Be Present & Me

The large conference room was adorned with bright cloths and filled with a hundred excited strangers, from children to grey-haired elders, with skin from black to mocha to pink. It was the most racially diverse room I’d even been in. Timidly I stepped into the room, a 48-year-old woman seeking something more just, diverse and soul-satisfying than I’d experienced in my life.

It was a long journey to that conference. Twenty years earlier my heart had broken open with the understanding of the connections between my faith, my personal and culture’s money and global justice.

I knew a lot.

Yet I had no idea what was happening in my first Be Present Conference. All of the ingredients of a good conference—adherence to the agenda, information-packed lectures, careful monitoring of what is shared so as not to offend others, and strict silence when others spoke—were absent. None of my extensive vocabulary could articulate the power of what I witnessed in Be Present’s National Conference on [Race] Power & Class.

A white woman spoke honestly about her struggle in a racially-charged moment at work. A black woman spoke of how hard it was to hear how weakly this woman had responded. Many others took a risk and stepped forward to say what was true for them. While I expected the room to explode with judgment, everyone was supported in speaking what was true for them. People deeply listened to each other. Children paid close attention, knowing that the emotions that flowed around the room were in the service of love and not destruction.

I’d come because I was confused about how to show up in a cross class group. Did I need to shut up since people who looked like me have dominated for thousands of years? Was I unconsciously acting out of my unearned privilege based on my skin color or wealth? Would I inadvertently offend?

I hoped this unique and diverse organization would support me to figure out how to be myself in the midst of our diverse, often unjust, world.

Sixteen years later, I’ve learned far more than I could imagined when I first stepped into that room of strangers. Be Present, Inc. gave me a practice—the Be Present Empowerment Model—strong enough to support me to step outside of the status quo and live consciously, embodying the justice and equity I longed for.

This model is a practice I use in all aspects of my life.  I’m laying aside my own unique mix of compulsive, protective habits and fearful maneuverings so I can truly be Nancy Ann Mathys Thurston. In addition, I’ve learned honest and open hearted ways to be in relationship with others in a manner that is in alignment with my heart and spirit.

Using this model within organizations and systems has enabled me to participate in the bigger movement of justice and equality. No longer overwhelmed by entrenched behaviors in organizations and institutions, I’ve begun to respectfully take risks to have conversations whenever unjust assumptions, policies or behaviors emerged. Be Present taught me that the present moment holds the best possibility for change.

When another organization dear to my heart, Wisdom & Money, hit a hard moment, I reached out to Be Present for support. From that first consultancy, Be Present and Wisdom & Money have developed a vibrant partnership that has strengthened both organizations and opened up creative avenues for joint ventures.

I’ve been writing about my journey with The Be Present Empowerment Model for several years. Below are some of my blog posts that highlight my use of this practice in various aspects of my life:
The Journey Toward Justice (realm 1)
3:00 a.m. (realm 2)
From “Shut Up and Follow” to “Step Up and Lead” (realm 3)
White Like Me in Times Like These  (Using the model with myself)
Risk Being Different (Using the model with family)
Stepping Into What I Hated (Using the model with philanthropy)
A 35-Year Legacy of Black Women’s Leadership (Lillie Allen, founder of the Be Present Empowerment Model, speaks about her journey with the model)

Read More about why Wisdom & Money has adopted the Be Present Empowerment Model as a core practice.

Read More about a collaborative nine-year process of gifting a farm in Mississippi.

Photo from Be Present’s National Black & Female Conference (open to everyone), photo by Phields Photography