Jade Ullmann is Bridging Together Psychedelic Communities
If you have been to a psychedelic event, you have likely seen Jade Netanya Ullmann.
That’s not just because Ullmann’s flamboyant, artsy fashion sense is so eye-catching, but because she’s a passionate connector who’s always on the move in her role as major gifts maven for MAPS.
Kevin Balktick, founder and director of the Horizons psychedelic conference in New York, called Ullmann a “walking institution unto herself.”
Balktick recalled going to fundraising dinners for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) when perhaps a dozen people gathered in someone’s home, before they blossomed into hundreds of people in an event space, and Ullmann was already on the scene.
“She’s stood up for psychedelics when it wasn’t popular,” he said, adding that when people weren’t as open about their involvement with psychedelics, it was harder to know who was doing what, so Ullmann’s introductions helped fuel collaboration.
“She has made it her business to know everyone and to connect people,” he said.
From Nicole to Jade
The woman we now know as Jade Ullmann grew up in a well-to-do family on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, going to exclusive schools and summer camps with wealthy kids. But after her dad died of a heart attack when she was 10, she went to the Global Youth Village summer camp run by Legacy International, where she first encountered environmental activists and peace work.
“It was a great way for me to channel my anger that my dad had died,” she recalled. “It was great to have something of meaning and purpose.”
Shortly thereafter, she found her way into a spiritual bookstore for the first time, at the Open Center in Manhattan.
“I felt, ah, I’ve found my place,” she said. “I started to build a new community outside of where I grew up.”
And thus Nicole Ullmann became Jade, changing her name to reflect her desire to connect with the green movement.
“I thought it would be more of a rebellion than it was,” she recalled with a laugh. She said her mother, Lucy Ullmann, has always supported her individuality, in addition to cheerleading her brother, David Ullmann, in his jazz musicianship.
Then another shift happened in college, when Ullmann left Antioch College to transfer to Naropa University, discovering both the Buddhist-inspired philosophy of the private university and the crunchy, liberal world of Boulder, Colorado.
That’s also where she learned about Santo Daime and its practice of using ayahuasca ceremonially. She did ayahuasca work around 1998 in a supportive group with a trusted leader and a group mostly made up of newbies.
The Healing Power of Medicine
When Ullmann was 30, she was going to a friend’s apartment in Williamsburg late at night when two men attacked her. She was sexually assaulted, and after going through a rape kit and police lineups, helped to convict the two men. “Even though I don’t believe in the prison system,” she added as an aside.
After trying traditional Western methods for dealing with her trauma, she returned to ayahuasca, spending a month working with guides who helped her address not just the effects of the attack but earlier pain, so she was able to transition off her pharmaceuticals.
Then inspired by insights she gained on MDMA, she initiated contact with the two men. The primary assailant remained unrepentant and the restorative justice organization that arranges connections for victims warned against talking with him, but his accomplice did apologize and express remorse.
“I feel complete,” Ullmann said. “I released the trauma.”
Connecting With MAPS
Ullmann learned about Burning Man through Naropa and first went in 1999, staying at the Esalen Oasis camp.
It was at Burning Man where she first met Rick Doblin, founder of MAPS. Doblin recalled that they not only shared an interest in psychedelics, but also philanthropy and progressive Judaism.
Ullmann first wanted to fund MAPS, through the Ullmann Family Foundation. She is one of five grandchildren who each get to direct donations. Then as MAPS grew, and needed more resources to pursue its ambitions, Ullmann said she wanted to help more, leveraging her network. She became part of the team in 2017.
Doblin said Richard Rockefeller once told him that the most effective fundraising he’d done was to donate to a cause, then encourage his friends to do the same. He drew the comparison to Ullmann, who became an effective fundraiser for MAPS in part because she led by example.
He added that her personal experience processing trauma makes her a natural spokesperson, since people connect more to an individual story than to data.
Doblin said it’s not a coincidence so many Jews are involved in drug policy reform: He believes it comes from a tradition of free inquiry, questioning status quo and recognizing minority victimization. Ullmann’s previous work in Jewish renewal, including serving as executive director of Romemu, a progressive Jewish community infused with Eastern spiritual practices, makes her a natural fit for MAPS, he said.
The Pandemic Pause
Ullmann said she’s been doing more san pedro lately, though that’s been on pause because of the pandemic. She had been a member of the Assemblage, a psychedelic-influenced coworking space that has since closed.
“I feel pretty isolated,” she sighed.
Filling the void has been her active engagement with the audio-only app Clubhouse, where you might find her in frequent conversations about psychedelics or in the philanthropy club she started.
“It’s so beautiful to have that live connection,” Ullmann said of Clubhouse, which is sort of a cross between talk radio and a 24/7 conference. “I’m such an extrovert and I’m in my apartment alone.”
She’s been in live chats with Zak Williams, son of Robin Williams, talked about the Zendo Project in the Psychedelic News Hour, and met Dylan Beynon, CEO of Mindbloom, among many other sessions.
“It’s given me more professional development and leadership,” she said.
A lifelong New Yorker, the 40-something Ullmann is pursuing making a home in Sag Harbor, a charming, upscale town east of the flashier seaside Southampton.
But she maintains deep affection specifically for the New York psychedelic community, which includes researchers, writers, artists, investors and spiritual seekers.
Balktick agrees the New York community is special, in part because of its sheer size. “There’s a feeling of infiniteness,” he said. “You never meet everyone.”
Unless, that is, you’re Ullmann.
“I’m living my perfect life,” she said.