AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – As mayor Deke Copenhaver made it a focus to try to unite the City of Augusta. That mentality has crossed over into a radio talk show, a best-selling book, and even a podcast. Now Deke has joined a movement of notable entertainers, politicians, and business leaders alike to try to help heal the divide in our country. He sat down with Brad to share the mission of Starts With Us.
Brad Means: A huge welcome back to a familiar face, here on our broadcast. Ever since we began, it’s former mayor of Augusta, served two and a half terms in the mayor’s office, Deke Copenhaver, he’s also consultant, podcaster, author. And as of late founding partner with a group called Starts With Us and a lot of great folks, yourself included, are behind this. Welcome back.
Deke Copenhaver: Brad, thank you so much for having me and thank you for giving me a chance to really talk about this. What I believe is gonna become a real movement.
Brad Means: Well, I wanna talk about what Starts With Us, hopes to do. It’s an organization that, and this is just a one of many ways you could sum it up, wants to overcome the culture wars. Deke, is it fair to say that you want to make the world a less negative, a place of less conflict?
Deke Copenhaver: Yeah, well, I would say it’s really about getting people talking to each other. It’s fine. We’re not saying we want Democrats, Republicans in. We want everybody to sit at the table and really have conversations about how do we get away from the polarization of this station. When you consider two thirds of Americans feel like the country is headed in the wrong direction, we just can’t continue to do things the same way.
Brad Means: All right, before the broadcast we were talking about Starts With Us and the social media connections that you all have already made. This is where all the negativity is. This is where all the distrust is. How do you address that?
Deke Copenhaver: It’s interesting that you should ask that, Brad. So Tom Fishman, who is the CEO of Starts With Us, had a 20 year career in the media. He was originally with MTV. He’s been with Facebook. So you’ve got somebody who really understands digital media. I think that that’s absolutely key to have had a successful career in social media and regular media. That’s you got somebody with inside information.
Brad Means: How do you make people have better social media behavior? How do you make their relationships, our relationships more positive? Do you check ’em, do you call ’em, when you see something negative on your phone and say, “Hey, this is Starts With Us.” How about coming at it this way?
Deke Copenhaver: No, no, no, but it’s basically, it’s based on the three Cs. If we could, individually, personal responsibility commit to treating people with compassion, with courage, to have the difficult conversations and with curiosity, I think that’s, it Starts With Us. And I believe that that’s the American way we take personal responsibility.
Brad Means: How do I get Starts With Us to teach me how do that?
Deke Copenhaver: You just sign onto the pledge. But, it’s interesting. We’ve got a series of radical heroes videos on the website, which is, startswith.us, showing people that have really been transformed. One guy was a former white supremacist. He now gets people out of white supremacist organizations, speaks in synagogues all over the world, but he talks about his transformation. But I cannot stress enough, Brad, that the work now of this organization is so important. ‘Cause I have concerns about our democracy when you see that polarization and it just seems to get worse and worse.
Brad Means: So if we watch your videos, if we go to the Starts With Us website, which is fascinating, it’s very well done. And speaking of being a founding partner, you stand shoulder to shoulder with everybody, from television stars to presidential candidates, to CEOs, I mean, all of you all trying to launch this, but how does it permeate the negativity that’s out there in our society? Are there other ways? Do you go to businesses, churches, organizations, do you connect with people in that way in a grassroots way?
Deke Copenhaver: Yeah, absolutely. And I’ll tell you Brad it’s to me, I see society as a bell curve. And I think most people are somewhere in the middle, but always seem in social media and a lot of the mainstream media and in politics are the extremes. So one of the things that they’ve asked me to do, on Saturday, the 27th, I’m gonna be at the Augusta market and just interviewing your average banner woman on the street, what do you think about polarization in America? What do you think we could do better to bring the country together? So I think that’s a big key, is taking the message and delivering it to people where they are.
Brad Means: Do you think that this might lead to putting different, better, more positive people in office and other leadership roles?
Deke Copenhaver: I think it can. And there’s another organization called Bridge USA. That’s on college campuses nationwide. They now have Bridge Europe and bridge Africa where students of differing political views have committed to coming together to have conversations. And it is fine if you differ at opinions, but here again, you’ve gotta be sitting at the table to solve these problems. And unfortunately it just seems like, particularly politically, people don’t wanna sit at the table and it’s breaking up families. I mean, I’ve heard people that don’t associate with family members anymore. So polarization is tearing at the fabric of our society.
Brad Means: You know, it’s fascinating, how much, what you’re saying ties into our first segment on the Means Report today. When we talked to author and former Fox News, political editor, Chris Stirewalt, he called the media, he calls it in his book, a rage machine. Because that’s what sells. And so my question to you is, is it your hope one day, that we do log onto our social media accounts, return on our TV and see more positivity?
Deke Copenhaver: Well, I will tell you, Starts With Us is developing an app for that. And to connect the like-minded people. So I’m excited when they get that done and roll that out. I’m gonna get a via test driver of that, but I’ll tell you, one of the things we’re focused on too, is trying to move beyond the cancel culture. So I had a conference call with, Starts With Us. I’m headed to Nashville and I’m gonna get together with the young man, who’s an entertainment lawyer that I met in New York a number of years ago. After the pandemic hit, so he moved from New York to Nashville, he would call me and he was having panic attacks because he was worried because he had conservative political views. If he voiced those in the entertainment industry that he could lose his job. And he said, “I wouldn’t really worry as much about me, but I now have a fiance.” Who’s now his wife. And he’s like, “You know, I’ve got two mouths to feed.” but that’s when people are going through panic attacks based on worrying about losing their job due to the cancel culture, that’s just ridiculous.
Brad Means: Anything you see, and I know you’re talking big picture here. But anything deep that you see here in Augusta that could be improved upon relationship wise, outlook wise, where we could do a better job getting along with each other?
Deke Copenhaver: I do. And that’s why I love Starts With Us. I’ve basically lived Starts With Us all of my adult life, but it’s being willing to have those conversations with people that don’t look like you and don’t think like you and might not act like you. And it’s hard. I shared with the Starts With Us folks that the farmers’ market is the perfect place for me to do this. ‘Cause it’s a melting pot. And you’ve got people from all walks of life, different ethnicities. But I think we have to have those congregation points and those platforms, where we can have those conversations. ‘Cause I tell people, with Augusta, it’s not us and them it’s all us. And it Starts With Us.
Brad Means: We can still disagree with each other.
Deke Copenhaver: Absolutely and that’s one of the things that Starts With Us encourages, is healthy debate. Chains comes through healthy debate and to me, it’s just, if you think somebody is bad or wrong, just because of the political party they’re affiliated with, that’s ridiculous too.
Brad Means: Well, I appreciate your leadership in Augusta, Georgia for more than a decade. And certainly appreciate you helping Starts With Us. Get going strong.
Deke Copenhaver: Well, I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to talk about it. Obviously I’m very passionate about this stuff.
Brad Means: Well that shows and it’s a wonderful organization, Starts With Us.