July 24, 2015

Helping Potentially Lethal Young Men

I often speak about severely under-male-nourished young men who are lost, imprisoned, or even dying for lack of adult male blessing and guidance. Very often, these are young males who have nothing positive to say about a father or adult man. I'm talking ZERO positive connection to good men and often lots of damage from a bad dad or the other men who are in their lives. The result is an emotionally damaged kid full of anger and teen bravado. The mask of, "I'm fine and I don't need anybody" is hard set on these guys, and they can put the whole community in danger.

Because of their predictable deficits, these young men are at high risk for making very bad life choices. But IF a man or group of men can connect with them while being very patient and working gently, many young men can have their life's trajectory altered and many can be saved. It often takes a long time to connect with these guys and a lot of courage on the part of these young men to risk trusting men again.

So I was not surprised when one of you sent along this great article from Mother Jones describing how a combination of mentoring by good men and cash incentives are being combined to reduce violence and homicides in Richmond, California. The article states in 2007 Richmond, "had the dubious distinction of being the ninth most dangerous in America." They had 47 homicides that year which meant in some places, gunfire was almost a daily event. Research into those numbers in 2009 revealed a rather surprising fact: "An estimated 70 percent of shootings and homicides in Richmond in 2009 were caused by just a few individuals . . . between the ages of 16 and 25." With the city's "potentially most lethal young men" identified, in combinations with other interventions, they set up Operation Peacemaker Fellowship (OPF), now known nationally as "the Richmond Model.”

The most innovative aspect of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship was the bait. The deal was if the young men, called Fellows, maintained their program commitment for six months — attending meetings, staying out of trouble, and connecting with their mentors, they became eligible to earn up to $1,000 a month for a maximum of nine months and to go on big trips to see the world. With gun violence in the U.S. costing an estimated $229 billion dollars a year, the average cost to taxpayers of every gun homicide in America is nearly $400,000. With only about half the Operation Peacemaker Fellowship participants getting payments at all (usually in the $300 to $700 range) meant the cost of the initiative was a bargain given the results.

As a result of OPF and its other initiatives, by 2014 Richmond recorded a 76 percent reduction in homicides and a 69 percent reduction in firearm assaults from the 2007 data. That's the lowest number of firearm assaults and homicides in their community in more than four decades. Of the 68 OPF Fellows who participated over the past 43 month period: 65 are alive (95%); 64 have not been injured by firearm (94%); and 57 (84%) have not been involved in any gun activity. These are huge victories given the scope and scale of the challenge!

. . . the benefits of connecting with these young guys
are much bigger than just fewer shootings.

The OPF men doing the mentoring are called Neighborhood Change Agents, and together they now work with about 150 young guys a year. While saving lives and reducing gang activity is impressive, they've learned the benefits of connecting with these young guys are much bigger than just fewer shootings. Many of the "potentially most lethal" young men in the OFP program are now in school or in jobs. These young men are doing more parenting, less drug use, and causing less violence in general. They have moved on from predictable criminal dead ends to involvement in programs that have changed the trajectory of their lives and are improving their neighborhoods in the process.

Check out this video from Richmond TV station KCBS for more of the story!
"They have to be willing to get on a plane with someone who is trying to kill you!"

The good men of Operation Peacemaker Fellowship are my heroes working on the front lines of the struggle to reclaim our lost boys and our communities. We need to honor them and learn from their experience. But to be very clear, ALL young men, even those with great families and engaged fathers, can use the objectivity and support of solid adult men. If teen males of any background can find their way to a place where there is support from good men, they will gradually open up and let you see the truth behind the mask they wear (and they all do). In those circles you can actually witness the effect of the group support, good information, personal feedback, and the positive attention working on them. You can watch as they become more confident, smile more often, and, most importantly, make better life choices.

That is what's at the heart of man-making!



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July 9, 2015

Groups for men and young men . . . EVERYWHERE?

Some of you know about the gifts of transformation that occur when men gather in a circle to speak their personal truths. I've spent over thirty years in men's support groups of one kind or another and I can say from experience, when the bond of trust has been formed in a group, regardless of the group member's age, magic happens and better men are the result. It's one place where real man-making occurs.

I've seen this magic in countless men's circles, in school groups of young males, and even on weekend passage adventures. If you make a safe place for guys to show up un-masked, you will eventually hear profound honesty about the fears, joys, pain, hopes, anger, longings, and all the parts of males that otherwise lie hidden in confusion behind the face they show the world.

Because of the power of these circles to improve lives, I'm of the opinion that more groups should be available to men and young males. Sadly, in addition to the fears so many males carry about the risks of real intimacy and vulnerability, there are other real world barriers to group attendance. Finding a group at all, or one close enough geographically to be practical, is an issue for many. Then you have to find a group that meets at a time that fits into your busy life. For some, especially the young guys, finding transportation to get to a group can make regular attendance difficult or impossible. For these reasons (and many others), I really like the idea of digital, on-line support groups!

