Last week I visited Nogales for the first time. I have a story of love and hope to share about my experience in Santa Cruz County and Sonora.

This is a story that is important to tell. We are living in the most divided time in our countries since the Civil War. We all really need to share our stories to tear down these walls of hatred that have been created between too many of us.

I came to these border cities for an appointment. I decided to also bring my big PTSD awareness project with me.

My project consists of simply meeting strangers everywhere I go. This project and journey all began with a moment of laughter I had on a suicidal night four years ago.

I promised myself I would get out of my home for eight hours each day and learn to be around people again after isolating badly from an incident of sexual and domestic violence that almost killed me.

So, I decided to meet strangers, tell them my story, and get their written support on my giant foam poster boards. Their support is for all my efforts to reach a symbolic goal involving a Late-night TV show and host that made me laugh that night.

This is day 1,547 of my odyssey of recovery and discovery that has brought me to Santa Cruz County recently.

In the days leading up to my trip, I heard a lot about Nogales from so many people that told me what to expect. The wall. Concertina wire. Drugs. Cartels. Immigration problems. Border Patrol.

But I wasn’t told much about the people of this great metro area. I found that interesting.

Before returning to Phoenix, I walked up to and met numerous individuals in downtown with my project. Including several amazing women when I visited Nogales City Hall.

These ladies all heard my story and gave me written support on my boards to achieve my goal. They also shared back fascinating stories of their lives and their city they are proud of.

I met some awesome people as I walked up and down the streets of Nogales, Sonora. These strangers also offered the same incredible support I received from the folks on the Arizona side of the border.

And then there is the area I call the middle. In line to get to “el otro lado.” But in this place, it is easy to forget whether it’s Mexico or the United States, because you don’t see a wall.

You’re in it – in the middle. That is all you see at that time. You are just surrounded by dozens of people with their stories of encouragement.

Those strangers signed stories of support on my giant boards. They all wished me well as I work to one day finally deliver in person this massive collective story of hope to “The Late Show” with Stephen Colbert in New York City.

I experienced Nogales through my own eyes. I see it as two cities of many strangers who came to be my friends. In its simplicity, there were two moments of fear. One, to overcome my fear of each stranger, the other to overcome their fear of me.

On the other side of this fear is where all the magic happened. We connected through our shared stories.

I will forever be grateful for the best gift your great cities behold and gave to me. Your beautiful people and their stories of love. You all gave me hope. Two worlds so far apart yet so beautifully close together. Viva Nogales.

(Blake is a resident of Phoenix.)

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