11/04/2011 03:33 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2012

Inspiration -- Old & New

You know, it's a funny thing when you stop and think about what inspiration really is. It's not unusual for me on any given night out to be asked by some bright, young thing, "Juanita, who inspires you?" And, after all these years, the more I think about the question, I've come to realize this -- very often, what you find so inspiring in others is that which you aspire to in yourself. Whether in figures long since passed, or very much with us, those we find so inspiring represent the very best aspirations we have for ourselves and the lives we want to live.

Those who know me well will tell you Billie Holiday is one such figure in my life. A consummate artist, embodying a passion simultaneously fed and tamed by its vulnerability, Holiday for me personifies the spirit of performance. A perfomativity driven by its desire, perhaps even need, to connect with others and come together in the joy and solace of shared experiences. Lady Day will always and forever embody for me the need to perform, not just for myself, but also for others.

Just as importantly, inspiration can be found amongst those whom we encounter in our own lives. Figures who, through their actions and deeds, ignite within us the wish to do more, to be better. Bevan Dufty is one such individual, someone who I have been fortunate to call a friend and inspiration for many years. To be sure, there is much that I could list that reflects Bevan's dedication to the city of San Francisco -- he is a family man with great values about leadership and education in our cities schools -- which is so important to the future of our youth. I live just a block away from Larkin Street Youth Center and daily come into contact with youth living on the street. Bevan is determined to help transitional youth find their way back into the educational system. Bevan's genuine compassion and tireless advocacy for those, both in his personal and political life, inspires me to foster and share in the pride of this very magical city I call home.

I offer one final meditation on inspiration -- it's often a lot closer than first thought. Indeed, the ebb and flow of circumstance and time weave together a far more intricate web where inexplicable distances are joined together by the most delicate of strands. So, imagine my delight when, one day not too long ago, I was shown a photograph of Billie Holiday with a very young Bevan Dufty. That's the wonderful thing about inspiration; it unites all of us in manifold ways, drawn together in a desire to strive to be something more.