September 10, 2014

Saving Lost, Angry, and Confused Young Men

As you may know, I love the stories of one man, against all odds, stepping out to make the world a better place for young men and the rest of us. Ashanti Branch is one of those men, and I've written about him previously. I bring him to your attention again for your inspiration and to tell you about a way you can support his powerful mission and very good work.

By way of background, Ashanti was raised by a single mother on welfare and, at 6 years old, had to become the man of the house. Like myself and so many men in that situation, Ashanti had no male guidance, and says he, ". . . was left to figure manhood out by myself." He became an angry, lost, confused middle school kid, who was failing and headed for disaster. Luckily for Ashanti, there was one teacher who saw something special in him and gave him just enough caring support and encouragement to help him dig out of the hole he was in. Ashanti says that teacher, ". . . saved my life." And that's why he's showing up so powerfully in the lives of high-risk young guys today.

. . .supporting young high school men of color
who are failing fifty percent or more of their classes.

Ashanti's mission is to ". . . create a world of freedom by encouraging youth to break their chains." You can hear how his passion for this work comes through in this interview I did with him in 2013. In that conversation, Ashanti describes his Ever Forward Club, in which he's supporting young men of color in high school who are failing fifty percent or more of their classes. His success rates in moving kids from a path of almost certain failure to a college track are spectacular.

Because of his amazing success statistics, passion, and purpose, Ashanti has found his way to the TED stage where he's reaching an even larger audience. His TED talk is in the video below. In a strange and sad twist, the audio from his TED talk wasn't recorded. But lucky for us, one of his supporters captured most of his presentation on an iPhone and that's what you'll see. The quality isn't the best but his presentation rocks! His leading story about primate research, bananas, and young guys is heartbreaking.



If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

YOU can support Ashanti and his work by making a donation on his Indiegogo fund-raiser campaign page . If you want to go the extra mile, send this post link to your Facebook friends and let's see if we can help Ashanti realize his vision of supporting 100 young men in Ever Forward Clubs in 10 schools by December 2014.

While each of us could do a little something to support the young men around us, most of us can't step into the front lines of man-making like Ashanti. What I'm sure, however, is through your donation, you and Ashanti will soon be making an important difference in the lives of otherwise lost young men in the Ever Forward campaign.



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August 13, 2014

We Got This - Young Dudes Cleaning Up the Hood!

Why would fifty young males actually show up to do some cleaning at 8 AM on a Saturday morning?


If you've been reading the Man-Making Blog for a while, you know I'm crazy for the stories where one man gets an idea and winds up changing the world . . . or at least the lives of people in his corner of the world. This is one of those stories and the man, one of my heroes, is Andre Ellis from Milwaukee.

Andre in black hat
In a story by WUWM - Milwaukee Public Radio, Andre is described as a playwright, a community gardener, and the man behind the "We Got This" program. As is often the case, the idea for a program to support young black youth actually came to get Andre, but he stepped up to grow and develop the idea.

It began last spring when an 11-year-old named Jermaine got arrested for breaking and entering. Jermaine is from a part of Milwaukee where thousands of the men are currently or have been in prison. It's a place with few jobs, lots of poverty, drugs, violence, and all the things that go along with those conditions.

When the boy's mom came to Andre with the sad story of her son's arrest, he was able to intervene with the police and get him released. Andre offered Jermaine $20 if he would meet him on a Saturday morning and do some "cleaning up where he messed up!" Jermaine did show up and worked hard alongside Andre. They had some great conversation and the two guys bonded some. The following Saturday, Jermaine showed up with 5 friends all ready to work . . . and get paid.


Andre saw what might be possible, put out the call for men and money, and the "We Got This" program was launched. On a given Saturday now, up to fifty young men show up and are put to work cleaning up their community. They are mentored along the way by some of the men from the community. Not only is this a rare opportunity for young guys to become a part of community life by being in service, but they get the additional benefits of being around good men too. The twenty bucks doesn't hurt either.

"I am great. I am mighty.
I am awesome. I am magnificent....”

You can read the whole story on the WUWM website. On that page you can also hear the audio report and, in it, hear Andre pumping up the young men with inspiration and guidance. The boys follow his lead and chant, "I am great. I am mighty. I am awesome. I am magnificent....” This is one beautiful story of a good man caring about a young guy and being willing to step into action.

