Why I Joined +MPU: a Familiar Pattern

Greater Boston, MA

Ben Lyon   |   August 01, 2023

I spent the last 13 years focused on promoting financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa. When we had to put my last company on ice (April 2023), I took stock of my life and the world around me and wanted to do something different. I felt a calling to serve, to help heal the wounds that are tearing our country apart.

By fortune or fate, I saw an old acquaintance (Jake Harriman) start talking about how servant leadership and strategic conversations can change communities, and how communities can change nations. Then he co-founded +More Perfect Union–I was intrigued. The timing was right and I felt inspired, so I jumped in. I hope you’ll jump in too.

About +More Perfect Union

MPU is a nationwide movement to strengthen our communities and heal our country by creating meaningful connections through service and leadership.

MPU forms local chapters to bring people together through service, civics, and leadership. We are training and inspiring the next generation of leaders to serve their communities.

Why I joined +More Perfect Union – Part 1: A familiar pattern

What follows was my written response to the +MPU 2023 Fellowship Application question, “What has led you to this moment and deciding to apply for the Fellowship?”. Media added for context.

Three men in uniform pointing at a map
My brother, Jeremy Lyon. Image credit: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

I started paying close attention to extremism while my brother was deployed in West Mosul during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was in college at the time and took an interest in what today goes by open source intelligence, using various online tools to track chatter and verify global events. I was able to “keep an eye” on my brother with these tools (or at least tell myself that) and study Al Qaeda, the preeminent threat to our democracy and my family at the time. Unfortunately, this field of inquiry touched me directly in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013 when four Al Qaeda-affiliated gunmen attacked the Westgate Mall, killing 67. A friend was executed in the attack. I saw many of the deceased while searching for him.

I lived with post-traumatic stress disorder for years following the attack. I was hyper-vigilant during these years, often fixating on potential threats. I pulled and pulled at the thread of violent extremism, trying to make sense of it. How could someone knowingly kill a child, for example? What motivates them to do that? Who directs them? Why? How? Even with years of therapy and the tools to regulate my nervous system, just writing this makes my body tremble.

I’m telling you this because I see a throughline from Al Qaeda to the violent extremism percolating in our democracy. I fixated on disinformation and violent ideologies, often abroad, over the past decade. I now see patterns I recognize in my own country.

I’m applying for the +MPU Fellowship because I believe we are mission-aligned and have a similar concept of organization (it takes a decentralized network to beat a decentralized threat). I’m at a turning point in my career where I’m increasingly motivated to give back and I care about our democracy in my bones. I have been fortunate in so many ways. Our nation needs engaged citizens now more than ever. It’s time for me to rededicate myself to service.


I’ll share my deeper motivations in the next post. In short, my ancestors have been in North America since Jamestown. I feel a deep connection to our country’s history–good, bad and ugly. I also feel deep responsibility for our country’s future.

My goal with these posts is to learn out loud and share works-in-progress to help demystify civic engagement. Americans will determine the future of America; it really is that simple.

What future shall we build?

Read part 2/2 here.