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Breaking down Barriers one conversation at a time.

Adam Mizel and Chris Swanson are two of the founders of US United. They’re working to become the voice of unity and spark action in the process. US United is a not-for-profit whose mission is to build the brand to rally all who share their belief in unity as the path forward. US United provides the infrastructure necessary to disrupt discord and build movement.  

“As is often the case, the simplest ideas are the best ones.”

Adam MizelCo-Founder, US United


Speaker 1 (00:00):

Welcome to building while flying a Sasha group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.

Julia Balick (00:11):

Welcome back to another episode of building while flying on this week’s episode. Mickey speaks with Adam Mizel and Chris Swanson, two of the founders of US United, they’re working to become the voice of unity and spark action in the process. Ken, one of the founders couldn’t make the call. Um, Mickey talk to us a little bit about kind of how we even got to talking to these two guys, but what’s, what’s behind the scenes of, of how they came together. And, and it’s such, it’s such a, a triangle. Ken is such a big part of, of this group and, and who he is.

Mickey Cloud (00:47):

Yeah. So it’s interesting, right. Cuz between Adam, Chris and Ken, they’re all, you know, uh, super experienced. They’re all, they all have like a, a, you know, have had careers of their own and the three of them kind of coming together to, to form this on pro of us United. I mean, Ken, uh, is the free hugs guy, right? Like, so he’s, um, someone who has built a personal brand and a speaking career and, um, you know, around his movement that he kind of created around free hugs. And so, I mean, I think most everyone listening to this probably has seen of a clip or a video on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube, something like that of, or TikTok of, of the free hug guy. And even the background of how his story started, where it was at the, the, the Boston marathon the year after the bombing had happened.

Mickey Cloud (01:33):

Um, so I think this was like two, 2012, 11 or 12. Um, and you know, how that even got going was he felt like, you know, and, and as I was doing my prep, I was watching of some of his videos and things like that. I mean, he felt like he wanted to support the marathon runners who were back out there and, uh, you know, a year later and, you know, at a time when, you know, there was concern that should this, you know, how, how are we gonna keep this event safe and things like that. And so he wanted to, he was like, what can I do to kind of help? And it, and it is, I think that’s such an important part of both Kent and Chris’s and Adam’s story is like individuals saying, what’s something I can do. That’s actually tangible to help.

Mickey Cloud (02:12):

And so his tangible thing was he set up a road sign, you know, he, he went along the <laugh>, the Boston marathon and he set up a, a tripod and a camera to record what he was doing. And he just held up a sign that said free hugs. And as runners were going by, you know, at first people were just like, wait, wait, what is that? And, you know, just kept going. And then, but the first person that went and gave him a hug and then more and more people as they were running by started giving him hugs. And he just has this amazing montage of him giving hugs to marathon runners. Um, and then that went viral, like pretty immediately on YouTube and it, it, and then he is kind of, and then he’s, he took that to the level of, you know, if there’s a protest happening or if there’s a, a, you know, a, a tense situation, like, is there, how can he help bring and be kind of a, a bridge for the people that are hurting on, you know, uh, and, and, and how, how can he kind of help make a difference and, and be a little bit of a healer.

Mickey Cloud (03:06):

Um, and so, you know, he’s, he’s had multiple stories of him being on the front lines of protests and helping to kind of bring communities together and help kind of each side kind of here from one another. And, and like that. And a lot of it is around like police, you know, brutality and police and all those types of things. So for them, him to be connected with Chris, who Chris also had his own viral moment of going viral in Flint, Michigan for being the sheriff, the law enforcement person who listened to the protesters and, and took action and, you know, it was walk with us, right. And so he walked with the people of Flin, Michigan as they were protesting, you know, after the, the, the murder of George Floyd. And so, you know, it’s a, it’s a kind of awesome to me that these two bridge builders that have come from maybe different, you know, that have, have, have found each other.

Mickey Cloud (03:54):

And, uh, and that’s, what’s I think really special. And then, you know, you add Adam into that, who’s kind of more of the entrepreneur business background, but had a similar moment where he’s, he kind of hit it, kinda, he, what can I do? And they’re trying to take, which, and that was the core of the conversation is how do you take something as intangible as unity, which is something I think we can all agree we are for unity, but how do you turn that into like practical, tangible thing that people can go support and do to actually build unity?

