What is leadership to me? May 30, 2021

By Jordan Pluim

Being a leader to me means knowing who you are.

You start with being a leader of your own self and teaching people what you know.

And if you see someone who is not doing the right thing you step up to the plate and stop it. You help others in a respectful and kind way without hurting them or their feelings.

Leaders can make mistakes, it is ok. You learn from your mistakes! Sometimes it can be hard to be a leader, because sometimes you do not want to do all of the work and want to rest.

You have to learn how to be a leader and ask people and learn from other people about how to be a leader. You don’t want to follow someone else’s steps, you should be your own leader!

Leaders don’t just get to do whatever they want. They have to be respectful and supportive and listen to other people all of the time.

How have I learned to be a leader? By listening to myself, my thoughts and hopes and dreams and also by listening to everyone else.

Leaders have to ask lots of questions. Leaders don’t just lead, they learn all of the time from other people and learn how to support them in ways that they see fit.

Song of Myself

Song of Myself December 9, 2019

By Ian Cardamone

I celebrate myself, and sing myself.

O early morning mist,

Billowing over the mountaintops

Take me back to the small coastal town.

When life was nothing more than imagination

When creativity ran wild and dreams leapt off dunes yelling “geronimo!”

O young surf-boarder, skateboarder, trampoline jumper,

Revitalize in me a free spirit.

O racing cars,

Rushing near the bay to unknown destinations

Take me back to the small apartment near the highway

Where my heart beat faster than the zooming machines.

Grab my hand and let me know that everything will be alright.

O becoming sketcher, filmmaker, worrier,

Remind me how to live passionately.

O bright lights,

Blinding me from what is right in front of me

Take me forward to a vibrant future

Where I am free from all restrictions and belong.

Allow me three breaths

As deep as the dark blue ocean

As calming as the embrace of a loved one.

As fulfilling as the creation of art,

O actor, dancer, music maker,

Become a man and sing of me.

A junior in High School, Ian recounts pivotal  moments throughout his life in the poem*. It reminds him to stay true to himself, even in the face of personal hardships and change. He encourages others to use art as a tool of self reflection as well because Ian has found it to be a useful way of “knowing oneself outside the distress of oppression”. His  participation with Be Present began in 2006 when he was 3 and continues to this day.

*Inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name.

I am a Wealthy, White, Jewish Man, So Why Do I Have This Compulsion to Lead? September 21, 2019

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?

Thanks to the support and facilitation I have received from Be Present leadership, my wife, and my Be Present support group I have come to the understanding that the emotional energy behind my drive to lead does not come from my race, gender, power or class-based assumptions of privilege, but rather from my own personal struggle to be independent from my parents’ influence during childhood and adolescence. Passive and active resistance to their efforts to change my “bookish”, introverted personality, make me more socially outgoing, and provide a Jewish education I did not want, were major features of my home life during my first 18 years and shaped my future mental life.

That struggle with my parents generated fear and extreme distrust of external influences that later emerged as a lifelong pessimism about and resistance to change. In the context of the Be Present’s collective leadership model, I experienced a very deep uneasiness, sense of personal disorganization, and resistance to true collaboration. Not in every instance, of course, but much too often I was not fully present with myself or with the group. Too often fear of losing self-determination gripped me without a conscious warning and led to attempts at manipulative behavior or claiming the ideas of others as my own. Those actions required the group to slow down and take the time to walk me through the process of understanding and changing my behavior.

And take the time we did! It is an essential part of the practice of the Be Present Empowerment Model that we agree to stay with each other and work through, not around, such moments. I am grateful for and in awe of the ability to wait for understanding to come that we in the Be Present leadership have maintained as, through the Be Present Empowerment Model, we facilitated my movement from being in the grip of this irrational fear of collaboration to my current understanding of it and a different awareness of partnership.

What is that warning lightbulb that keeps me and the motive for my actions outside that place of distress? I have noticed a sense of personal annoyance when change is discussed. That annoyance stems from the irrational assumption that the responsibility for change will fall solely on me and I resist the change as I resisted my parents’ demands. Recognizing the presence of that annoyance and an understanding that it is inserted in the present moment from a different time and context, helps me to move from thinking negatively of all the things I will have to do to make it work rather than what we have to do together.

