I am a Wealthy, White, Jewish Man, So Why Do I Have This Compulsion to Lead?

Over my life a characteristic feature has been that I remain in groups where I have a position of leadership and that I do not remain in groups in which I am a follower. It’s about control, of course, and it’s a characteristic I have been aware of since college, but only recently have I gotten insight into what drives me to behave this way.

In my career as an academic physician, researcher, and administrator, I was often in collaboration with others, but that collaboration included both explicit and unspoken hierarchies of power (for example, seniority of authorship or academic position). For the past decade as a member of Be Present’s Board I have worked in a very different collaborative model, one in which decisions are made collectively and by consensus and where deciding to just “go along” with the group is not part of the true process. It is still a struggle for me to be fully present in collaboration unless I am also present with my awareness that in such settings I have strong emotional reactions that can drive me to controlling or manipulative behavior. If those emotions are suppressed or not acknowledged, anger will accumulate and emerge forcefully and unexpectedly at some future time and often in another context.

So, what is new about a wealthy, white, Jewish man, accustomed to positions of power, acting to push his ideas and thinking on others or feeling entitled to act out his anger on others? It fits so many stereotypes and expectations, and when I can look at myself from outside my emotional distress, then I can see the assumptions of superiority and privilege within me that fuel such stereotypes and that I wish I were rid of. However, emotional distress often will grip me before any lightbulb turns on to reveal that I am about to act out my distress. Why is that distress so quick to come and so strong in its influence? Read more

Nasrah Smith: A 35-Year Legacy of Black Women’s Leadership

My ancestral line on both sides of my family are Native American, West Indian and African- American, kind of mixed all together. I am a traditional midwife of 35+ years assisting with delivering babies in homes with parents making informed decisions on how and where they wanted to birth their babies.

I do remember 35 years ago attending my first Black and Female Conference at Spelman College in 1983. The plan was we would expect at least 100 or 150 Black women at the most. There were over 1,500 women from all over the world that came.

I remember the one question Lillie asked and that was “What has it been like for you as a Black woman?” Read more

LaVerne A. Robinson: A 35-Year Legacy of Black Women’s Leadership

In 1986 I was a 33-year-old single parent and grandparent who was stressed out and emotionally and mentally in a crisis. I knew something fundamentally had altered me and I had to do something. Two significant life experiences caused my heart to hurt, be filled with disappointment and rage to the point of despair: My oldest daughter repeated the teenage pregnant cycle, birthing my first granddaughter. I walked off my job where I had personally experienced racism in the workplace. Now I had the increased responsibility of economically and emotionally supporting and nurturing three daughters and one granddaughter without a clue on how I was going to be able to provide all that they needed, with no job and no income.

I shut down emotionally and lost my voice.  Thank God I had a cousin who noticed something had happened to me because I was acting different.  She invited me and paid my registration fee to attend a retreat at Marin Headlands Institute in Sausalito CA, with all Black women, something she thought would help me. I took a huge risk – left my daughters and granddaughter for the first time and charged a bus ticket hoping it would be approved on an over the limit credit card. Even though I had emotionally shut down, I was silently praying and seeking help and a little voice inside of me said “go.”

May of 1986, in walks LaVerne to a room of all Black women, Read more