Julia Balick (04:24):

I think it’s really important that we’re giving people a roadmap instead of, you know, recognizing that this is a problem we need to solve it. And not EV not everyone even feels that way, you know, like right at, um, the three of them are doing something and, and whatever that roadmap is, it’s gonna give people something to follow. And, and hopefully it goes as viral as two outta the three of them have, have already done. Yeah,

Mickey Cloud (04:51):

For sure.

Julia Balick (04:53):

But let’s not keep our listeners waiting any longer. Let’s dive into Mickey’s episode with Adam and Chris.

Mickey Cloud (04:58):

Awesome. Chris, Adam, thank you so much for joining us on, on, uh, building offline today.

Adam Mizel (05:04):

Thanks for having us glad to

Chris Swanson (05:05):

Be here from Flint, Michigan,

Mickey Cloud (05:07):

Flint, Michigan in the house. I love it. Um, Chris Swan and Adam myel are co-founders and partners in us United a nonprofit started in 2020 to help people create unity, listen, join conversations, and have a national platform for kind of changing conversation around civil justice in America. So I, um, Chris and Adam, you, you both have kind of super unique backgrounds and then your, your third co-founder Ken does as well that you bring to the organization. So could we start by maybe having each of you introduce a little bit about yourself and the role you play at us United?

Adam Mizel (05:36):

Sure. I’ll jump in and then hand the Beon to Chris and I, and you think you hit on it. All three of us are very, very different, but complimentary and that’s, I think one of the keys to success in any organization you’re building is that you have complimentary skill sets and also people who genuinely like each other. I mean, we, we have become really, really good friends, both because of the work we’re doing, but also because we enjoy each other’s company. So I think those are the things. So me, I’m the, I would say in some ways, the least important, I’m the behind the scenes entrepreneur business builder sort of day to day, trying to build and make the business happen and run that really leagues and capitalizes on the really important work that Chris and Ken do every day out there literally risking their lives.

Adam Mizel (06:24):

And certainly in the middle of trying to teach and bring unity as symbols and as examples to communities around them. So that’s a little bit me, Ken, two seconds is because he’s, couldn’t be here today is, you know, he’s been an activist in 2013 with the free hugs project really started with the idea of how can I break down barriers and how can I break down walls? And he’s like a very simple idea of, if you give people a hug, they instantly relax and open up. And that simple insight he’s taken, and there’s iconic imagery of Ken between protesters and police trying to keep peace and doing it with conversation with hugs, the work he does speaking the work, all of his, his video and social media work. And it’s just blossomed because as often the case, the simplest ideas are the best ones. And that breaking down barriers is a big part of what we’re trying to do to create unity. And so where he started in that message is a spot on. And so with that, I’ll hand it over Chris.

Chris Swanson (07:18):

So Mickey, uh, Adam is really the wizard of Oz and he’s behind the scenes with this curtain. I mean, that’s, that’s the image that Adam is. He’s like the Colonel to Elvis that’s what’s happening. So he sells himself short all the time. <laugh> but I’m gonna tell you that this group is no different than any other group of people that get together who have a, uh, have a circle of influence who have a talent, but a heart to change. That’s the thing is there’s a lot of people that are in the business world that are successful, that you deal with every day from this podcast that understand, you can talk about it, you can post about it, but the only people that are gonna succeed are the ones that do something about it. And, and how does that start? Because unity has to come the most unlikely people, people that don’t look the same, they believe the same unity heals wounds, it opens doors, it builds relationships. And, uh, and that’s why us United was formed out of, out of some, uh, some very hard days. And this country was wounded, but I made a promise on a light pole target on May 30th, 20, I’m gonna do my part to be a change agent. And I need a, I need a thousand more of you Mickey.

Mickey Cloud (08:24):

Amazing. And Chris, yeah. The, you know, seeing, I guess, how both you and Ken as Adam kind of touched on have kind of become national figures really based on, um, you know, you guys standing up in a moment and, and time and, and setting that example. Uh, and you know, I watched the original free hugs video from the Boston marathon last night and was brought to tears. I watched your, you know, uh, the, the George Floyd protest that you did in Flint, Michigan, where you walked with the protestors. And I mean, not, I mean, this, it was super inspiring. And so it’s, it’s, it’s, I’d love for you maybe to talk a little bit more about, you know, we’ve got an internet sensation in Ken, uh, you know, we’ve got, um, the wizard of Oz, Sierra entrepreneur with a calling and, and Adam, and we’ve got probably, you know, Chris, you’ve probably seen in your line of work as a sheriff and a police officer, you know, you’ve probably seen every thing in life. So, um, I, I’m curious, could you talk more about kind of the catalyst that, that brought the three of you guys together? I know it was a, it was a hard time in, in this country’s history, but it’s also, I think it’s, if it, if it brings forth things like us United, you know, we can take it as a positive.