I have always known about my initial pessimism about new ideas and my resistance to change, but was not able to consistently overcome them. Why do I think this understanding will now lead to lasting change? Because my experience in 15 years of practicing the Be Present Empowerment Model has been that the areas where I have achieved lasting personal change were those in which an initial intellectual understanding of the issues became linked to a subsequent understanding of the emotional drivers, and to the development of some lightbulb of awareness that warns me that those emotions are in play. As I participate in leadership in Be Present and in other contexts, I know that all three of these elements are now in place.


I wrote the above early in 2019. Around May of this year, I developed a personal crisis of confidence that caused me to doubt the optimism with which the essay ends. I was beginning to deal with the question of whether I was willing to continue the journey I was on towards a truly transformative personal change. I had come to a place where I was asking myself to change the core of my being: the essence that defines me as Bob Holzman. Could I truly know myself outside the distress of oppression when that oppression has been completely incorporated into my being? That was surely more than just knowing how I had been shaped by outside forces, rather it was knowing what I would be like if that shaping had not occurred. And how do I distinguish what I would be like from what I would like to have been like?

This was not simply an intellectual exercise. I had strong fears that such a change would lead to personal disorganization and I took “protective” actions. I began to tell myself that I had reached the limit of changes that I was willing to make. My resistance to staying within the Be Present Model grew and I began to shut myself off from candid emotional communication, becoming even more rigid and directive than before.

My partners in my support group and Be Present leadership responded with questions about what feelings were associated with this behavior. They waited and asked again, …and waited and asked again, …while I went through stages of denial, lack of understanding, and eventual identification of fear, specifically fears of personality disorganization and of an uncertain future as I approach the age of 80.

I was invited by my facilitators to ‘sit’ with that fear and experience it fully without trying to wall it off. I tried to do so and as I did the fears seemed to become less scary, easier to live with. The idea of personal change felt less dangerous and the need to rigidly guard against it eased. I now continue on the journey of practice that began for me 15 years ago when I began to practice the Be Present Empowerment Model.

Robert S. Holzman, M.D. is Professor Emeritus of Medicine at NYU School of Medicine. He currently serves as Co-Chairperson of the Board of Be Present, Inc., an international non-profit organization founded in 1992 to teach the Be Present Empowerment Model and promote sustainable leadership for social justice. The practice of the model involves working in a group process that enables each participant to (1) “know yourself outside the distress of oppression”, (2) “listen to others in a conscious and present state”, and (3) “build effective relationships and sustain authentic alliances”. For more information on Be Present and the Be Present Empowerment Model please visit the website or contact

Nasrah Smith: A 35-Year Legacy of Black Women’s Leadership June 1, 2018

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?” and the room literally broke out in wailing and hollering sounds. At that time, there were no words to come before the pain of what it has been like for most of the Black women in the room that have held their voices in silence for so long.

We were asked beforehand to facilitate and watch the room to know who needed support once the question was asked. Being the numbers we expected were different than our actual attendance, we were all looking out for each other and we were all holding each other.

I see many sisters now and remember seeing their faces for the very first time during our many Black & Female and Sisters & Allies Retreats in the mountains of Dahlonega, GA.

My primary time was assisting with births and having babies myself – it was all a home-based activity. I never realized how my life early on affected how I always wanted to be alone most times, until I opened up a couple of places of my own that affected how I was in my silence.

I was in a self-help group of five sisters and we called ourselves, Wa da da tena (Sisters Again). We were the first group to be chartered as a self-help group in Atlanta, GA. During that time, we called the Be Present Empowerment Model the “process” and “self-help.” Now we look at the steps taken in the self-help process and we call it the “Be Present Empowerment Model.®”

When I came in from New York in 2005, I intentionally reconnected with Be Present so I could be focused. I am so excited to be a part of our 35-year Anniversary, honoring ourselves and our herstory. Celebration time come on!

This 35th Anniversary year marks the 5th year of the Black & Female Leadership Initiative and the completion of an 18-month Black & Female Leadership Institute. Institute participants and a diverse group of others in the Be Present network will be on the Leadership Team for the National Black & Female Leadership Conference, open to everyone, June 21-24 in Dahlonega, GA. Join us. In addition, we invite you to consider making a tax-deductible contribution to our Conference Scholarship Fund in appreciation for the 35-year legacy of Black Women’s leadership.

