You know that old saying "put your money where your mouth is?" Well, Lady Gaga is using both – her money and her mouth – on her current U.S. concert tour, with the specific aim of empowering the world, one little monster at a time.
In pursuit of that goal, the "Born This Way" singer has added a special sidecar to her traveling show, something called the Born Brave Bus, a.k.a. Gaga's concert "tailgate" party. Instead of beers and barbecues, however, the tour bus seeks to edify by other means, aiming to stimulate conversation and education around the topics of safety, skills and opportunity, the three pillars of her Born This Way Foundation.
Opening three hours before every U.S.-based Gaga concert (33 dates in total), the Born Brave compound – a mini-festival available to all youth (ticketholders or not) – is a haven designed to provide community, strength and support for anyone under the age of 25.
Although Gaga spoke very little at the bus' debut in Tacoma (January 14th), she did tell the crowd, "If you are part of the community that you want to change, the change begins with you." The singer then sipped champagne, christened the bus with the bottle and did a quick happy dance to kick off the roadshow.
She has been more effusive in related tweets, however, writing, "At the #BornBraveBus you have access to professional private or group chats about mental health, depression, bullying, school & friends." She also tweeted that the bus "is a place where mental health + depression are taken seriously w/ no judgement, FREE real help available to all."
Dr. Sue Swearer, the bus' behavioral health team lead, described the setup as a series of "pods," each providing access to related national and regional assistance and networking opportunities. In every city, you'll find an LGBT pod, a Mentoring section, a Behavioral Health area and a Local Community Resources team. Registrants get free access to on-site computers that provide anti-bullying resources, gay, lesbian, bi- and trans- support group contact info, and direction for those seeking out volunteer opportunities. There are also additional areas where attendees can lounge and chat with peers, write messages on blackboards, even leave notes for Gaga herself.
Dr. Swearer, an anti-bullying expert, said she has already witnessed amazing groundswells in the early days of the tour. "People come up and say, 'Lady Gaga saved my life,' or 'saved my child's life. I feel OK because she's empowering me to say who I am.' Just in the first two events, I heard 50-plus stories like that. It is such a positive, supportive environment for everybody."
Dr. Swearer said that although she's been working in this field for years, the Born Brave Bus is providing her some profound learning opportunities. "I've been a professor for 15 years, I'm a licensed psychologist, studied bullying and various issues, and I would say that this is really an eye-opening experience for me. I'm learning about the diversity of experiences that people have, and also the ability to connect on a very fundamental message, which is 'acceptance.' If everybody were to accept everybody, a lot of issues wouldn't exist – a lot of conflict in our world wouldn't be there. On some level, it is a very simple message, but also very profound. That's my main take-home – if everybody was kind, if everybody was brave and stood up for the injustice that they saw, if everybody was accepting, then a lot of human ills wouldn't exist."
Another key contributor to the Born Brave experience is a close friend of Gaga's, a singer/performance artist named Breedlove, who acts as the Born This Way Foundation's chief ambassador. Breedlove said both he and Gaga are being hugely affected by what is happening at the Born Brave bus in each city.
"Every day we talk about it after her show. On a daily basis, she says, 'This is the most important thing in my life right now.'" Clearly affected, Breedlove added, "You can measure your success based on album sales or artistic endeavors, but when you come to a town and you meet youth that haven't had access to people that understand them, and they tell you that you've changed their life, I think that is the most incredible experience you could have on earth."