Chris Swanson (09:31):

So Adam, if I may, I will tell you, uh, my whole life I’ve been answering 9 1, 1 calls for help people’s lives have been in peril. People are scared to death and as a public servant, uh, not only my police officer, but I’ve been a licensed paramedic since I was 20. So I’ve seen people take their last breath and I’ve seen babies born and I’ve seen people cry for help, and all those have a very similar, um, subject matter. And that is those closest to any problem, have the answer. So instead of barking about it, instead of screaming about it, instead, you are closest to the problem. So you now have an answer. It’s a small percentage of people that step out of their comfort zone to say, Hey, not only do I, I, I have an obligation, but I think I got an answer. And so when you do that, you find yourself finding people like Kens, who I never knew existed before May 30th.

Chris Swanson (10:34):

Ken was introduced to Adam because of a connection they have in California can introduce me to Adam in November of 2020. And that’s what started this whole movement. And so I think to us United and how we got together is a perfect template of how this us group, this unity message can work for anybody in the world. And, and, you know, in business, don’t the create a product that can help everybody cuz it’s too broad, you know, land the plane be specific, no unity is a global issue and we can fix it by two by taking what we’ve done and what others have done in unifying groups across the world,

Adam Mizel (11:13):

Chris, and can have dedicated their lives to unity. I I’m a newbie in that sense. I think part of me always knew I needed to find a way to give back and, and help beyond just being in the business world and try to change the world a little bit. And so that led me there. But part of, for me in may of 2020, when, when I sort of came in this direction was after George Floyd was killed, I really stepped back and I got so frustrated to saying, what can I do? Like I mm-hmm <affirmative> I make donations, I can do that. And that’s important and still doing that. But I said, what can I do with my time? How can I make a difference? And I had no idea. And I asked a lot of diverse people and nobody had an answer and sort of what Chris kind of said, the business person in my mind said, wow, there’s how can I, no one know what to do? And if no one knows what to do, how the hell are we gonna get unity to happen? So I said, I gotta figure out a way to create something that answers that question. So when Mickey says, Hey, I believe in this, I want to create unity. And we say, this is what you can do Mickey. And we’ll get to that in this conversation. But that was for me, that moment of that’s what that’s, where I can get involved and make a difference.

Mickey Cloud (12:21):

Amazing. Awesome. And, and we’ll certainly dive into what’s that action folks can take, but I’d love for, even as you, uh, to take a little bit of step back and talk about like the, the, the biggest picture of, of what you want for us United. Um, you know, you guys are in the early stages you talked about, this is, you know, 2020 was when you guys really started to get together and build us United as a platform, as a brand, as a vehicle for change. What is, what does success look like for the organization? What are you, what are you striving towards?

Adam Mizel (12:47):

Let me, Chris, let me start and then please jump in. Um, yep. I think there three simple things that we would would be six, first of all, we’re gonna make unity a first thought and not an afterthought, cuz that’s what it is today. People like instantly go to their corners and we want ’em to say no, you know what? The first thought is, how do I find unity? How do I come together? So make it a first thought and we we’re gonna then build a brand and a voice for unity that people can and rally behind because it’s really, it’s, it’s this big concept, but you need something to rally behind to, to example, to voice, to give you a way to make it front and center. So mm-hmm, <affirmative> first thought, build a brand. And then the third piece is I think you’ll see us at some point, we’ll have an established network of us United chapters in cities and communities across the country.

Adam Mizel (13:35):

So at a grassroots level, we can take the, the examples we’re setting and, and every city in town, whether we start a chapter or we partner with people who are already there, it’s gonna be all kinds of mixers would say, this is how you bring unity every day in your community, by getting all these different groups together. And we have service events and our holiday spectaculars and on all kinds of things that, and if we do that, unity will become the way the direction people move to right away versus to division. And so to me, those are, I, I think what we’ll look at success

Chris Swanson (14:07):

Som I think your, uh, listening audience can relate to branding. And just because I, uh, I work for the government and I’m elected by the people and, and uh, I, I serve the people. I’m also a business owner and I’ve been a business owner my whole life. So I understand the power of if you’ve got something good, brand it, scale it and make it profitable. Mm-hmm <affirmative>. And so our message is not a physical product. It’s a, it’s a feeling, it’s a philosophy, it’s an ideology. And if we’ve extreme anything these last two years between COVID and mask and vaccines and politics and, and wars and economy it’s division, and, and I’m a peacekeeper, you know, I’m a, I’m a sword bearer as a, a political law enforcement official. I’m a white guy trying to fix a race relation problem and we’re doing it. And so when you take Flint, Michigan, and the reason that it works so well is because we’ve beta tested it here in Flint.

