Everywhere you look, there’s a lot of fear about where we are now and what’s ahead. So for the past month, I’ve been gathering stories from people who are facing fear with courage–often in surprising ways. They represent a wide range of politics, but they share one very important thing: in the face of fear and a nation divided, they’re working hard to create communities that can cross that division.
Jimmy Graham has spent his life thinking about how to keep other people safe. He’s a former Navy Seal and CIA bodyguard, and the founder and CEO of the Able Shepherd program, an elite self-defense program that equips people to handle guns safely in high-stress situations like being in a building with an active shooter. When I spoke with Jimmy, we mostly sidestepped the conversation about if we should be carrying guns, and instead talked about how to make using them safer.
“75% of people will shoot the wrong person when they’re excited or scared,” Jimmy told me. “It doesn’t matter if they’re FBI, they’re police, if they’re military.”
So he created a training system that used the reality-based scenario training he’d learned from his time with the Seals, where they wore protective equipment and used real guns that had been converted to fire training ammunition.
“The best way to learn how to shoot people is to shoot people,” Jimmy said. “And you do it over and over, and you create neural pathways. A lot of times the person who does the right thing isn’t the bravest or the fastest or the smartest. It’s the one that’s most familiar with it.”
Jimmy says that this is just as true of law enforcement as it is of citizens. He does a lot of work with the police to get outdated training systems up to date. But he’s also troubled by the way bad cops have given a bad rap to the entire system.
“I absolutely support law enforcement, but if you’re a bad apple, we need to get rid of you and sing it from the rooftops. We don’t protect criminals. You belong in jail. Period. It protects the guys that are out there doing it for the right reasons.”
Jimmy’s work isn’t just about guns. He helped launch the Stand in the Gap Initiative, which seeks to bring communities together by developing what Jimmy calls “a root cellar mentality.” If the power goes out or there’s a blizzard or a hurricane, communities are prepared with food, water, a radio for offline communication, and a pre-established network of neighbors or friends who are ready to be at each other’s homes in a matter of minutes.
I used to think that the root cellar mentality was a little extreme. But then a year ago PG&E shut off our power for four days to prevent wildfires. And then COVID-19 happened and suddenly the shelves in our grocery stores were empty. I was lucky to live in a place where community already existed. When the power went out, our neighbors who had a generator invited us to come over to charge our phones and computers. They fed us dinner. But my neighborhood is unusual; Jimmy is trying to build communities where that kind of connection becomes typical.
“It’s a good way to live,” Jimmy said. “We just got comfortable. We needed each other before. Now we don’t because of Amazon and Walmart, right? And that’s cool, but we left a good way to live. That, I think, is the answer: take care of one another in communities. That’s the way we were designed to live anyways.”