Andre is making a huge difference in the lives of many young men and in the life of his community. At the same time, I am absolutely certain that the adult men working with him in the "We Got This" program with him are getting the gifts of brotherhood, pumped-up male-esteem, and the respect and gratitude of their neighbors. These brothers are doing men's work and everyone benefits when that happens and when men say, "We Got This!"

Everyone benefits when men say,
"We Got This!"

Just imagine what you and a couple of your men friends might create for a few of the young dudes in your community. If, after reading this, you have even a hint of "maybe I could do something," contact me and let's kick some ideas around. I know two things for sure: Because you're reading this, you are the man for the job, no question. Second, I'm just as certain there are a few young guys out there, right now, waiting for you to show up.



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July 23, 2014

The Man-Making Power of Fathers

You've heard me say it here before, "Fathers are the most powerful man-making force on the planet . . . IF they're involved with their sons." Here are a few selections about fatherhood, and a much deserved shout out to engaged and committed fathers, and those working with them.



Being An Imperfect Father: Louis Szekely, known by his fans as Louis C.K., is a Mexican-American comedian, screenwriter, producer, film director, actor, and now, father. For Father's Day, he came out with this funny but intensely personal video (below) about what it means to be a real father. I love the truth-speaking and personal vulnerability with which he owns his lack of perfection as a dad. This is especially touching because C.K.'s parents divorced when he was ten and he said, "his father was around but he did not see him much."

. . . what it means to be a real father.

I think his admission about being a gloriously imperfect but committed father helps those of us who had complicated relationships with their dads to find the path to forgiveness. In giving us this little piece of truth about fatherhood, he gives every man, doing his best as a father, permission to hang in and keep going in spite of self-doubts or even other people's judgments.

Thanks C.K.



If this clip doesn't show up use this link.



How Movies Teach Manhood: Colin Stokes is a father who is concerned about the images of manhood today's films convey to his young son and other boys. In his TED video, How Movies Teach Manhood (below), he says in films today it's too often the case, ". . . if you're a boy you're a dopey animal, and if you're a girl you should bring your warrior costume."


He also describes how fathers can be a good example of manhood and why dads need to manage the "Netflix queue" to be sure their sons are watching films with positive messages about manhood. In the TED talk clip below, I don't agree with all his examples, but I really like his invitation to fathers to be intentional about managing the flow of ideas their sons are taking away from films (and other media).

As Colin Stokes suggests, it's important fathers ensure their sons learn positive lessons like: cooperation is heroic, relationships are important, both genders can share power and be leaders, and women should be respected. It would be great if our young males felt this vision of manhood was more manly than just defeating the villain and getting the girl.



If this clip doesn't show up use this link.



Support Groups for Dads: There are many good men working in support of fathers and families. Here are two good examples:

Haji Shearee directs the Fatherhood Initiative at The Children’s Trust, in Boston, Massachusetts. Haji is a licensed social worker whose goal is to strengthen families by increasing father involvement. Haji does this by facilitating father's groups. As a result of his work in those groups, he has just published the book, Facilitating Fathers' Groups: 22 Keys to Group Mastery.

In a recent Man-Making Blog post, I described some of the common elements of support groups for men and young men. Haji says while his book is focused on groups of fathers, it will be helpful to anyone doing groups with men and young guys. His book is available at Amazon now.



"A toolbox approach to fatherhood
in all its forms."

Fathers on the Move: Two solid brothers in mission with The MensWork Project are conducting a Fathers on the Move workshop. They are billing it as, "A toolbox approach to fatherhood in all its forms." The workshop will invite men to review their life’s journey and how the various aspects of fatherhood have impacted their lives. In a supportive group setting, men will explore personal experiences around topics such as:
  • The impact of your dad on your life, the outcomes, and your current options.
  • You as a father (or perhaps grandfather now) and the variety of feelings you are carrying about this role.
  • Your children’s experience of you as a father – including blended and step family situations.
  • Opportunities for enhancing/applying your fathering skills for your children/grandchildren.
The workshop is being facilitated by Geoff Paull and Wes Carter, men who each have a successful history of presenting personal growth workshops for men. I have no doubt that these two good men will deliver on their promise to help any man build his fatherhood toolbox, increase fathering skills, and change the direction of his life going forward. If this sounds good to you, and you are going to be in or near Perth, Australia on the 31st of August 2014, give them shout. Geoff Paull – contact@mensworkproject.org, or Wes Carter - menswork@iinet.net.au



