse perspectives, that have added greatly to my own understanding of the world. I can honestly say this feels like the most significant period of growth in my life, and that’s largely due to my deepening involvement with Braver Angels. Regardless of where my path takes me in the future, I’m certain that I’ll always be grateful for this time and these relationships.

As our country started to return to a semblance of normality, I felt a strong pull to set out on the open road and meet my fellow BA colleagues, most of whom I’ve known only through Zoom and email. I’m certainly not the only one; there are others in our organization who are taking trips to stay with their virtual friends. In fact, later this month, Steve Saltwick will set out from Austin, TX, to meet Lynn Heady in Nashville, TN, for the very first time. Many of those who’ve watched them—co-directors of our national field operations—build that extensive field organization together might be shocked to know that they’ve never so much as shaken hands.

When my brother announced that he’d be getting married this month, it gave me the perfect excuse to plan the epic Braver Angels road trip I’d envisioned. I’m writing this from McLean, VA, having just yesterday officiated his wedding in DC to my wonderful new sister-in-law, but also in the thick of a 17-day swing across the Southeast and up the Eastern Seaboard, a veritable Tour D’Angels.

In fact I began my journey with a flight from Southern California to Nashville, to stay with Lynn and Ron Heady, both of whom I’ve worked with for the online transition. While there I also got to meet Catherine Clark, one of our early online moderators, and we all got to see an incredible TEDxNashville talk on Bridging Divides.

I then set out for Pendleton, SC, to stay with Del Kimbler—another early partner in our online work, and manager of our complex Zoom account—and his wife Andi. A day later I embarked on an extensive swing across North Carolina, first visiting Tom Daily—an online moderator and Zoom event manager—and his wife Martha Ann, in Asheville.

From there I drove through Gastonia, outside Charlotte, where I got to meet Jennifer Stepp, a city council member there who was an early booster of Braver Angels in the region and a long-running member of our leadership council, and then on to the Triangle area, which includes the university towns of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

I stayed with Jack Denniston—who worked as a key national event organizer—in Chapel Hill, and then with Julie Boler—our national community relations manager—and her husband William, in Raleigh. I also got to attend the first in-person gathering of the Central NC alliance.

On my way to DC I dropped by Norfolk, VA, to see our CTO, Andrew Stillman, and arrived in Chevy Chase, MD, just in time for a big gathering of “DMV area” (DC, MD & VA) BA folks hosted by Reena Bernards and Tom Smerling—whom I also worked with on the online transition—staying with them that night. I’ll be rounding out the trip with a visit to New York, where I grew up, and a chance to meet Eduardo Andino, or new director of development, and to reunite with CMO Ciaran O’Connor, administrative director Hillary Luehring-Jones, and president David Blankenhorn.

Throughout this trip I’ve been having a number of fascinating conversations about the work of Braver Angels and the principles on which we’re built, and it’s a pleasure to talk to people face-to-face, not mediated by technology and distance.

But it was standing in Jack’s lovely wooded backyard in Chapel Hill, hanging out with his super-affectionate dog Chloe, where it really occurred to me the value of this sort of trip. Jack had just told me about his search for a home on that sort of property, given his love of the outdoors, and hiking in particular, and I realized what a privilege it was to see him in his natural habitat. I could see the choices he’d made for himself and his family up close, and get a much better sense of what he values, and why.

As I’ve continued to grow as a person, especially over the past year, I’ve gained a much better appreciation for understanding the often-hidden worlds of the people around me, including the surroundings that shape their experiences and their perspectives. And I feel like this trip is emblematic of the larger journey that has brought me to a place in my life that is more meaningful and joyful than I’d ever imagined.

If you’re excited about the kind of benefit that you can experience from a broader range of perspectives in your life, and you haven’t yet joined Braver Angels, we would love to have you as a member. And you can go further, by getting involved as a volunteer, where relationships can deepen significantly, even if just through Zoom. 

As our world continues to reopen to us, and we once again have the opportunity to connect with one another in person, I encourage you all to reach out—safely—to all those you can, to create new connections, and deepen existing ones, which for me is what Braver Angels is truly about.

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