3 year-old twins River and Bodhi
Ocean and Michele Robbins
420 Bronco Road
Soquel, California 95073, USA
What is an underlying question that gives form to your work or interest in this field?
How can we create contexts in which young people feel
a sense of safety that allows their true selves to emerge and in which
they deepen their connection and commitments to the well-being of themselves
and their world?
What is your personal experience of collective
wisdom in groups?
We have held 82 week-long camps and hundreds of day-long
workshops in 10 countries for youth from over 50 countries, where we
bring together groups of 30 young people (ages 15-30) to sit in circle
together and share their truths, their dreams, their stories and their
commitments. Our events weave together the inner journey of healing
with the outer journey of compassionate social engagement, helping young
people gain the support and skills to live with meaning, purpose and
passion. We create contexts for young people to talk about what matters
most to them, in an atmosphere of respect and support. To take down
the walls and the masks, and to make friends and build bridges of respect
and solidarity across the lines of class, race, gender and all the other
differences we are usually divided by. Many of our events in the past
were for young people who want to make a difference and didn’t
know where to start. Most of them now are for youth who have already
committed their lives to a path of awakening and positive social change.
They are founders and leaders of organizations and movements worldwide
working for peace, human rights, social justice and environmental sanity;
those whom we believe are the emerging Martin Luther Kings, Gandhi’s
and Susan B. Anthony’s of our generation. All of our events touch
on a mysterious force (our alumni call it “the YES! magic”)
that comes into a room at key moments and transforms a group of individual
people into best friends who would trust each other with their lives--and
who are profoundly connected to their deeper selves, to their path in
life, and to their own capacity to be lifelong beacons of possibility
What is it about the work in this field that excites
you and connects you to your own deepest self?
I (Michele) am passionate about the ways our work with
collective intelligence transforms the lives of young leaders and then
ripples out to transform the world. I’m challenged by how to support
the ongoing connection to the field after a group has physically left
a space. At our last event a few weeks ago a 24-year-old Palestinian
journalist arrived with no hope in humanity, having been shot twice,
her house bombed 5 times, her boyfriend killed, and having watched countless
people killed. We watched her reconnect with love, with hope, with possibility
and then return home to be promoted to be the media coordinator for
the Prime Minister of Palestine. She is e-mailing our group listerve
almost daily as a way to stay connected. But I wonder how long she can
hold on to the magic surrounded by violence and fear. This is just one
poignant snapshot. Even in less dramatic circumstances, it seems to
me a challenge to bring the fruits of collective intelligence work into
daily life, ongoingly over time. I’m excited by Be Present’s
model of local ongoing support groups as a tool.
Please provide a brief storyline or snapshot of
what brought you to this work.
In 1989, at the age of 15, I (Ocean) raised $3,000 so
I could travel to the Soviet Union for an international youth summit.
Traveling behind the Iron Curtain, to a land at which my country had
thousands of phenomenally destructive warheards pointed, and finding
human beings who loved, prayed, dreamed, struggled, and longed for peace
just like my friends back home, was transformational. I realized then
that inside of everyone, no matter the color of their skin or the nation
of their birth--and no matter how much armor they carried around their
heart--lived a place of compassion and goodness. It might be buried,
bent or twisted. But I came to a sense of certainty that in the right
environment, with enough love and support, people (and most easily young
people) could be helped to connect to and ultimately live from a place
of deepened love and respect for themselves and all life.
In the summer of 1990, I attended a summer camp put on by an organization
called Creating Our Future, and at that camp met Ryan Eliason (then
age 18). Knowing instantly that we had some important work to do together,
Ryan and I began hatching the nucleus of what was to become YES! Our
first camp was in the summer of 1991. Since then we’ve been deeply
influenced and mentored by Joanna
Macy and Lillie Allen from Be
Present, among other people.
How would you like to be available to others in
We’d like to offer ourselves as resources for folks
wanting to work more with phenomenal global youth leaders. Also especially
to white folks who are trying to make their work “more diverse”
and open to deepening their understanding of the complex dynamics of
race, class, gender and all types of privilege and how they shape how
we articulate, understand and move forward in this work. We are also
available to speak at conferences, facilitate workshops, and connect
conference planners and media with young visionaries. E-mail works best,
as we’re parents of 3 year old twins!
Links to this site or others: