Thirty-five years ago, in 1983, Lillie Pearl Allen led the Black & Female: What is the Reality workshop at the first Black Women’s Health Conference. Over a thousand Black women and girls participated in this workshop. This gathering marked the beginning of a social movement, created a legacy of leadership for justice that is inclusive of all people, and laid the foundation for the 1992 incorporation of Be Present, Inc.
Be Present is in the 5th year of our Black & Female Leadership Initiative that addresses both the lack and, too often, distortion of the voices and visibility of Black women’s leadership in the literature, historical record and dialogue on social justice movement-building. It also highlights the process as well as the achievements of using a collective leadership approach in creating a diverse national network of activists successfully moving social justice agendas in the United States.
The June 21-24 National Black & Female Leadership Conference, open to everyone and held in Dahlonega, GA, will highlight Black Women’s leadership in building inclusive movements for social justice.
This blog is the first in a series highlighting the Black Women who laid the foundation for Be Present, Inc., beginning at the beginning, with Lillie Pearl Allen:
My community activism emerged over 40 years ago from my own history and experiences. I was searching for the answers to the following questions: “How do I get to know the fullness of who I am? Not just someone’s best friend, caring mother or daughter of migrant farm workers. How do I thrive in this world and not just survive while living in a culture where people make assumptions about who I am based on my race, my gender, my class?”<
I understood that my personal well being is united to a collective commitment to dismantle all forms of oppression. I wanted to live beyond the constrictions of oppression and I wanted other people to live in that way, too. I needed to have relationships with other Black people that were not based on our hurt, but celebrated all of who we were. And I wanted to build partnerships with White people that were not based on distrust or guilt, but emerged from our conscious understanding and true action. Today I am motivated by the knowing that it is possible to live in the present moment without barrier or hesitation from any past or present oppression; and that collective action that truly reflects the diversity of our communities is possible.
My enduring passion and work is about connecting, growing and learning together. I like working with people committed to building authentic relationships and sharing our collective knowledge so that we may accelerate the shift for social justice. I enjoy hearing and sharing experiences about our lives and initiatives, challenges and opportunities; and developing partnerships to move forward on the identified strategies and actions – all in the context of love and wisdom. My life is testimony to the fact that change is possible and that it’s sustainable. As President Obama has stated, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
The social justice sector is on the verge of major change. We are in the midst of a significant transfer of leadership from one generation to another. Organizations striving to increase their effectiveness are searching for organizational practices on how to better partner with each other, as well as to develop sustainable solutions and alliances where cooperation and equity thrive. Shifting the political agenda and expanding the scope of social justice to be more participatory rests on how authentically we organize and work together across issues and constituencies. Building power depends on our collective abilities to unite a multitude of sectors and bring together coalitions, networks, and progressive funders at the local, state, and national levels.
I believe that creating partnerships that reflect values of mutual respect, trust, and authentic partnership is not only the right thing to do, it is critical for a stronger and more effective social justice movement. In the 35+ years that I have been doing this work, I have seen how the issues of race, gender, class, and power are woven through the fabric of our personal relationships, workplaces, organizations, and communities, and continue to have a critical impact on people’s lives. I believe that in order to create peace and justice for all people, it is all our responsibility to critically examine the impact of these interconnected issues. It is from this understanding that we can build better leadership models and create healthier systems that sustain us. We cannot leave ourselves out of the dynamic process of creating and sustaining change; we are and must recognize ourselves as a part of what is and must be changed. When we do, we can take responsibility and model a new way to foster tolerance, promote peace, and work toward social and economic justice.
The transformative leadership model that I created and has been used throughout the country – the Be Present Empowerment Model® – teaches how to create authentic and honest connection between individuals, between individuals and their organization, and between organizations and their coalition partners. It provides a comprehensive and expansive orientation to leadership development, one that is grounded in social justice principles and values. Through this work people are better able to see the connections between self-transformation and social transformation. As a result they become more effective in thinking creatively, collaborating with others, dealing positively with challenging issues, and creating lasting partnerships.
Lillie Pearl Allen, MPH, is the founder of Be Present, Inc. and has the staff position of Creatrix of Play. She lives in Atlanta, GA with her wife Kate of 35+ years, three grown children, 15 grandchildren and 5 great‐grandchildren.
