Ann Braden is a Vermont author, activist, and teacher whose overarching work can be summed up simply: Being motivated by love, she dives in; once in, she works to bridge the divide. Rooted in love, her activism is generative, creating spaces and opportunities where the community can come together to act, whether on gun reform or on messages of love to those who have been recipients of hate.
Braden’s work recalls the words of Cameroonian artist and activist Issa Nyaphaga:
I believe in power of love, power to create, power to organize, power to transform…art has become a source of power to impact the world. (Nyaphaga, 2018, January 30)
Braden’s writing has been a catalyst for communities to address childhood poverty. Her 2018 young adult novel, The Benefits of Being an Octopus, inspired schools and libraries around Windham County to host book clubs and discussions about economic injustice in the area.
“The Windham Southeast Supervisory Union launched a community read of OCTOPUS, and as part of that a group of students decided to march in the July 4th parade to help spread the word.” (Braden, 2020, March 22)
The Benefits of Being an Octopus stars Zoey, a 12-year-old girl growing up in generational poverty in Vermont. I learned of this book from a client I worked with at a homeless shelter. She told me to read this book, and as she handed me her copy, she said, “This book is about me.” In the biographical portion of Braden’s website, Braden stated, “I write about kids struggling to find their voice despite the realities of life.”
One reviewer commented,
Many seventh graders spend their days worrying about friendship drama, their appearance, or their killer homework. But there are millions of kids in our country whose worries are related to their safety or who are living in serious poverty. We don’t see those kids in books often enough. (Leonard, 2018, August 27)
Braden began her career in Vermont as an advocate for common-sense gun laws. Following the deaths of 20 children to gun violence in Newtown, Connecticut, Braden started a petition for universal background checks on firearm purchasers. This petition gave Vermonters a specific action to take in order to channel their devastation and anger. Once the petition had received 12,000 signatures, Braden and her collaborators held a press conference in Montpelier asking Governor Shumlin to enact common-sense gun reform. (Hallenbeck, 2015) This was the founding of GunSenseVT.
“You don’t need permission from people to lead them. But in case you do, here it is. They’re waiting. We’re waiting for you to show us where to go next.” (Raz, 2014, January 17)
“Vermont Youth for GunSense, the student chapter of GunSense Vermont, raises awareness of the pervasive issue of gun violence and its damaging impact on youth through education and outreach.” (Gunsense Vermont, n.d.)
As a relative newcomer to Vermont, Braden received criticism from Vermont gun enthusiasts for her advocacy work. (Hallenbeck, 2015) Braden listened.
At Rutland High School she hosted a discussion with students, one of many, with the intention of finding common ground in the conversation about gun rights. She emphasized that intention of the discussion was to “listen to understand, not to debate,” and “to assume the best intentions.” (Braden, 2017, July)
By holding close these tenets of civil discourse, Braden invites those around her to cultivate their own voices. As Kendra Cherry wrote, “Great leaders can inspire political movements and social change. They can also motivate others to perform, create, and innovate.” (Cherry, 2019, May 20)
Following the 2016 presidential election in the United States, America and the world experienced an increase in hate speech and racially motivated violence. Braden began writing love notes to those who were the targets of these acts of violence; soon after, she started the Local Love Brigade. What began in Brattleboro, Vermont, has become a national effort to write cards of love and support to individuals and organizations who have been the targets of hate.
“Y-ASPIRE participants at our three sites in Brattleboro have made hundreds of postcards for the Local Love Brigade. Here, 2nd grader Eason explains why this is important to him.” (MeetingWaters, 2017, Feb. 24)
Braden’s work has a common thread, she holds a bigger picture in all her efforts. She exhibits spiritual leadership as described by the Women’s Theological Center,
the use of the power of our deepest vision, values, and hopes as a creative force to strengthen ourselves and our communities, to bridge difference, and to work for justice.” (Women’s Theological Center, n.d.)
Spiritual leadership is not about having all the solutions, nor it is about knowing the intricacies of the problems we are facing, rather it is about seeing how these problems are interconnected. (Women’s Theological Center, n.d.)
“In this podcast, we share conversations with librarians, educators, and readers about the children’s books that can be bridges across our cultural divides…the books that can open minds and the books that can be the lifeline a child needs to remember they’re not alone.” Ann Braden and Saadia Faruqi (Braden, 2020, Podcast)
Braden has not invented a new kind movement, she follows in the footsteps of those who have come before, those moved by some inner current, a righteous drive. It is clear Braden cares deeply for the causes she throws herself into. Her courage to move toward her passions reflects her leadership style in that she has “the courage to follow,” and with her enthusiasm she presents an invitation, one that “show[s] others how to follow.” (Sivers, 2010, February) I believe that even if no one else cared about these issues, Braden would still be out there sharing her messages of love and hope, fighting for the safety and security of our children.
Braden, A. (2017, July). Bridge cultural divide with civil discourse. Ann Braden. http://annbradenbooks.com/2017/07/bridge-cultural-divide-with-civil-discourse/
Braden, A. (2020, March 22). Ann Braden’s Blog. Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17071283.Ann_Braden/blog
Braden, A. (2020). Home. Ann Braden. https://annbradenbooks.com/
Braden, A. (2020). Podcast lifelines: Books that bridge the divide. Ann Braden. https://annbradenbooks.com/podcast/
Cherry, K. (2019, May 20). Leadership styles and frameworks you should know. https://www.verywellmind.com/leadership-styles-279531
Gunsense Vermont. (n.d.) VT Youth. Vermont youth for gun sense. https://www.gunsensevt.org/vt_youth/
Hallenbeck, T. (2015, 22 April) Long shot: The mother of two keeps the gun debate alive. VT Digger. https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/long-shot-a-mother-of-two-keeps-the-gun-debate-alive/Content?oid=2557399
Leonard, M. (2018, August 27). The benefits of being an octopus by Ann Braden. The Winged Pen. https://thevwingedpen.com/2018/08/27/the-benefits-of-being-an-octopus-by-ann-braden/#:~:text=THE%20BENEFITS%20OF%20BEING%20AN%20OCTOPUS%20is%20an%20inspiring%20book,t%20do%20well%20in%20school.
MeetingWaters YMCA. (2017, Feb. 24). Eason explains the local love brigade postcard project. [Video file]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UnBQBWCLytc&feature=emb_logo
Nyaphaga, I. (2018, Jan. 30). A lifelong struggle for freedom of expression [Video file]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/gr9aj_LV3I8
Raz, G. (Host). (2014, January 17). Seth Godin: Can ordinary people become leaders? [Radio broadcast]. In TED Radio Hour. Washington, DC: National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2014/01/17/261096538/can-ordinary-people-become-leaders
Sivers, D. (2010, Feb.). Derek Sivers: How to start a movement [Video file]. TED Talks. https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en
Women’s Theological Center. (n.d.). What Is spiritual leadership? Retrieved from https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/womenstheologicalcenter.pdf
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APA cite in text as: (Venman-Clay, 2021)
APA cite in full References as: Venman-Clay, R. (2021). Ann Braden leads for children. Vermont Psychology. https://wp.me/p4elXk-H9
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Ruth Venman-Clay is a paraeducator and artist in Brattleboro, Vermont. Ruth hopes to pursue post-graduate education in the teaching field and enjoys cross-country skiing.