Deborah Frieze

Deborah Frieze

Deborah Frieze is an author, entrepreneur and social activist. As former co-president of The Berkana Institute, Deborah joined Berkana in 2002 to help bring its vision into the world and grow the Institute. She currently serves as a board member and is leading several initiatives that support the creation of healthy and resilient communities. The pioneering leaders in these communities are the subject of Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey Through Communities Daring to Live the Future Now.
Within, By Questioning

Posted on March 26, 2018

Author: Cleo Petric

I am seating in a lecture hall at Middlebury College, listening to Bayo Akomolafe on “decommissioning whiteness.” Absorbed in his thoughts, and simultaneously immersed in my own, I ‘walk out’, further out of my certitudes, ‘walk on’ further into uncertainty. Toward the end of the lecture, one professor introduces themself, explaining that they linger for intertwining spirituality with science, and is in search of initiatives to do so. I am pulled by that intervention, introduce myself, and express my curiosity toward his interest. The conversation organically flows in depth; and as it does I am caught by one of his sentences: “I fear to talk about these things within the framework of academic institutions, I fear to be judged.” It feels as if my neurons have been swaying along with that narrative forever. Naturally, with confidence, I respond: “I believe that the change in academic settings need to start by voicing out the repressed narratives of our community, exposing ourselves in the vulnerability of that fear, which will grow our strength. I want to bring these voices together.” I usually ponder for hours about such initiatives before sharing them, but here it feels different; an urgent flow is waving out of my consciousness, pouring into this professor’s consciousness.

The next morning, I tell a friend about the lecture and this conversation. She responds: “I wish truly isolated people could experience what this lecture enabled you and this professor to experience. I wish this liberation of repressed narratives on that matter was not only happening in small liberal arts colleges.” The feel of this freshly shared bursting bud makes us want to see the grown up flower, feel its traits and celebrate its immensity. We want bigger than the conversation in an environment that facilitated it. Our yearning for radical shift makes us want for this collective sentiment of isolation to metamorphose now. But but but…we also know that we’ve gotta start somewhere!

I thus take this opportunity to pause and recognize my community as it is; embrace the privilege, the support, the guidance and openness of that community, rather than let guilty and hopeless thoughts weaken this yearning for radical change.

I walk out of this brief journey at Middlebury, increasingly eager to connect with that sentiment of repression, isolation, fear… and walk on, more profoundly embodied in uncertainty and curiosity, having no idea how to create a space for scholars, intellectuals, professors, students, academics, artists, nerds, that feel unheard in their difference of knowing. Walking on feeling groundingly trusted and trusting.

All change is local. This time, I mean it.

Posted on January 20, 2014

Are you familiar with runes? I was first introduced to these ancient Norse divination stones by Meg Wheatley when she told me that Berkana, the name of the institute she founded, was the rune for growth and rebirth. Ever since, I’ve cast a single rune each January 1st to give me a clue about the year to come. This year I drew Jera which means harvest and fruition, a time of reaping rewards from seeds sown long ago.

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Life and Death Outside My Bedroom Window

Posted on July 24, 2013

Every morning I wake up and watch life and death outside my bedroom window. We have two beehives perched on the roof of a first floor sunroom. As I watch the hive come alive with the morning sun, most of the bees begin their very full workday, zipping in and out, hovering as they await return entry. But a few of the bees have a different task: Their job is to pull the dead and dying out of the hive and deposit them on the roof, where some lay lifeless and others tremble with their last breaths.

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Leaving Utopia: A Glimpse of How the World Could Be

Posted on April 16, 2013

A little over a year ago, I made my first visit to Järna, Sweden, home of the Youth Initiative Program (YIP), a one-year social entrepreneur learning program for 18-25 year olds. As I was preparing to depart, one of the YIPpies stopped by my room to ask me how I felt about my visit. It was then that I spoke the lyrics to what would become the first song I ever wrote when I said, “I feel like I’m packing to leave utopia.”