Peace Is Sanity 4 is an excerpt from Peace Building: A Manual for Living Peacefully Every Day: Learning Conciliation, by Carletta Joy Walker. She describes her book as “my action in the face of WMD, real & imagined:
“Art is elixir, art carries cultural story that contributes to words written and not written. Art unites, creates individuality and community. Art helps heal microscopic splits and wounds as well as macroscopic explosions and devastations.”
Carletta Joy Walker – from interview by J. Wesley Beeks
A sharing of my journey
An invitation to listen, hear & walk together
A thank you-
“May our hands of wisdom & our hands of compassion always meet.”
Peace Is Sanity 4
In a world of oneness, every time any time I’m hurting you, I’m hurting me; thinking I can forget about you, your needs and wants is delusion.
Your flood, my drought is we problem; this year or the next. Rain doesn’t discriminate, it just rains. It is for us with dominion over earth to work out distribution details.
Air, oil, gold, diamond, uranium, bauxite, wind, calcium, tree, stone, potassium, copper, iron, sun and moon are provided. It is for us little children, big children, adults, single and in pairs, to work out distribution.
In this world of same sun rays bathe kindred skin and same water quench human thirsts and same soils feed all that walks, you hurting me hurts you.
In a time of wonder the body weapon lays down.
Carletta was part of Black & Female: What Is the Reality/Black Women's Health Project organizing directly after the 1983 conference, and currently serves as Co-Chair of Be Present, Inc.’s Board of directors. New York City based poet, writer, artist, storyteller, performer, MC, producer, consultant using media, public and private work to encourage respectful communication, the appreciation of our stories and rhythms as essential elements of our well-being and world-healing.
by Bob Holzman
This article started as a section of a personal fundraising letter on behalf of Be Present, Inc. In three paragraphs, produced with support and feedback from my wife, Clare, as well as Margherita Vacchiano and Carletta Joy Walker, I described how 14 years of working in the Be Present Empowerment Model had affected me at the personal and professional levels.
I have worked to learn and practice this model for the last 14 years. While I was aware of the overt and implicit sexism, racism and classism in American society, it was still a revelation to uncover the effect of these “isms” when they were unconsciously incorporated in my own words and behavior. I came to better understand how my actions elicited reactions in others and how to make changes in my behavior. I became conscious of the signals my mind and body were sending when those actions were driven by otherwise unconscious processes.
Within my immediate family, I noticed a change in my willingness to discuss my feelings and engage in genuine and emotionally intimate communication. I also saw an increase in my sense of equanimity and emotional stability. These changes were noticed and encouraged by my wife and children.
I also noticed changes in my professional relationships as mentor and collaborator. I started to work from a perspective outside my own history and preconceptions and found I was better able to listen to new concepts and accept alternatives to my own ideas. As a result, I worked more collaboratively and more effectively. As a physician, I found I was better able to listen to and hear my patients and better respect their humanity. This moved our relationship from the traditional physician-patient hierarchy towards one built on our status as partners in health. As a result, I could more successfully communicate complex medical ideas in ways they understood. This engaged them and created trust.
The Be Present Empowerment Model gave me the tools I needed to see the impact of my actions and begin to bring my behavior more in alignment with the kind of person I want to be.
It has never been easy for me to be open about my internal processes and emotions. My first words in a Be Present Circle were “I don’t disclose…” It is of course easier now, after 14 years of practice, but I still feel a vulnerability, a fear of being controlled by others, when I do disclose my emotions. It still takes effort to be forthcoming and there is the temptation to be less than fully honest about what is happening within me, especially when feelings of impatience with group process and discussion interfere with my ability to hear others. Also, I have learned that I am not always accurate in my perceptions about my own feelings or motivations. I need to be willing to reconsider, to examine myself from other angles.
The true route to my growth and change started with the first step of understanding the contradiction that I was oppressing others despite a strong desire not be an oppressor. The first step in that realization, and the thing that started my work in Be Present, was with my poorly controlled expressions of anger within my family. Its extent is still being uncovered after 14 years in support groups, institutes and workshops. The second step was my becoming aware of my actual emotional state and aware that it was that state that was actually driving my behavior. For most of my life I had worked hard to ignore bodily and mental signals of tension or relaxation, anger or joy, so I could maintain an outward image of personal and professional neutrality, impartiality and authority. Most of my “light bulbs”, such as physical or mental tension were actively ignored and much destructive behavior resulted. I was reminded by my facilitators that I was selectively forgetful of such incidents. Change started when I began to acknowledge the intellectual rigidity and bodily tensions that I attempted (unsuccessfully) to suppress. I continue to become more skilled at recognizing when I am acting from past distress rather than responding from within the present moment.