Nasrah has been part of the Be Present network for our entire 35 year history. She has been part of an early (and present) Be Present Support Group, is Secretary of the Board, and has been a facilitator at numerous trainings. She is a traditional midwife and trains and mentors midwives.

LaVerne A. Robinson: A 35-Year Legacy of Black Women’s Leadership May 24, 2018

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, my first Black & Female: What Is the Reality? Retreat. I did not know what to think and I certainly did not trust myself or this room of Black women because I didn’t know any of them and past relationships taught me not to trust.  The evening began, and Lillie Allen asked the question: What is your life really like as a Black woman? (which to me meant, what was really happening in my life).  Oh my God, it was the first time someone cared to ask how I really was doing and the question went straight to my heart and spirit. The next thing I know I was wailing, crying, and hollering along with a room of Black women. I was accepted as the person I am, a Black woman and I was able to pour out all my stories no one else had ever listened to. Finally, someone consciously listened to me and cared about me, about who I was without any judgment or advice. For the first time in years, I felt like LaVerne again.  For two and a half days, I poured out the stories of my life as a Black woman. I fell back in love with myself and I fell back in love with my Black sisters. I walked out of that Retreat a transformed woman. My mind was clear, my voice emerged, and I began to talk fluently. My heart felt much lighter because the rage, disappointment and anger lifted, releasing the despair. The “process” I had experienced at that Retreat, later called the Be Present Empowerment Model changed my life.

After that weekend Retreat, I was inspired to always want to “live” in the present moment, become a leader, an activist and community organizer. I committed to myself that I would always be a leader and part of my leadership included providing an opportunity for my family and all human beings to experience what I had experienced —The Be Present Empowerment Model (BPEM). At that Retreat, I began to experience, learn and practice Realm 1 of the BPEM, Know Myself Outside the Distress of Oppression and Realm 2, of the BPEM, Listen in a Conscious and Present State. This opened my sight and vision and I began to see the endless possibilities of opportunities for me as a Black woman and my family.  Now, I knew my life dreams were possible!

I returned to my community and became founder of the Sacramento, CA chapter of the National Black Women’s Health Project, the initial organization that held the first Black & Female workshop. I worked there for four years, organizing Black women around their health. In 1991, I decided I wanted to continue being a leader, activist, organizer and bring the BPEM to the wider world. So, I moved to Atlanta, GA and in 1992, I sat with a diverse group of women to help co-found Be Present, Inc. Together we co-created a Vision Statement that lives today.

I have been an avid activist, passionate organizer and tenacious leader inside the building of the Be Present, Inc. movement/community for the last 26 years of my 32 year, herstory. Currently, I am a fulltime volunteer, Treasurer, member of the Atlanta Sisters & Allies Leadership Project, the Black and Female Leadership Team of the first Black and Female Leadership Institute, Vision Based Social Change Fund Development Team, and in a peer-led Be Present Support Group. In addition, I am a former member of the Board of Directors, Board Development Committee and staff as a National Network Leadership Trainer.

I am a passionate, Black woman with a tenacious heart, grounded soul, big Spirit and I get to “consciously live my life in this reality.” Hallelujah!  I know I am Blessed and humbly grateful that I have been able to Build Effective Relationships and Sustain True Alliances, Realm 3 of the BPEM with other Black women for 32 years and part of a diverse, multigenerational group of wonderful human beings for 26 years.  Together we have been shifting the world to be just, fair and equal for all, starting first with ourselves.

A Vision and Dream Come True!

This 35th Anniversary year marks the 5th year of the Black & Female Leadership Initiative and the completion of an 18-month Black & Female Leadership Institute. Institute participants and a diverse group of others in the Be Present network will be on the Leadership Team for the National Black & Female Leadership Conference, open to everyone, June 21-24 in Dahlonega, GA. Join us. In addition, we invite you to consider making a tax-deductible contribution to our Conference Scholarship Fund in appreciation for the 35-year legacy of Black Women’s leadership.

LaVerne is a passionate Black woman with a tenacious heart, grounded soul, big Spirit and I get to “consciously live my life in this reality.” Hallelujah! She has been both on Staff and a Volunteer of Be Present, Inc. for 32 years.