By: Rebecca Saltman Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration
Have you ever seen someone on TV and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to know that person and have that person in my life?” Such was my experience when I was watching the show CBS Sunday Morning. As I watched the story of the 50 in 52 Journey unfold, I learned of a single mother who traveled across all 50 states in 52 weeks. It highlighted her journey, “To find the people who are moving America forward; to share and celebrate the incredible ways in which ordinary people do extraordinary things every day; and to bring together both problems and solutions with idea-generators and problem-solvers.”
As the story unfolded, I realized I had to meet this amazing woman, Dafna Michaelson, in person.
Little did I know that my introduction might get lost in the shuffle since the 50 in 52 Journey was getting at least an email a minute for more than 48 hours. When I didn’t hear back I thought, “I didn’t rate” until I received an email asking for forgiveness for the lack of response. It was one of the nicest emails I’ve ever received.
Resently, Dafna and I sat down to talk about her journey?
In May 2008 my boyfriend and I were in the grocery store. He turned and said, ‘Hey let's get a lottery ticket.’ I am not one to buy lottery tickets, even if the lottery is worth $450,000,000. I grew up poor, but my parents religiously bought lottery tickets. Each week, ticket after ticket, dream after dream, there was loss after loss. I wondered if my boyfriend had listened to my history at all because he bought a ticket anyway.
Egging me on as we left the store, he chirpily asked me, ‘Ok, what are we going to do when we win the lottery?’ I was appalled and asked incredulously, "Are you really going to torture me with this?" But he insisted, so I gave in and started dreaming. I completely outfitted my dream car - a Porsche Cayenne, hybrid of course, down to the custom leather. Then he asked me if I was going to travel.
You know how you watch a movie and the music changes, the lighting becomes direct, the camera pans directly to the actors eyes and you, in the audience, know that what is about to happen next will change the course of the character’s life forever. The question was simple, ’Was I going to travel?’ I stopped for a minute and said, "Yeah, I'm going to travel, I'm going to go to all 50 states and I'm going to meet with every governor and ask them how they are working to engage their citizens in solving community problems." It flew off my tongue as if I had been dreaming about it for years, when indeed it was nothing I ever thought about before.
Where does an idea like this come from?
I spent a year involved in Leadership Denver (LD) with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, a program that takes up-and-coming civic leaders in Denver and shows them the inner workings of major systems that keep our city and our county running. We looked at education, law enforcement, transportation and poverty. It was completely fulfilling, but very troublesome for me. It opened my eyes to a whole host of things I wanted to complain about.
But, since I was about 14 years old my personal value system doesn’t allow me to complain about a problem unless I am willing to work on the solution. As a child, this was pretty easy because the problems I was complaining about all had to do with my life, my world, and things I could impact. As I grew and as my community grew, and as my understanding grew...let's just say I got involved on a lot of boards and became a very busy person.
What I learned from LD was that there were no longer enough hours in the day to work on all of the 'problems'. As our economy began to dip, and as the presidential election was upon us, I heard my peers saying things like, ‘I can't wait for a new president to get elected so they can start solving my problems...’ I was shocked that they didn't understand that the government, who I believe in and support, is not responsible to solve our problems at home. That is up to us. It felt as if people were losing more and more control over their finances. We were not yet in a depression, but everyone around sure seemed depressed! One thing however, seemed very basic to me - I believe that problem solving begins at home, in your community, and with your neighbors.
How did you start the 50 in 52 Journey?
After declaring my intent to take these trips, I felt like I could change the way we viewed ourselves as a society by looking at people who were getting involved in solving problems and taking control of their situations. I knew I would meet all sorts of people. It didn’t matter how much education or money they had - it was about giving back inspiration that they needed - that we all needed. I'm going to travel, I'm going to go to all 50 states and I'm going to meet with every governor and ask them how they are working to engage their citizens in solving community problems.
I started talking to friends and dreaming up an itinerary - 50 states in 52 weeks. I could start on the first full week of 2009 and take two weeks of vacation. I'm a single mom sharing custody of my children with their dad, so I figured I'd only travel on the days they were with him. I began to form a business plan and a board to see if we could pull this off. I could see it clearly, it was going to work.
Along the journey I wanted to meet the people who raised their hands and said, "I have a problem, you may have that problem too, I'm going to solve it for both of us!" Those were the people I knew could inspire the rest of America to know that the control rests within each of us. Those were the people truly moving America forward.
I resigned from my job the very next day. It is amazing that you left your job in the heart of the financial crisis. How did you do that? The first months were hard because of the failing economy. Fundraising was almost impossible. My friends and supporters told me to bail, but I couldn’t. I made a promise. I knew that there was a need. It was time to reflect the true story of our strength as Americans. I felt like America needed a reminder of how great we actually are. Problem solving begins at home, in your community, and with your neighbors.
So, I liquidated my 401K and on January 7, 2009 I hit the road. This is an amazing country we live in. I will continue to find people like these for the rest of my life to use as the mirror that I believe truly reflects who we are as a society. Did you accomplish your goal of visiting every state? Who did you meet? How did you tell their stories?
I did visit all 50 states. I personally interviewed 490 people across religions, races, socio-economic levels, and political agendas. I interviewed the rich and the poor. I interviewed lieutenant governors, clergy, bankers, teachers, children, social media moguls and the list goes on. I always say to people, “I dare you to look and NOT find someone who looks like you.” The stories are numerous and I am working on a book to share the stories as well.
This is an amazing country we live in. I will continue to find people like these for the rest of my life to use as the mirror that I believe truly reflects who we are as a society.
Where do you go from here? From here I am using the lessons I learned along the Journey to help others launch new initiatives around the country. If you have an idea you would like to put into action shoot me an email and let me help you along the way. Think you don’t have any ideas? I challenge you to think about one thing you complain about on a regular basis and choose to raise your hand and say, “I’ve got this one.” And then know, I’ve got your back!
While the traveling is complete, Dafna was recently featured in the new eBook 33 Voices. She is also a featured blogger for Change Your City Denver and is working to bring together social entrepreneurs around the country to encourage them in their work.
For more information you can find Dafna and the Journey on Twitter.com/dafna_m and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/50-in-52-Journey/106743227866. The Journey interviews and blog entries can be found at www.50in52journey.com. More information on next steps can be found at http://www.journeyinstitute.org. And the book 33 Voices can be found at http://www.33voices.com.
Rebecca Saltman is a social entrepreneur and the President and Founder of an independent collaboration building firm designed to bridge business, government, nonprofits and academia. And, a brand new Board member at the 50 in 52 Journey!