. . . for me, meeting on-line
is far better than not meeting at all.

While I'll admit I have a large bias in favor of being in a face-to-face circle of males as opposed to looking at them on a screen, there is no question for me that meeting on-line is far better than not meeting at all. I have been exploring different platforms for holding on-line, topic-focused meetings. In a conversation with my friend, Luis Oliveira, he mentioned he was a member of an on-line support group. His group was started by Graham Reid Phoenix, the author of the e-book, Journey to the Core of the Masculine. Graham launched the on-line support group two years ago, and it's now called, "The Virtual Men's Gathering." Graham lives in Spain, Luis is in Portugal, and the other men in the group are scattered across the globe. This group is proof that geography doesn't count for much anymore when it comes to man-making.

. . . geography doesn't count for much anymore
when it comes to man-making.


Because The Virtual Men's Gathering is such a good example of how an on-line group for men works, I interviewed Graham and Luis in a Google Hangout to see what we all can learn about this digital approach to man-making. In the video below you'll hear about the benefits of a digital support group, some nuts and bolts about how they work, how they differ from face-to-face groups, and there's even some help if you're thinking of starting an on-line group of your own.

Check out the video and then either contact Graham or send me a quick note and let's see how we can use these amazing digital tools to enhance the lives of men and young males . . . everywhere!


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



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June 21, 2015

The Truth about Our Teen Boys

With the current news full of the story of yet another young man gone tragically wrong, it’s the perfect time for me to bring you a story about some really great young men. The guys that star in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl are good examples of what I've found to be true and deeply good about the teenage guys I've met, and I've met a lot of them. I think it's time we all hear more about what's right about our young men and less about the few lost and angry guys who get so much media attention.

At the start of the movie, we meet Greg (played by Thomas Mann), a high school senior, shy, and full of the pretty standard young male insecurities. He manages to stay socially hidden in background at high school as a way of coping with the complicated worlds of relationships. He subtly moves between all the cliques, like the jocks, stoners, goths, and theatre geeks, being a dabbler but not a member of any. Mostly, he remains a loner. Mostly.

Greg does have one main dude in his life named Earl (R.J. Cyler) who he’s known since childhood. Earl is from the (stereotypical) other side of town and is really Greg’s only true friend. Sadly, Greg is so afraid of what it means to have a real friend, he refers to Earl as his “co-worker.” In addition to their history, the two pals share a common interest in odd European art films. They work together making terrible but really funny amateur movies.


Friendships are a complicated business for young guys Greg and Earl's age. Sitting with teen males in groups, I’ve heard many of them talk about having what’s up friends. Those are the guys they hang out with between classes, at lunch, and sometimes after school. However, few of them say they have any got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.

. . . few of them say they have any
got-your-back-no-matter-what, real friends.


The movie really gets started when Greg’s mom (Connie Britton) insists that he check in on Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a distant acquaintance from school who has been diagnosed with leukemia. As his relationship with Rachel develops, a true friendship is born, and Greg begins to truly, but cautiously, care for her. You'll be able to pinpoint the moment in the film when Greg’s heart cracks open and he’s overwhelmed with the flood of feelings he has for Rachel he's been holding back.

As I've witnessed many times, when the I'm Okay Mask comes off, so many young men have amazing capacity to face the very hard parts of their lives, speak deep truths, and express big feelings. You’ll see a lot of that in this film. I’m here to tell you it’s not Hollywood, but a really honest depiction of what's alive behind teen male bravado.

There are tons of great laughs and sub-characters. Greg’s strange, sociology professor father (Nick Offerman), is a riot in weird clothing, odd behavior, and a love for exotic foods. In a non-funny way, it speaks to how so many young guys feel they come from embarrassing or sometimes shameful family situations.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl won the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, so it has great credentials. But for me, so much of what I saw was just flat out true about my own adolescence, and true about the good young men who sit across from me in school circles.

This film is both very funny and sad at the same time, but the laughs outweigh the tears. The film is worth seeing if you want to touch the angst of your own teen history, increase your young male-literacy, and have your heart lightly squeezed.

Here’s a little taste:


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



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June 8, 2015

A Man's World Adventure for You!

For years I've been a big fan of the annual YMAW or Young Man's Adventure Weekend held outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. It's a true rite of passage adventure in the world of men, mixing just the right amounts of pristine Canadian wilderness, challenges, playfulness, good food, male hierarchy, laughter, tears, and a large and multi-generational male tribe.

A YMAW is 50-60 men taking the emerging manhood of 40-50 young male lives very seriously. The men surrounding these young guys are bonded and transformed by the activities and spending time with other men in this important work.

. . . the YMAW community of men
want you to come join them!

