Name: Kelly Carter Merrill
Hometown: Ashland, VA
Circle Start Date: March 17, 2018
What do you do when you’re not running a Ben Franklin Circle?
I’m living a life of gigs right now, by design. I do facilitation professionally for a couple of organizations, mostly on dialogues about racial healing, equity, ally work, and even self-discovery. I’m also an adjunct professor of communication studies and nonprofit studies. And I’m on three nonprofit boards for organizations I care about deeply: a local history museum, a poverty resolution organization, and an LGBTQ+ youth center.
What attracted you to the Circles?
I saw a need in my community to bring together civically minded community contributors who didn’t already connect. We are in a small town (7K), but apparently it is not small enough that we would all know each other. We live in bubbles and work so hard, and we need to know who else in our community is contributing. And the need that I saw was for us to really know each other rather than just do more work together. If we know each other’s “why” and our values, we all can connect into more authentic spaces. I admired Franklin’s circle because it seemed to be an honest effort to network from a place of authenticity, rather than a place of “using” or “leveraging” each other as “contacts”.
Tell us a little about the composition of your group. How did you find members (or how did they find you)?
That’s hard to answer because it came about in really a snowball fashion. I started with a few friends that I admired for their dedication to our community, or their life story. Some I only knew from afar, I saw them give a talk and liked what they had to say. I asked them for a coffee date, my treat, then told them about BFC. Others then got referred to me via friends. I visited a community leadership academy that is offered by the town and did a 10-minute recruitment talk there and picked up a few folks. One participant even found us via the BFC website. The group includes people who are lead pastors at local churches, artists, engineers, leaders in the local NAACP, elementary school teachers, community organizers, nurses, fundraisers, and college administrators. Just a great group of folks.
How has hosting a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?
There are probably two things that have impacted me the most. One is that I really went out of my comfort zone to ask people to join us. I wanted community leaders and didn’t quite yet see myself as one. It felt like an aspirational reach. It felt vulnerable to open myself up to being turned down, but I did it anyway and was delighted by the response. The other take away via the virtues has been my insights as I fall short of my goals. I’ve only completely met one of my goals so far, but I wouldn’t say that I failed. Each meeting, we reflect on Franklin’s relationship to the virtues. He focused on them in rotation, never feeling that he had mastered any, but always working towards mastery. Me personally, when I break my commitment on week one, I don’t just give up there for the rest of the month, I can just pick it up again and keep going. It’s an interesting relationship that I think we all grapple with each meeting. How do I feel about not meeting the goal? What does it say about me? What narrative will I claim? And what relationship will I have with that narrative?
Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?
I think two have hit me most centrally. First, I think of my time commitments as something I want to temper. I can become too involved in projects that aren’t central to my values or skills. And I’m finding that I need to be increasingly explicit and narrow about my values in order to continue living in the spaces where I am the most “me.” And silence. That’s something that is becoming more and more important to me. I keep finding that silence becomes the answer for several challenges I have. Lately, I’ve been trying on silence when I feel I have been misunderstood. Avoiding becoming defensive, and rather just listen to the perception that others have and allowing them to hold that perception. I find I become the most defensive when I feel that perhaps that “misunderstanding” was more accurate than I’m comfortable with admitting. And rather than becoming defensive, through silence, I can listen to what my physical body and mental messages are telling me about who I am. It’s tough.
What is the last commitment you made to yourself? How’s it going?
Ha. Okay, for frugality I’m attending to my grocery bill. I have a set weekly budget that I’m sticking to. In our dialogue, I had defended my large grocery bills with wanting to pay for the true value of my food…avoiding the cheap food which is likely exploiting both land and people. And trying to avoid crazy health bills by buying healthier (but expensive) options. But saying that out loud made me realize that other things are happening in that grocery basket. I want to continue to focus on quality foods while being more mindful of the total bill. The last few runs, I’ve put back about five items to get my total where it should be to meet the goal. So far, I’m rocking this one, but I see it getting more difficult next week with upcoming family events.