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July 15, 2014

The Old Guy Next Door


In a past Man-Making Blog post, I wrote a tribute to the old guy, Mark Moore, who lived next door to my family when I was a young boy. I didn't have grandfathers, uncles, or any men from my family around me as a kid. That's why my time with Mark was always full of gifts. His garage workshop became a refuge from the alcoholic craziness in my house. He taught me lots of things about drills, wrenches, fishing gear, engines, lumber, and about being a (young) man. Most importantly, by simply giving his time and attention Mark showed me he cared about me. Without anything ever being said directly, in those difficult days of my life, Mark became a much needed, loved, and trusted old guy friend. That was what I needed most in those days.

. . . a beautiful tale of friendship across the ages . . .

So I felt a huge tug on my heart strings when I came across a story by my local news channel, KARE 11 News. They did a story about a friendship between 3-year-old Emmett and 89-year-old Erling from Farmington, Minnesota. It's a beautiful tale of friendship across the ages, full of the kind of unspoken, mutual love that comes naturally to the very young and very old.

Erling had simply been the old guy living next door to Emmett's family for ten years. The families really hadn't known each other very well until the 3-year-old reached out. Emmett simply walked over to Erling one day and asked him about his "matoes!" The full story is told in the video below. Warning, expect some man tears.



If this clip doesn't show up use this link.

If this video reaches into your masculine heart as it did mine, it's most likely because you're in touch with the soft transformational power of a caring older man in a young guy's life. Emmett and Erling are at the extreme ends of the age continuum, yet the same can happen at almost any age. Who was the Erling or Mark Moore, the old guy in your life? Who was the older man who briefly or for a longer period of time showed up and gave you the gifts of his time and attention? We all have a few men like that you can find if you take the time to examine your life closely. The coach, a teacher, a scout master, someone from your spiritual community, or maybe it was the old guy next door.

The really important take-away here is . . .

The really important take-away here is that YOU could be that nice older man for some boy or young guy. It doesn't take any special training. Erling and Mark Moore didn't have any. In fact, it could really be as simple as a common love for "matoes!"



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July 4, 2014

Men and Young Men Sitting in a Circle


I recently heard from a brother in mission who wants to help others run support group circles for young men. His idea is to write an instruction manual for these groups and he was asking for guidance. His question gave me a chance to reflect on both the gifts that always result for all the males in these groups, and what might be included in a very basic group manual.

Being in groups of men
and also in young men's groups has
without question
made me a better man.

Over the last ten years or so, I've sat in somewhere between five hundred and a thousand circles for both men and young guys. The Man-Making Book and this blog are actually spin offs of my time in those circles. Being in groups of men and also in young men's groups has made me a better man. While these groups vary widely in their sponsorship, purpose, content focus, use of ritual, and general style, the best groups have some important commonalities. Here is a very short list of some of the common elements:

CIRCLES - The good ones put everyone in a circle. I love the idea that males around the world have, for centuries, been gathering in circles. Because of this fact, there is something about sitting in a circle of males that feels right and familiar. A circle represents a flat hierarchy. By its very shape, a circle says everyone is welcome, co-equal, and it allows all participants to be seen and heard.

PREDICTABLE FORMAT - Most circles have a simple format or flow of events which quickly becomes familiar to the participants. That structure creates a sense of predictability and safety.

BUSINESS - Prior to getting into the specific process of the group, there may be a few moments to deal with the business of group functioning like meeting times, arranging meeting places, information about upcoming events, or information about members not present. All the "stuff" of making the group work has a different tone and feel than the more personal work to follow, and it makes sense to get it out of the way upfront.

GUIDELINES - At the beginning of group, and often at the start of each meeting, the group's purpose statement and guidelines may be stated. Remembering why the circle exists helps focus the participants on their purpose and reasons for being in the group. Repeatedly hearing the guidelines sets the group expectations for behavior. Knowing the group norms helps everyone feel safe and leads to a climate of mutual respect.

