The Bell Brings Colorado Communities Together

By Heather O’Brien
President of Mesa Valley Education Association
Grand Junction, Colorado

At the end of July, I attended a meeting hosted by the Bell Policy Center. As president of a local teachers’ association, I probably should have been aware of this thinktank, but wasn’t, so I didn’t really know what I was attending. Primarily on my mind were the mill levy, bond issue, and three school board seats which would be on the ballot in November, so I figured if this was an opportunity to garner support, I’d attend.

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Around the tables sat community leaders, chamber of commerce leaders, former politicians, one school board member, and me — an English teacher now working as a local association president. From the people in attendance who I did know, I could see both sides of the political aisles were represented as well as various industries and interest groups.

A lot of interesting information was presented and I could quickly see the value of the work of the Bell, as well as the value in getting community members together to consider viable solutions for their state and local environment.

Bridging The Gap With The Bell

Then it happened — the moment I’m always prepared for in public settings. Someone from our community made a negative and misinformed comment about our school district and the teacher’s union. While my natural inclination was to fire back at the speaker, I noted November’s election would be better served if I remained calm. I gently corrected the speaker’s misinformation, and told him we should go have coffee and talk.

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After the forum was over, he approached me, gave me his card, asked for mine and agreed we should meet. Over coffee, we realized we graduated from the same local high school, and adored the same English teachers and Shakespeare. We shared our favorite poets. We also talked about public education (the goods, the bads) and local politics (the goods, the bads). While our respective R-ness and D-ness was apparent, what was more apparent was when two humans sit down for coffee with respect and interest, delightful relationships can be ignited.

I can’t recall all of the information presented in the Bell forum that day, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity to sit at a table with other humans in my community and talk about our shared goals and dreams for our valley. That’s magic in this day of polarization and entrenched ideology. It’s as simple as offering your card and sharing coffee.

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