November 3, 2020
“Hey whatcha doing?” I looked up from my computer screen as my stepdaughter walked up and sat down next to me on the couch. “Whoa,” Trinity said. “You ok?”
I must have worn a pretty intense gaze by the look on her face. I smiled and took a deep breath as I realized that all the muscles in my neck and back had been one tense knot seconds before she showed up. I had been staring a hole into my computer screen for the last three hours without moving.
“I’m ok, honey,” I said. “ Thanks for checking in on me — didn’t mean to scare you.”
“What’s with the map?” she said. I looked back at the screen of my small laptop and watched a map of the United States slowly change as the states began to be colored in — one blue, one red, another red, another red, now a blue. The camera kept going back to the same anchors and pundits, again and again, in a painstakingly slow dance that seemed to be dragging on forever.
“I’m watching the results of the election from today as they come in,” I said.
“Cool,” she said. “So do we know who won yet?”
I shook my head. “No, Trin. We won’t know the final result tonight. We may not know for weeks.”
“Is that normal?” she said? “I thought people just voted, they counted the votes, and we find out who the President is. Is it different this year?”
I looked at her in silence for a couple seconds — pausing to consider how to explain to her the importance of what she was observing — a nation at war…with itself.
“Honey, you are witnessing history. This election may be one of the most important elections in my lifetime and maybe even in your lifetime,” I said. “It is arguably one of the most important elections in modern American history.”
“Wow,” she mused. She sat in thoughtful silence for a few minutes. “Do you mind if I watch with you?”
I smiled, surprised. “Of course,” I said. “I’d love the company.”
We spent the next few hours together, talking late into the night about how elections work, how a President is elected, about the problem of a highly polarized government and why the U.S. Senate elections were also being closely watched tonight. I watched with amusement while she cheered and booed as each new state was called by the Associated Press. I was surprised at first, but then I found myself being encouraged by her genuine curiosity and enthusiasm. She really cared. “She is the future,” I thought. “We need to make this work for her.”
After watching for a couple hours, she looked over at me with an uncertain look in her eyes. “Do you think everything is going to be ok?” she asked.
I took a deep breath in. How am I supposed to answer that? Did I actually think that everything was going to be ok? No matter what happened that night, I knew that the nation was about to face a very difficult, uncertain time.
Everything had radically changed for me a few months ago. I had transitioned out of a twelve-year labor of love that a small team of courageous leaders built with me from scratch. It was an effort that I had devoted my entire post-military career to. In September I had officially handed Nuru International off to a leader and a team far more capable than I am, with the confidence that they would not only survive, but truly thrive under the new leadership. I walked away because I felt a new call in my life that I simply could not turn away from.
That call was to light a new fire, and once again, the freedom of lasting meaningful choices for millions seems at stake. A small team and I have quietly begun starting a movement. A movement with a crazy new strategy to help a nation and her people heal…a plan to help America find her way back to common ground…to higher ground. It is big. It is scary. But I know it is also right.
As I looked at Trin that night, all I saw as she looked back at me was resolute trust and love — a calm peaceful strength bound by the cords of hope and the indestructible faith of a child. “She really believes,” I thought. I knew then that I had made the right decision.
Her question remained hanging in the air as she looked at me expectantly. “Yes, Trinity. Yes I do believe that everything is going to be ok.”
Life has a funny way of throwing you curveballs when you least expect it. Six years ago, I was living in a small, cinder-block house that we built in the Gammo Gofa Highlands of Ethiopia in a small village called Zefine. I had no family of my own, no girlfriend, few possessions and no attachments to any particular place. I was laser-focused on building a sustainable agriculture model to end the hunger season in the region where my organization, Nuru International, was working. I had been building Nuru with a small team of Americans, Kenyans, Ethiopians and Nigerians for the previous six years — living in villages in southwest Kenya, southern Ethiopia and eventually northeast Nigeria. At Nuru we were trying to help solve a complex problem, the spread of salafi jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, by removing some of the key contributors that enabled these groups to spread in fragile areas. I had been living overseas for a long time focused on this national and global security challenge and spent very little time (if any) thinking about domestic challenges that Americans were facing at home or the U.S. political climate.
And then in 2015, my world was turned upside down when a miracle entered my life. I was a self-described life-long bachelor — confident that I would never have my own family. It was a lonely existence for me at times, but an existence that I felt I had been called to nonetheless. When I met Mina, all that changed. She was a fireball of passion and brilliance that crashed into my life in a beautifully disruptive way. I felt love — real love for the first time in my life, and I knew that nothing would ever be the same again.