Chris Swanson (15:02):

We’ve gone into the streets of people that are not used to doing that. We’ve started, you know, the, the 30, uh, the 30 for us per where you sit down for 30 minutes once a week, twice a month. And you sit down with somebody to have coffee at Starbucks, you ask ’em, Hey, listen, I’m not Jewish, but tell me what the celebration of Purum is. Listen, I’m not Muslim, but what is, what is a Muslim Mo do? What do you, what do you guys do there? You know, I’m not, I’m not a business owner, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m not Mexican, I’m not white. Like let’s have conversations instead of having, uh, the idea of what we believe something to be instead of just trying to bring people together. And we are not trying to get robots. We’re trying to get people to respect others that differ, but also bring people together.

Chris Swanson (15:49):

So when you talk about branding, imagine this Mickey, imagine another police conflict and a protestor has somebody who’s looking at a police officer and they’re wearing the same us United band color. They’re doing the same local. They’re like, wait a second. I know the heart, we see it all the time with Brent. You can show me a swish. And I know that’s Nike. You can show me a, a, a color and I’ll know, oh, that’s, that’s a, that’s a, you know, that’s the new Orleans saints. Like we already are used to that. So we are literally branding unity and it’s gonna bring people together and stop tearing them apart.

Mickey Cloud (16:27):

I love that. I mean, obviously as the brand marketer and brand builder and me like the, the fact that you guys are making this challenge head on and saying, branding is the answer. I’m, I’m, I, I get super excited about it, but you also touched on there. I think one of the challenges is that when you see that swoosh, I know that you’re talking about an apparel company and you’re talking about some awesome shoes or a, a, you know, a dry fit shirt or so like that when you’re taking something that’s intangible like unity, how, and you’ve already started to talk about some of the conversations and events and, and things that you’re gonna be doing in communities. But I think for me, that is what I think is such an interesting challenge is you guys are taking something that everyone is not, is gonna not along to and say, yep, I’m interested in that. Or like, I believe in that, or, but it’s a, at the end of the day, it’s an intangible thing and you guys wanna build the brand around it. So how does that inform kind of the decisions you make or the lens that you guys are looking at, building out this platform?

Adam Mizel (17:23):

I think, I think you’re spot on and that’s the import. That’s why building a brand is so important. We have to take a concept that’s intangible and make it tangible, make it something you can get behind and that you can follow. And you can say as Chris’s example, you know, in the extreme you had a, an officer and a protestor, and they both saw that they were wearing the brand of unity, right? We will have the uniform of unity, whether it be a t-shirt you could be wearing, it could be a wrist brand. Think like the live strong bracelet, 15 years ago at Len’s Armstrong’s heyday, where everybody wore that. And you knew you knew what that meant, right? That’s what we need to do here with unity. And we’re working with partners to build out that sort of uniform of unity. And so you start to see that in the community and say, Hey, that’s cool. Unity’s cool. That shirt cool. That hat’s cool. That bracelet’s cool. I wanna wear it because I like it. And because I like the message it sends, and then you start to change behavior. You start say, Hey, that’s someone who believes in unity to.


Welcome to Building While Flying!

This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.

In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild;  building the plane while flying.

Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.

Disrupting the Discord. 

Adam Mizel and Chris Swanson are two of the founders of US United. They’re working to become the voice of unity and spark action in the process. US United is a not-for-profit whose mission is to build the brand to rally all who share their belief in unity as the path forward. US United provides the infrastructure necessary to disrupt discord and build movement.  

In this episode of Building While Flying, Adam and Chris join Mickey Cloud to talk about what it means to build a brand for unity, the early stages of building an US United platform and the importance of brand. They also dive into the power of simple ideas, capitalizing on a viral moment, and which skills transfer across all industries. 

If you’re looking to be the change you’d like to see, head over to the US United Website

Other in-flight topics:

  • Simple Ideas
  • Standing up in a moment
  • Capitalizing on virality 
  • Creating a roadmap to ignite action
  • Getting people to care about a cause  
  • Skills that transcend industry

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