It is not easy to label myself publicly as an oppressor. Through our Be Present lenses of race, gender, class, and power I can now see myself clearly as a white, male, authority-claiming, professional leader with stereotypically oppressive behaviors. I am now able see that I work actively to control any situation that I am in and I continue to learn the depth and subtlety of this controlling behavior in my personality. I can identify a racist origin in a pattern of selective inattention to Black women when with a diverse group of women. This was not an easy truth to acknowledge but becoming aware of it (and its negative, undesired effects) has led to change.
While growing up in my Jewish family I learned a love of argument and disputation for its own sake. In most cases, though, it is harder for me to identify what relative proportions of racism, sexism, classism or professional patriarchy have combined to create those oppressive, controlling behaviors and I have experienced situations where attempts to control or direct a situation were identified as sexist by some and racist by others. What I know now is that It is far more important that I identify that behavior as oppressive, disrespectful or controlling, and stop it, than that I understand what “ism” generated it. It is that shift in my movement that opens the door to change.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
By Laurie Dreamspinner
The week that included the 2016 presidential election found me in Atlanta with five others from my Yellow Springs, Ohio inner circles. Be Present is an organization started by African American women 35 years ago. A main focus is the commitment “to a process that builds personal and community well-being on the strength of self-knowledge rather than on the distress of oppression.”
Khara is our new Yellow Springs friend who has been involved with Be Present for over 13 years and she brought us to the meeting of the board and the National Network Training on Leadership and Play. The five days I spent with those people has transformed my life.
A great deal of the work I have been engaged in for 50 years + has prepared me to take this on. Be Present contains some important missing concepts/pieces that are even now beginning to make my work more effective and efficient. The injunction to be in constant (as near as I can) touch with myself “outside of the distress of my oppression” grounds me more clearly in who I am, and frees up energy to make decisions out of clarity and compassion as opposed to fear and anger. We were immediately included as members of the group, encouraged to ask questions and contribute to discussions and constantly were observing people actively knowing themselves outside of the distress of their oppression.
The group challenges each other, supports each other and is genuinely committed to themselves and each other over and over and over. This in the midst of a shocking world event. Twice during that time I was supported in dealing with difficult inner work relating to white privilege, cultural differences, and misogyny–internal and institutional. I was privileged to observe and support others dealing with their own issues that interfered with our being able to function.
On Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, I was surrounded by strangers who felt like long-lost family I had never met before. I felt with the outcome of the election, it would be reasonable for these people, the majority of whom were not white, to pull away, to disengage at least somewhat. That did not happen! I found myself feeling included, if confused and upset by the results of the election, questions answered, authentic connections being made, being challenged to confront my own inner feelings, and supported in dealing with faux pas. I found myself singing “Soften my heart, soften my heart, soften my heart, soften my heart.”
Both in my recent trip to Bali and in Atlanta I was aware of carrying cultural contaminants and wanting to understand them and replace certain practices with ones without negative impact on others. Being open about working to soften my own heart turns out to be a good invitation to others to feel safer and respond in kind.
Ever since we came home, I have been working on integrating what I observed and am learning. How can I put this all into practice? What needs to change in how I engage with my on-going commitments? What do I already have in place, but can now see more clearly? How does this affect my short- and long-term relationships? How can I communicate what I am grappling with to others so we can collaborate and counter the up-coming excesses and rising aggressions in the years to come? How can I listen better to people so we can meet each other’s hearts and souls?
Since I returned home, I find myself returning to Jacquie Godden’s song reminding me, “In these times, in these uncertain times, I will remain open to the miracle that is each moment.”
New to Be Present, author Laurie Dreamspinner is part of a Yellow Springs Be Present Support Group and attended the November 2017 Board meeting and National Network training. She is a village grandmother with many interests, all of them leading to community development--even swimming becomes an opportunity for connection. She spent over 40 years doing childcare and 18 years running a cooperative house. Laurie now resides in her new Blessing House/La Casita Bendita with her cat as she learns to be available in new/old ways to her communities.