Mina had so many beautiful qualities that drew me to her, and one of the most endearing and attractive attributes she possessed was the ten-year-old bundle of joy and energy at her side. Trinity had an adventurous streak in her as fierce as her mother’s. One of the first pictures Mina ever sent me depicted Trinity trying to climb into her mother’s suitcase so that she could sneak aboard Mina’s international fight.
Trinity had lots of family in her life who cared deeply for her. In addition to an amazing mom, she had loving grandparents, aunts and uncles, and she already had a really great, encouraging dad who loved her very much. I wasn’t sure how or if I would fit into her world. Being a stepdad scared the heck out of me. I had been a caveman for so long that I was uncertain as to whether or not I would know how to love and be there for a child in the right way. I was pretty confident that I would screw it up…and to be clear, I definitely did screw it up many, many times. But Trinity was very patient with me. She loved me even when I felt like I didn’t deserve it. She simply loved me and didn’t put any conditions on that. There was no hidden agenda. She just loved me. That innocence and authenticity gradually helped me to let my guard down.
As you read this, many of you will probably recognize the emotions that I am struggling to describe. There’s something about the love of a child that completely disarms you. Trinity’s love began to shift the way I viewed the world. It changed my priorities. Things I thought were of utmost importance to me slowly began to fade to take second and third place to new concerns and interests. I began to wonder about how I could make Trinity’s life better — about how I could protect her from the dark things I knew the world capable of and show her the wonder and excitement of the good.
I wanted Trinity to be able to grow up in a country where she could experience all the freedoms and choices that I had been privy to. While I was growing up, I believed that I could do anything. I believed that living in America afforded me the opportunity to dream big and then make those dreams a reality. I wanted her to be able to do the same.
The more I fell in love with Mina and Trinity, the more I started to shift my gaze from the crises and challenges happening overseas, to the challenges that were rapidly increasing here at home in America. The American dream and our democracy itself seemed fragile and in danger of vanishing. I saw what I believed to be a pandemic loss of agency — people no longer believed that they could do anything to change the situation for themselves or for their family. I began to wonder what kind of country I would be leaving behind for Trinity.
As I watched her head upstairs to bed in the early hours of the morning, I silently made a promise to Trinity and to myself. I want her to understand. I want her to know what is happening.
What follows is a series of letters that I will be writing to Trinity. I have several hopes for this correspondence over the coming weeks and months.
First, I want Trinity to know that she is my inspiration. She is the motivation that drove me headlong into this new fight. She is the spark that gives me the faith and hope that Goliath’s time has come. She makes me want to fight for a country where she can dare to dream big, where “impossible” is just an outdated way of thinking. Trinity helps me remember why I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. She provides a constant reminder for why I fought so hard next to my brother on my right and my brother on my left during times when hope was fleeting. She reminds me of the reason why I stepped out once again into the unknown — from a field and a team and a mission I was finally becoming comfortable with into a new mission fraught with uncertainty and daunting odds. She is the reason.
Second, I hope that in writing these letters, I can wrestle with my own understanding of the promise and idea that America represents. That I can wrestle with my own understanding of what is true and right — challenging myself to push beyond my own limited experiences and day to day concerns to see the world through the eyes of brothers and sisters who think, look, feel, and experience the world differently than I do. My hope is that in that process, I can become a better leader, a better citizen, a better friend, a better son, a better brother, a better husband, and a better stepfather to Trinity.
And my final hope is that in writing these letters, you may identify something in common with me in my struggle and pursuit of truth. We all want a better life full of hope and promise for our loved ones. We are all human. We are all, at the end of the day, Americans.
I believe that our nation is at a true crossroads. What we choose to do in the coming years will echo in the lives of our children and grandchildren in ways that can either free them with hope, possibility, and unified purpose, or tear them apart with obstinate arrogance, hatred and fear of the other.
The good news is…we get to choose.
So I write these letters with a genuine heart and authentic voice — I know no other way to be. I have no opinion I am trying to convince you of — no agenda to get you to change your mind to vote for this or that policy. These letters are for Trinity, and no one else. But I want to invite you into what I know will be a messy journey as I write openly and honestly to her. My words will not be perfect. I will inevitably say the wrong thing many times. But if you accept my invitation, I would ask up front that you extend me grace — knowing that I am a broken, flawed, imperfect father trying to make sense of it all as I speak candidly with Trinity about the nation she will inherit and what she and I can do together with you and your loved ones to help create a more perfect union.