In 2001, I joined A More Perfect Union, a grass roots, not-for-profit organization based in New York City. Founded in 1997 by a group of seven women, the organization's objective is to help women build stronger relationships with the women in their lives. By building stronger relationships, the group believes, a woman can come closer to achieving her dreams and improving the quality of her life. Today, the group has 50 volunteers from all walks of life that go into drug rehabilitation facilities and present a series of monthly sessions that reinforce basic relationship standards like confidentiality, responsibility, commitment, and respect. The volunteers also encourage the women to focus on the dreams they have for their futures and to consider steps that will move them closer towards their goals and the women who will support them in their dream quests.

Jamie Allen Black, the President of the Board of Directors of A More Perfect Union, delves into the organization she helped create and offers any tips on how we can all come closer to achieving our dreams. -Sarah Thurmond

Sarah Thurmond: Why is it important to have dreams?

Jamie Allen Black: Dreams are the basis for human beings to move forward in life. A life without dreams becomes a stagnant one. When a person has a dream (or a goal) there is a measurement of success: I have moved from this place to another. Without a specific dream, the measurement can be skewed—either interpreted as too much movement or too little. With a dream, a person can speak clearly about what they want and what they need in their lives. Without a dream, friends, family and colleagues will not understand what the person really desires and frustration occurs on both ends. How can I support someone who does not know what she wants? With a dream, I can create a plan for becoming the woman I want to be. Dreams empower the individual.

S.T.: Can you share any of your dreams that have come true since forming A More Perfect Union?

J.A.B.: When I formed A More Perfect Union (AMPU) I was a sometimes employed actress who had just broken off her marital engagement three months before her wedding. As most people in their early 20s, my dreams were lofty: I was going to eradicate racism through my own television sitcom. While this didn't happen, I have had other dreams that have come true as a direct result of my work with AMPU. On the professional front, I became a more regularly employed actor and with the support of other women volunteers, I developed a path in the entertainment industry that balanced my talents and my other interests.

Personally, I met and married to a man who had the values I desired in a partner (identified through my work with AMPU) and we had a child together. Robert and I are raising our son in a world that is culturally, socially, economically and racially mixed which I believe to be a small step toward eradicating classism and racism. When we first married we lived in Queens and I longed to move to Manhattan. One of my dreams was to have a three-bedroom apartment on Fifth Avenue and voila! That's what I have. Okay, that last one might be too pedantic, but...

S.T.: Why do you only accept women volunteers in AMPU?

J.A.B.:The founders felt that, as women, they had more experience dealing with relationships between women than they did with men. Also, the point of AMPU is to strengthen women's relationships so our volunteers, naturally, are all women. However, we do have advisors and supporters who are men.

S.T.: What exactly can be learned from relating to other women?

J.A.B.: Traditionally, women have passed down wisdom from generation to generation through the stories that women tell each other and their children. Through truthful, strong, healthy relationships with women, we can learn who we are and what we hope to accomplish. Women are generally good listeners. Through active listening we provide each other with acknowledgement and support for our accomplishments as well as question each other in an effort to become better women, better citizens, better people.

S.T.: Can you explain a little bit more how AMPU's program helps women in recovery?

J.A.B.:To answer this question, I have to look at why women are in recovery in the first place. What got them there? I assert that it has to do with a breaking down of their relationships. Communication in their family is not optimal, support from their community, schools, churches is not functional and they begin to rely on people who are not looking out for their best interest. Once there is a breakdown in primary relationships, women can lose their way. Once they are reliant on drugs and alcohol and encouraged by some of their relationships to continue dependency, it is very difficult to get back on track—back in touch with who that woman is in her core. Her authenticity is compromised and her downturn becomes a downward cycle.

AMPU works with women who have already recognized that their authentic selves have been subjugated by drugs and alcohol and they are on the road to physical and mental recovery. Volunteers work with residents to help them see what they have to offer to other women and how they can learn to get the support they need from women who are likewise affected.

S.T.: Besides the dreams you've realized, what effect has the organization had on your life?

J.A.B.: Working with women who have no access to the kind of information we provide is immensely satisfying. Many women in the world do not have good relationships with women and I assert that this has contributed to the decline of the quality of life of these women. My own relationships have been strengthened through this work and I understand the value of supporting other women in their dreams as well as receiving support for my own.

S.T.: Since this is our RENOVATION issue, can you provide any tips or ideas for how people can renovate their life?

J.A.B.: Renovate your life by getting in touch with your dreams.

1. Sit quietly and think. What did I want to do as a little girl? What validity does that dream have today? What qualities were evident in that little girl's desire that would be relevant today?

2. Write. What are my strengths and weaknesses today? What would I like them to be in 5 years? Describe a day in my life today. Describe a day in my life in 5 years.

3. Speak. Find someone who is a good listener and share your dreams. There is no need for him/her to validate your dreams, just listen. Often when we speak our dreams in a non-judgmental atmosphere, we create more clarity for ourselves about those dreams.

4. Create. Write out a game plan for one small aspect of your dream. Ask yourself, What can I do this year to bring this dream closer to reality? What can I do this week? What can I do today?

5. Take it easy. Don't try to renovate your life all at once. Take it slowly so you are equipped to deal with the changes as they begin to snowball (and they will!) Try something small. After you succeed, take on the next challenge.

6. Be flexible. Revisit your dreams. Sit, think and write often. Be prepared to be surprised at how your goals and dreams changes as you deepen your connection to them.

For more information, go to A More Perfect Union's Web site: www.ampuinc.org

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