By Nancy Thurston
I hated economics in college, yet most of my adult life has been diving deeply into money, class and economic justice.
I hate fundraising, yet I have been part of Be Present, Inc.’s fundraising team for thirteen years.
Though I entered this field kicking and screaming, I’ve discovered that working with money offers an exquisite doorway to spiritual transformation and that addressing all aspects of fundraising can take the lead in social justice. While “economics” and “fundraising” sounded dull, spiritual transformation and social justice made my heart sing. The draw has been strong enough that I’ve continued this exploration of the intersection of money and faith for over thirty years.
Below is a distillation of Be Present’s Vision-Based, Social Change Fund Development philosophy, where we work to expand the boundaries of philanthropy while building a social justice movement sustained by trust, mutual respect and equality.
Even if you are disinterested in philanthropy as a subject, I hope that this perspective gives you hope in these times when money is at the heart of so much darkness.
Be Present, Inc. believes that philanthropy can take the lead in the journey for social change. Our fundraising is vision based; we begin and end with our vision in mind. This vision is guided by four core values: Grassroots democracy; Diversity; Equality and Inclusion; Personal and Global Responsibility.
We develop our fundraising strategy to be in alignment with these values, and then bring together the resources – people, time and money – to make the vision a reality. We believe that collaborative learning, transformative leadership and building effective relationships is what leads to sustainable fundraising. Therefore, everyone who participates in the network financially invests in our work together, supported by the Board’s Vision-Based Social Change Fund Development Team.
Access to resources shapes social movements in the U.S. These resources – time, labor, and particularly money – are vital to organizational survival and political success. Exploring who gives, how they give, and the effects of the giving have an impact on effecting sustainable justice and therefore are important political questions to address. The Be Present Vision-Based Social Change Fund Development Model is based on the core principles that raising money is political and that all people from all backgrounds are contributors to and benefit from the work of social justice.
Be Present’s guiding principle is that philanthropy’s success is measured not only by where money is given, but also the process by which it is given. We commit to raising while using the Be Present Empowerment Model to examine the dynamics of race, class, gender and power that influence fundraising and giving practices.
Be Present has a commitment to work with diverse individuals and organizations. Not willing to allow the ability to pay the full price be the deciding factor of who can access our services, we offer a sliding payment scale. To simultaneously thrive so we can continue to support the social change movement, Be Present has developed both a detailed budged for the actual costs of offering the trainings/consultancies and a multi-pronged, collaborative funding stream.
First, we ask individuals/organizations to pay at the highest rate they comfortably can. Second, we offer support to people/organizations to envision a fundraising plan to help raise funds to cover the costs. Third, the giving and fundraising by those in the Be Present network and our financial supporters are focused on ensuring that the diversity and inclusivity that weave through our mission and vision are reflected in all aspects of our work.
The Vision-Based Social Change Fund Development Team has compelling monthly dialogues to develop skills in building long-lasting, thriving relationships; bringing more of one’s whole self into their giving; addressing money and privilege dynamics in relationships; understanding giving practices of diverse communities; and promoting innovative, sensitive and respectful philanthropic practices.
Fund development is the process by which Be Present uses fundraising (and other revenue-generating vehicles) to build capacity and sustainability. The focus is on expanding and further diversifying Be Present, Inc.’s funding sources—from fundraising efforts, fee-for-services (consulting contracts and training registration fees) and merchandise sales.
While fundraising itself still isn’t my favorite activity, I love the doors it opens to a transformation of our spirit and our relationship with our global human family. If you’d like to invest in this work right now—here is your link!
Nancy Thurston, author, is the Co-Chair of Be Present’s Vision-Based, Social Change Fund Development Team. In addition she has written her own story in her Nautilus Award winning book Big Topics at Midnight: A Texas Girl Wakes Up to Race, Class, Gender and Herself. Nancy’s website and blog
Khara Scott-Bey, illustrator in this blog and EXA LMFT, is part of Be Present’s Black & Female Leadership Institute. She is an artist, activist, therapist, and healer whose work is rooted in community based healing practices, embodied leadership, and transformative play. Currently Khara works at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio as a counselor and holistic healer. blog