A Red Crayon in a Sea of Blue

Oprah calls them “aha moments.” Those moments when time stands still, your eyes grow large with newfound awareness, the figurative light bulb above your head becomes illuminated, and you swear that you hear the “ding ding ding” sound associated with solving the big puzzle on a game show. I vividly recall the “aha moment” that set in motion a chain of events that would eventually lead me to Banyan Communications.

Three years ago, I was in the midst of a challenging season in my life. I felt extremely disheartened with the work I was doing as a behavioral scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I was on a team that collected and analyzed large amounts of data and most everything that I did professionally felt like a chore. I literally dreaded Mondays and counted down the days until Friday.

During a strategic planning meeting our team completed a short personality assessment to help us learn more about each other. The assessment assigned people to one or more color groups. I don’t remember the exact descriptions of each color group but the blue and green groups generally represented people who enjoy analytic tasks, numbers, order, and structured work while the red and yellow groups represented people who enjoy creativity, social interactions, less structured environments, and a variety of activities and projects. When we shared our results it became clear that everyone had high scores in the blue and green categories and very low scores in the red and yellow categories. Everyone, that is, except me. I was bleeding red and yellow. And that was it – that was my “aha moment.”

I suddenly realized why I was so disillusioned. I was in the wrong place. I was a red crayon in a sea of blue markers. I instantly felt an extreme sense of joy because before that moment it never occurred to me that suffering through the days wasn’t my only option. Now I knew a secret – if my teammates could find joy in our mountains of data (who knew?) then I could also find work that would excite me! Getting there was going to require me to seek out opportunities that complemented my innate interests and drivers.

While I have always been drawn to creative endeavors it never occurred to me that I could combine my training in public health with my creative pursuits. I always felt that I had to lead a double life – a scientist by day and creative person by night. My life as a double agent came to an end within a year of that faithful “aha moment” when I volunteered to work on a project that involved health communications. I knew immediately that I was on the right path. Later, when I learned about Banyan Communications from a colleague, I felt like I’d found a playground for red and yellow crayons.

Ironically, my prior work experience greatly benefits the work I do at Banyan as a strategist because I have a deep understanding of the methods, data, and contextual issues surrounding the problems we address. I use that knowledge to inform creative solutions to challenging problems.

Examples of questions I ask myself and my fellow Banyanites on a daily basis include:

  • “What is the best way to reach this specific audience?”
  • “How do we translate this research and data into meaningful messages that will increase health knowledge and encourage change?”
  • “What is the story we want people to know?”

As we answer these questions and develop creative and innovative products, we create “aha moments” for our clients. As I know first hand, these moments of clarity have the potential to lead to action and create change.

Few moments are greater than that.

20 Years in 60 Seconds

One of the great things about being 20 years old is looking back on some of the great work we’ve created, friends we’ve made, and important messages we’ve helped spread across the country. We found so much great stuff that we thought it would kind of be a shame not to share some of it.

So, we present to you…


20 Years…in 60 seconds.


Change for Good Takes Time

Betty McGuire entered a diner, sat at the counter, and asked to be served. Instead, she was forced to leave.

Even though Betty was a regular at the diner, she had never been served. She continued to visit the establishment week after week, each time being turned away.

“In a way, I was on the frontline of the Civil Rights Movement,” she told us. “I was spat on, pushed and kicked around.” Betty was dedicated to the idea of change through peace, not violence. Throughout the 1960’s, she participated in numerous peaceful protests, ranging from where she sat to where she tried to buy tickets.

We had the opportunity to meet Betty during a recent shoot for one of our violence prevention projects. Nine kids and 19 grandchildren later, Betty McGuire is still at work, helping her community embrace peaceful solutions instead of turning to violence. She’s a community advocate in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, where she has lived for more than 50 years. She works with youth in the area, as well as social groups, block captains, and leaders that come together as part of the community’s violence prevention team.

Program Director Tania Mireless and the Boston Public Health Department helped bring the community-based team together. As Tania explained to us, when you look to address youth violence, you not only look at the scale of the problem a neighborhood faces, but you also look to see what community assets exist there that can help. “Betty is one of those assets,” she said.

The team is following a strategic planning process developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called STRYVE. The process is focused on preventing future violence, as opposed to intervening after it has taken place. The planning framework shows communities how to gather support, recognize signs of youth violence, and use evidence-based strategies to change issues they’re seeing.

Change takes time, Betty told us. She was working with her neighborhood during “the Boston Miracle” when murders dropped from 152 a year to 31 and last summer when a fellow community advocate told us homicides were at an all-time low. If Betty’s life is any indication, change may be hard, but it’s certainly worthwhile. “It took a few years,” she said with a slight grin, “but I finally ate at that diner.”