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Restoring the flow of abundance at Kufunda

Posted on January 17, 2013

Last week, I spent a few days at Kufunda Learning Village in Zimbabwe. Here are just a few of the many activities that were going on:

In the herb lab, Patricia and Enock are blending tincture of Artemisia with lemon juice and raw honey to help a neighbor who is suffering from chronic asthma. They will provide a month’s supply of this remedy for free. Patricia dreams of opening an herbal clinic in town where she would work four days a week so she could spend the fifth at the Kufunda clinic and keep it free.

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Meditation on the merits of doing nothing

Posted on January 7, 2013

It is my tenth day in Mozambique, and the wind is howling through our thatched home. Rain poured in sideways through the night, dampening our beds and pooling on the concrete floor. Fifty feet away, three teenage boys are bailing out their fishing dhow, hoping to spare it from the sunken fate of its neighbor—though both boats will be dry enough in a few hours when the tide goes out.

I’ve been visiting Mozambique with Jackie Cahi, a friend from Kufunda Learning Village, and her family. I flew out to Harare, Zimbabwe, on Christmas Day, and we departed the morning after I arrived, driving 12 hours overland to Vilankulo, a small town on Mozambique’s south coast.

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Walking On to Gifting: Shop of the Open Heart

Posted on November 23, 2012

It’s 9 AM on Black Friday (for those of you outside the U.S., explanation here), and I’m hiding out in my parents’ home on the North Shore of Boston. My uncle invited me to join him in bringing coffee to nearby Walmart strikers, but I can’t bear the thought of going out there long enough to accept his invitation. When did the conspicuous consumption of our culture become so crushing that some of us choose to cower in our homes?

A few weeks ago, as the holiday season was threatening to cast its glittery shadow, my Walk Out Walk On colleague Aerin Dunford and I had a conversation about how to navigate the transactional culture that dominates the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We asked our usual question, “What would Walk Outs do?”, which shifted our attention from what’s wrong with this time of year to what’s possible. My learning from witnessing Walk Outs is that they tend to waste very little energy in trying to transform old systems—it’s debilitating and there’s minimal return on the effort. Instead, Walk Outs turn their attention toward the future—designing and experimenting with how the world could be. Read More »

More Evidence That We Walk Outs Need Each Other

Posted on August 23, 2012

Last week, I participated in my first Tweet Chat. This was a four-hour, pre-arranged Twitter session using the hashtag #wowochat to link tweets together in a virtual conversation. Fellow Walk Out Walk On-er Aerin Dunford and I decided to co-host an inquiry among Walk Outs involved in learning and education. Our invitation was this:

Many educators unsatisfied with our current school systems are walking out of institutions and limiting beliefs about what’s possible. These brave folks are walking on to create new learning spaces outside of formal educational infrastructure; to challenge attachment to grades, diplomas and degrees; and to convene breakthrough conversations.

During this Tweet Chat, we’ll explore questions like:

  • What has compelled you to walk out of mainstream education?
  • How do you integrate your fears as you step into the unknown?
  • What are you called to walk on to now in your life?
  • Is it possible to create the new without engaging dominant institutions?


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Walking On to Localism

Posted on July 9, 2012

I am starting a new project. It is another learning journey, one that I’ve been poking around the edges of for a few years now. This time, I’ll be exploring the U.S. and Canada, instead of the Global South. But it’s still about Walk Outs who Walk On.

Let me start with a preview and explain the rest after. Here is a photo-film that I created with my dear friend and colleague, photographer Dan Séguin. The narrator is Paul Saginaw, the iconoclastic co-founder of Zingerman’s, a popular deli and community of food-related businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Flexing Our Muscles of Discernment

Posted on April 25, 2012

It’s been one year and two weeks since Walk Out Walk On was launched into the world.  I just returned home from Denver and Boulder, Colorado, the final two stops on the book tour, and now is a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned over these last twelve months. And here it is:

The United States has lost its sense of subtlety.

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