On Tuesday, Transylvania University President Brien Lewis welcomed the mayors of Lexington and Somerset to campus as they helped announce the kickoff of a national discussion aimed at fighting toxic polarization in the United States. Meeting of America will first launch in Kentucky this fall, charting the path for the rest of the country.
Meeting of America, according to its press release, is an endeavor to decrease painful, dangerous division by gathering individuals from all backgrounds and beliefs to recognize shared humanity, values and concerns. Following a series of conversations, participants will be encouraged and equipped to work together to fix things they broadly agree are broken.
The first project of its kind, with partners ranging from Stanford University to Liberty University, MoA uses a custom online video platform and guide to enable real, respectful conversations designed to inspire and unite Americans. Participants are assigned to optimally diverse, small groups based on factors such as age, race, geography and political perspective. National corporate sponsors include Walmart, Target, McDonald’s, Harley-Davidson, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Twitter, Petco, Boston Beer Company and others.
MoA invited hundreds of people from these supporting partner organizations to pilot the experience late last year, and the positive impact was striking. Scientific measurements taken before and after the experience found particularly strong improvement on affective polarization, anger and empathy. Additionally, 100% of participants felt heard, 97% were inspired to bring others to participate and 80% wanted to take action together.
Colene Elridge ’05 was one of the participants in the pilot. Elridge, who is the current chair of Transylvania’s Board of Regents, says she found the discussion encouraging.
“Right now, it’s easier than ever to let our differences divide and define us. Differences can be scary without understanding, and Meeting Of America is an easy way to start,” Elridge said. “I loved that I got to meet people who live close to me but have very different life experiences than I do. You can start to see where those similarities are.”
“What was even greater, was that it wasn’t about politics at all. It was about life, who you are, what’s shaped you and what you value moving forward. I left my conversation wanting to know more and wanting to connect with them again. Meeting Of America is a great start to creating solutions to bring us more together, and I want to be a part of the solution, and not the problem,” she added.
All Kentuckians, including Transylvania community members, 18 and older are invited to sign up now for small group conversations, which will take place in October.
According to its organizers, MoA offers those who are concerned about division in America an easy, accessible way to listen with curiosity, speak from their own experience and connect with respect. Ultimately, Kentuckians will have a chance to work together to fix things they broadly agree are broken and illuminate for the rest of the nation a better path forward together.
If successful in Kentucky, Meeting of America plans to launch its effort across the U.S.
“From Lexington’s urban centers to the rural areas of Eastern Kentucky, we want to give Kentuckians a chance to show up for each other and fight back against those dividing us,” said Julie Babbage, MoA Kentucky director. “The first step to taking our power back is talking to each other. Focusing on our shared identity as Kentuckians — and Americans — we’ll uncover similar goals and values, speak openly and be quick to listen rather than attack each other. It all starts with bringing your voice to one conversation, and I’m excited for my home state to show America how it’s done.”
More information, including a one-minute promotional video and experience demo, can be found at meetingofamerica.us.