by Nancy M Thurston
Nineteen years ago, I flew across the country to attend a Be Present National Conference on Race and Class. At the time, I was stuck and desperate. Stuck between a bone-deep knowing that the personal and societal transformation I longed for was possible, even across our differences of class, race and gender, and noticing how I was going silent within diverse groups. White skinned and wealthy, inner voices shouted that as one with privilege I needed to keep quiet. Simultaneously, I knew that there was no way I could participate in the radical shift I was seeking as a silent partner.
I had no idea where to turn for support.
At the recommendation of Jenny Ladd, a woman I’d just met, I contacted Be Present™ and signed up for their next event.
I knew from the moment I stepped into the conference room that this was unlike any training I’d ever attended.1 Large pieces of cloth hung on the walls, intertwined with strings of lights. Music filled the air: “Tired of living life in black and white. There’s so much in between.” 2 Adults and children of all ages and skin colors greeted each other with hugs and squeals of joy.
I didn’t know anyone, and yet I didn’t feel like a stranger. I did, however, wonder if I was the only one there who had never been in a gathering this racially diverse?
The more the weekend progressed, the clearer it was that this was no ordinary conference. We were given an agenda, but no one stopped long sharing didn’t fit into the time frame. Though I didn’t intellectually understand the process and was initially fearful, soon my heart recognized that transformative conversations were happening right in the middle of the very “hot topics” that far too often divide us. I listened closely as people spoke about their own experiences with race, class and power. Was it possible to learn this new way to have conversations, to speak with candor and still keep our hearts open?
At that moment, I couldn’t imagine having the courage to speak that honestly, especially in the midst of such diversity. And yet, I could see that it was possible even, I hoped, for me.
I’d hoped I could find the answers I was seeking during this one four-day Conference. But on the flight home, I realized I needed to make a bigger commitment. I needed to stay long enough to learn HOW to live and lead in the ways I’d witnessed. Though my schedule was full, I decided to return quarterly for over a year and a half in order to participate in the Be Present’s next 18-month Institute on Race, Gender, Power and Class.
When I stepped into that training, I was searching for support for what was already blossoming in my life. I knew much. I’d experienced much. I’d sought out a more diverse story about my national and global family’s history and present reality than I’d learned in school. I’d spent almost 20 years learning about, personally incorporating, and working for economic justice in our society. I had a vision for the life I was seeking, a life I’d begun to live. And yet I needed support and practices strong enough to point the way for me to find my own unique and authentic voice centered in justice and love. The 18-month Institute held and supported me as I took these next steps. The time demands were great, but the benefits were worth every minute I invested.
I’m now on the Leadership Team for another 18-month training, a collaborative between two organizations dear to my heart—Be Present™ and Wisdom & Money. The strength and length of this collaborative is no small thing when you consider that one organization was founded by African American women and the other was founded by self-identified wealthy white Christians.
Despite these differences, together both organizations understand that issues of money and wealth are necessarily part of the larger societal movement of spiritual and economic transformation and justice, and that the journey of spiritual transformation leads us to form effective, sustainable and diverse partnerships. And both understand the value of grounding that work in practices that support inner and societal transformation.3
If you are looking for a quick answer to the issues that have divided us for far too long, you’ll need to look elsewhere. However, if you too are looking to step out of the cultural paradigm within a community of support and practice, we are here for you. The Be Present with Wisdom & Money Institute, beginning in October 2021 (near Boston as soon as we can safely meet face-to-face), will support you to align your values and actions, will point to a doorway to spiritual transformation at the personal, communal and societal levels, and will provide an introduction to and place to use practices powerful enough to build and sustain effective and sustainable partnerships. In June, we will offer a Zoom experiential introduction weekend training to give you a taste of what we will be creating together at the Institute. More details are here.
Just imagine what is possible in our world as each person steps into the fullness of their wisdom and sight in partnership with others across all our differences. Look out world! It’s already happening. Are you seeking a place to learn how to live in this radical new paradigm of justice flowing from a transformed heart? If so, check out this upcoming training and the work of both Be Present and Wisdom & Money.
1 These next paragraphs are adapted excerpts from Big Topics at Midnight: A Texas Girl Wakes Up to Race, Class, Gender and Herself, by Nancy M Thurston, Chapter 18.
2 Regina Belle’s I Dream in Color.
3 These two paragraphs are from the Memorandum of Understanding between Wisdom & Money and Be Present™ for the Trailblazing Collaborative Project.