The really good news is the YMAW community of men want you to come join them! This year there will be two YMAW's. The first weekend is held outside of Vancouver, from July 10th through the 12th. The second YMAW is outside of Edmonton, from August 7th through the 9th. At every YMAW they make room for volunteer staff men, called outlanders, who come from far and wide for the experience. If you go, the YMAW men will connect with you in advance, assign you a weekend buddy, include you in pre-event phone conversations, and take care of you from arrival to departure. I've been there, experienced that treatment, and loved every minute. It's been going on for over 25 years so these men know what they are doing.

They also invite and encourage you to bring any young men you know aged 12-17. If you know a young guy who is ready for this kind of passage experience, going as a pair couldn't be a better bonding experience to share. Your young friend or relative will have his own experience to be sure, but I can guarantee the trip home will be full of rich conversation about male lives changed forever.

To get a sense for how these weekends work, look through the photos from the 2014 YMAW or check out the video clip below from the year when the YMAW theme for the weekend invited the young men to see themselves as explorers and voyageurs.


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

If you are interested in men changing the lives of young males, and you've been wondering what to do for a unique summer experience, the YMAW should be on your list. For more information on attending, or just to talk with the YMAW guys about this kind of man-making work, call Dorian leslie, the event coordinator at 604 688 9997, or talk to any of the men listed on this page of the YMAW website. I know they be happy to hear from you.



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May 25, 2015

Bloke Time: Dads and Lads

Imagine a world where boys not only have dads in their lives, but those dads or other "father figures," are engaged, willing to teach their sons guy skills, and willing to risk real connection with them. That is what Phil Williams has created. He's the founder and project director of the Boys2Men Project (B2MP) in the United Kingdom.

I fully agree with the opening statement on their website, "Our project is based on the idea that every boy needs a guide or mentor to steer them through the challenging early teenage years, where so many boys flounder. The best guide a boy can have is his dad or father figure."

Dads appreciating their lads
into manhood.

Their website tag line states simply what the Boys2Men Project is all about, "Dads appreciating their lads into manhood." That statement is rich with feelings of fatherly love, caring, and by itself, it's a sweet description of a good dad's job description. Fathers are, after all, the most potent man-making force on the planet, IF they're engaged.

The B2MP video below shows lads and dads enjoying fun activities that are perfect for young guys. You'll see them working with tools, climbing on things, building a fire, cooking meat, canoeing, carving wood with a knife, riding a rope swing across a river, camping, and much more. In all the activities, the men are involved, teaching, and having fun with the young dudes. It's a young male's paradise, if you ask me.

Everyone working with men and boys knows when men show up for young guys, all the males involved are moved, changed, and made better for the experience. In the video, I loved listening to the men talk about ". . . complete bloke time with your lad . . .," watching the boys grow in front of their eyes, and the pleasure they took in the adventures and time with other men. In these outings, there are so many wins for everyone. Check out this video and see what you think.


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

I'm so proud of Phil for making B2MP happen, proud of the dads and "father figures" who showed up, and I'm especially happy for the young men who got to be immersed in that rich pool of male nutrients. At the same time, watching that video broke my heart twice.

. . . watching that video broke my heart twice.

The first heartbreak came from simply watching the video of these men and boys sharing "bloke time." I felt deep sadness because none of that happen in my life with my dad. I literally have only a couple memories of doing anything with my father that even remotely looked like the activities in the video. He was in the house, but never really connected with me unless it was to correct one of what he perceived as my many failings. I had a father, saw him around, but in so many of the important ways, I was really fatherless. I know I'm not alone with that story!

I'm way better now. I have worked hard to understand my father and his history. I've found compassion, forgiveness, and even love for him. I've also found healthy ways to fill in those boyhood blanks left because of what I didn't get from him. However, still today I'm vulnerable to images of fathers and sons having fun together. I'm always left feeling deep father hunger, sadness, and wondering who I'd have become if I'd had an overtly loving, involved, and supportive father.

The second heartbreak is knowing how many fatherless boys will never get this B2MP kind of experience. I've come face to face with the epidemic of under-male-nourished-boys and I've seen the cost of the plague of fatherlessness so prevalent in the world today. Most recently, twelve out of seventeen boys in a high school circle I was in had no connection to their father. They were living with a bad story about their dad and themselves as a result. I've felt their anger and witnessed tears in these brave young men. I've also seen them drink in the praise and support they take from the good men who sit with them in these circles.

If you're feeling up to it, you can read yet another set of dark statistics about the impact of fatherlessness on young males on the Boys2Men Project website. You can also send Phil Williams an email (philwilliams(at)boys2menproject.co.uk) to learn more about his version of dads and lads experiences.

If you want to simply consider some other ways you might support some young guys in your world, give me a shout and let's kick around some ideas. Just imagine the good that has resulted from a good man like Phil taking the risk to get a bunch of lads and dads together for some bloke time. That could be your legacy too! And the boys ARE waiting.



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