RITUALIZED OPENING - In order to get the members focused, and to create the special environment for the more personal work to follow, there is often some form of ritualized opening. I've seen a wide variety of opening rituals, often rooted in the unique history and purpose of the group. Opening rituals can include special readings, lighting a fire, prayers or invocations, standing in physical contact with each other, burning of sage, the lighting of candles, or the presentation of a talking stick, special object, or photograph of special significance to the group. Whatever the opening process, formalized openings set an emotional tone of seriousness and clearly mark the line between the everyday world of people's daily lives and the special time/space the members are about to enter.

CHECKING IN - Often, groups begin by going around the circle and giving each member an opportunity to speak. It can be as simple as stating your name, a feeling, and your favorite ice cream. This simple check in guarantees that everyone has at least one chance to be heard in the circle. Check in could be a statement of what major issues in your life you need to temporarily let go of in your life outside of group so you can be fully present to the content and purpose of the circle. Another approach to check in can be asking for an amount of time to speak about a major issue going on in your life that you want to share with the circle. What happens during check in depends on the group's purpose and the degree of trust among members.

If the purpose of the group
is to really support the lives of individual members,
at some point, truth-speaking needs to occur.

TRUTH-SPEAKING - If the purpose of the group is to really support the lives of individual members, at some point, truth-speaking needs to occur. As trust, feelings of safety, and experience with each other grows, in a variety of ways, members are invited to share the literal and emotional truth about who they are and what is happening in their lives. This requires time together, good facilitation, modeling of personal vulnerability, and honoring those who take the risks of authenticity. How a group gets to a place where truth-speaking is the norm is about group design, facilitation, and technique. For now it's enough to say that in solid support groups, in addition to small talk, humor, and information sharing, truth-speaking becomes the most helpful aspect of a good group. Having the rare opportunity to sit in a circle of peers, where hard personal truths can be safely spoken and heard, is enormously helpful for all and the glue that keeps members coming back.

CLOSING - As a best practice, circles don't just drift away at the end. In order to capture the value of what was shared, and to mark the end of the special time spent together, it's important to close the circle with the same intention that was given to its opening. Creating a brief time for checking out with statements of gratitude, specific take-aways, or honoring of each other help members reflect on the value of the circle. It also creates another opportunity for the quieter members of the group to be heard. Closing statements, readings, prayers, are all ways to clearly mark the ending of special time together and cleanly close the group.

These are really just the large bones of a group outline, there is much more that could be added. Just below, I'll add links to some publications that describe different ways to do groups. But do it your way! All successful groups can and do whatever is necessary to make their group meaningful to the members. As part of a basic template, it can be helpful to add some training in how to best set up the group, facilitation skills, and perhaps some pre-group training to increase the young male literacy of the men sitting in young men's circles.

Or you could simply gather a group of men and young guys in a circle and see what happens. If indeed males are hard-wired for that experience, and if the men involved care about the young men in the circle, a lot of what's really important will just happen. The group will eventually teach the members how to be together and what needs to be said.

Please let me know what happens. 
The young men are waiting!



RESOURCES:

What follows are just a few examples of the many different publications you can find on the web about support groups. They describe groups with many different kinds of content and purpose focus, but in their descriptions of their group process you will find some guidance. Without endorsement and not in any order:

A Circle of Men: The Original Manual for Men's Support Groups. One of the early manuals (from a founder of Mankind Project).

A Gathering of Men: The story of creating a men's group to address perennial male issues.

Tending the Fire: The Ritual Men's Group.. Ally Press, $7.00. 60 pages.
Very old school from the beginnings of men's work.

Young Men's Work. This is a description of a kit for doing groups with young men. What I like about this document is that it lays out 26 content sessions, learner outcomes for each session, and lists the Academic Standards and Life Skills Standards met by the full course. Funders like this kind of background.

Working with Youth. A facilitator's guide from the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in Canada.

How to Start a Men's Group in Prison. From the Inside Circle Foundation.

There are many examples about support groups you can find with a quick Google search. Some will have a topic specific focus (gender transformation, religious, violence prevention, teen parenting, recovery, etc.) They all contain some ideas about how to start a group from which you can add in the desired content focus.



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