Blair is a caring facilitator of connection—and a curious student of it, too. He’s fascinated by what makes us feel close to each other and wonders how we can show up more often with our full selves. Based in Oakland, he is also Gather Inc’s new Networks Manager!
Over Zoom, we discussed finding belonging in other countries, different practices of relating, what it’s like to be a pun master, and the power of letting go. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Jason: Blair! What brought you to the Bay?
Blair: I was working at a startup in Boston right out of college and they had a small office out here, so I first came in 2015. Since then, I’ve left twice, both times not having any clue I would return. And both times after about a year away, something called me back.
What do you think it was?
Each time, I had a clearer sense of what I was looking for. Initially, I was so open, looking for pretty much any friends who wanted to hang out. The second time, I was more focused on pursuing social impact work and wanted to find a deeper sense of community. I felt clear that dance has become a big part of my life, and the Bay has a thriving dance community. There’s also the pines and the mountains and the sense of adventure. Plus, I find myself more drawn to humans who have a lightness, humility, and silliness to them and who are deeply curious about emotions, mindfulness, and how we communicate—the Bay seems to have them in spades.
Have you always been drawn to social impact work?
It’s always been important to me but spending a year in South America in 2017 really highlighted the extent of my privilege being born in the United States. I spoke to people I met and would say to them, “You should come visit me in the US!” More often than not, they replied that it would take them a long time to save up; it wasn’t a little trip. Those kinds of exchanges made a huge impression on me, and I wanted to make sure I was using my time to make an impact.
Was there any particular place during your trip where you felt an especially satisfying sense of belonging?
I backpacked a lot that year so for a while, it felt like I was having the same conversation with
Westerners in every hostel. “Where are you from? Where are you going next? Have you seen this statue?”
But when I was volunteering in La Paz, Bolivia for a few months, I got to stay with a host brother and it felt really different to have multiple touch points into someone’s life and connect on a deeper level. He brought me into his friend group, and it felt like I was invited into his world.
Having someone to vouch for you can be so crucial. Thinking more stateside, I’d love to hear about your experience living in a Moishe House.
I grew up Quaker, so I’m not Jewish, but I had a long-term partner who is Jewish and lived in a Moishe House in San Francisco [editor’s note: a communal house where residents host programming for their local communities]. After my South America trip, I’d met so many new people, but I realized how much I took for granted those little moments when you’re in the same place with somebody for an extended period of time: they know you, there’s a shared language with inside jokes, and they’re checking in on you. I missed that and had the opportunity through my partner to move into the Moishe House, which was a wonderful experience that opened my eyes to the power of community in new ways. Having a Shabbat dinner, especially during Covid, acted as a beautiful anchor every week.
Can you think of any roles or interests that have guided you toward this position?
The last few years, I’ve been working as a life and leadership coach, creating spaces where people can feel comfortable and get in touch with what is important to them. I also started facilitating “Authentic Relating” evenings, where participants come together to play structured communication games that invite depth, authenticity, and play into their connection with each other.
For me, Authentic Relating has felt like this profound normalizing of what it is to be human, because it welcomes emotions like joy, curiosity, and silliness, but also those that many of us have learned to suppress like anger, grief, and awkwardness.
I’m just so fascinated by the art of connection and I wonder what it means to truly connect to another person beyond the classic “How are you?” “Good and you?” routine many of us have become so accustomed to. What’s actually happening in us when we’re in connection? What are the ways that we often feel like we can’t bring our full selves to an interaction? What helps us experience a sense of belonging as well as feeling seen for who we are?
And what drew you to Gather?
Gather feels like this amazing convergence of my experience facilitating and coaching, which was also very much about belonging. And so much of what I’ll be doing is centering relationships, which is something I’ve been passionate about my whole life—even if I didn’t always have the language for it—so I knew I was in the right place.
I’ve been so taken with the people [on the team]. Everybody I talked to is super sharp, emotionally intelligent, dedicated, and feels really easy to hang out with, while also having an orientation toward justice.
Yay. So, tell me about your role as Gather, Inc’s Networks Manager, and what’s most exciting to you about it?
I started in October—one of the biggest parts of my role is supporting Bay-Area Jewish organizations to infuse more relationship-based approaches to their work. I’m really excited to be managing the Young Adult Peer Connector Network. They’re an incredible group of Jewish professionals who support the Bay Area Jewish young adult population through peer-to-peer engagement (like taking people to coffee!).
I feel so excited about bringing people together in a more interwoven way, so they can feel more connected to each other and to their Jewish spaces.
What do you get up to outside of work?
I’ve won the Bay Area Pun-Off two different times! My brain seems good at lateral thinking and rearranging words with play and humor, plus I love having to make all these quick little game-time decisions under pressure. Wordplay and lyricism have always been a part of my life—I also write songs, play guitar, and freestyle rap has long been a love of mine.
If you ever do another competition, let us know! Now, onto our in-house Proust Questionnaire. Tell me a poem, book, movie, play, piece of music or art or media that you love.
“The Grief We Gave Our Mother,” an acoustic album by Matthew Fowler, feels like it’s been a warm hug in the last year, and his voice is so great.
What is the Bay’s best-kept secret?
It’s absolutely incredible to be able to drive 15 minutes from my house and be immersed in Redwood Regional Park with its gorgeous forest. I feel like I’m in a place that I should have to drive for hours to get to.
What was a recent time you felt a spiritual connection?
About two years ago, I let go of a lot of pieces of my life, which was a confusing and scary time. But then I had this feeling of starting to get ground back under my feet and it seemed like there was a grander thing happening than I could even think to control. Things were changing for me in these weird and mysterious ways, and then suddenly, it was like I was waking up to the life right under my nose—and that life actually works really well for me. That was a profound moment of spiritual connection; I realized I didn’t need to hold my journey alone.
Editor’s note: The Young Adult Peer Connector Network is a collaboration between the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and Gather, Inc. Piloted in 2019 and now in its fifth year, the Peer Connector Network is made up of engagement professionals from seven different Jewish organizations that serve young adult Jewish populations in the Bay Area.
GatherBay Profiles is our interview series spotlighting the vast array of community members doing rad things! Released twice per month, the series aspires to celebrate GatherBay’s greatest treasure—the people around us. Want to be profiled? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.