September 30, 2014

Rites of Passage for "Tender Warriors"

The Tender Warrior Association (TWA) is a non-profit, group mentoring organization, serving male middle school students, ages 11-14, who are from Maryland, Virginia, or Washington, D.C. TWA is the inspiration of Jeff Robertson, it's Founder and Executive Director. While TWA was incorporated in 2008, Jeff has been on a hero's journey of Man-Making work for the past 20 years. Today, TWA consists of 3 major components, Outdoor Adventure Activities, Ivy League College Tour Program, and a powerful honoring event called the Tribe 7 Ceremony.

Outdoor Adventure Activities: The men and young men meet on the second Saturday of the month for fun and some time for just hanging out. While the activities vary, Jeff believes in getting his young men out into nature as much as possible. On any given Saturday, they may be playing sports, heading out for camping, or hiking. Whatever the activity, there is always time toward the end to circle up for a conversation about some aspect of becoming a man.

The Ivy League College Tour Program: When funds are available, men and the young guys head out to visit new cities and take a look at life on New England college campuses such as Princeton, Harvard, and Yale. Their next college visit will be a guided tour of Dartmouth College, including lunch on campus, and tour of the city of Hanover, New Hampshire. As a bonus, they are hoping to tour NBC studios in downtown New York City. These trips provide the young men with a look at the world beyond their communities and always expand their horizons and view of what's possible.

. . . powerful expressions of
acknowledgement, caring, and blessing
are focused on the young man.

The Tribe 7 Ceremony: The Tribe 7 Ceremony happens early in a boy's involvement with TWA. It's a ceremony in which a young man is witnessed and honored for crossing an important line on his journey toward manhood. The family of each young man is supported in finding 7 men from his circle of extended family, friends, faith community, school, or his neighborhood. These men agree to participate in the ceremony and to support the young man in the days and years ahead. Jeff says in a world where men are often absent in many parts of a boy's life, it's sometimes a big challenge for a family to even find 7 men who will step up. However, when the men are found and the Tribe 7 Ceremony is possible, there are powerful expressions of acknowledgement, caring, and blessing focused on the young man. The boy is always deeply moved as are the men and families participating around the edges of the event.


The video below is just a short segment of a Tribe 7 Ceremony. In it you can actually see the ritual working its magic on everyone. The young man, thirteen-year-old Shariff Levine, is at the center of it all, nervous but beaming. The men, sometimes also feeling a little awkward, each have 2 minutes in which to accept and commit to the role of man-maker in Shariff's life, bless the young man, and present him with a special object to which the man has given special meaning. In the ceremony, each of the candles and the swords has special meaning which is explained to the initiate. They represent values such as strength, passion, determination, courage, confidence, and there is even one for the young man's "unknown potential." As you watch, can you begin to feel the power of what these men are focusing on this one young man?



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

I don't know about you but I was blown away by Jeff giving Shariff a gift of opening a savings account for a college trust fund. It also warmed my male heart to hear the men surrounding Shariff pledge to be there for him as he moves toward manhood. Who among you wouldn't have wanted that in your life as you were entering adolescence?

On September 30th, Jeff Robertson is being honored by the Architect of the Capital for his innovation in creating this group mentoring organization for young boys of color. He is one of my Man-Making heroes and truly deserves all the recognition he gets (and more)! Speaking of more, if you like what Jeff is doing you can donate to his work. The donation request on the TWA website is for $7, but whether it's $7, $70, or $700, you can be sure it will be put right to work setting young men on a positive journey toward manhood. You can reach Jeff at (301) 442-7760 or visit the TWA website at: tenderwarriorjr.org to learn more about their programs.

Trust that you and your men friends
are hardwired . . .for this work . . .

If you are inspired by Jeff's example, gather up some of your men friends and see what you might create for a young man in your world. In addition to Jeff's example and others I've described on this blog, here is a "how to" article describing a passage event I created with some men friends years ago for one of the men's son.

Anything a group of good men
do in support of a young man or group of young men
simply can't fail.

Anything a group of good men do in support of a young man or group of young men simply can't fail. Be prepared for this work to feel a little awkward because it's been so long since this was a normal part of life for men. Trust that you and your men friends are hardwired, deep in your male psyche, for this work and will know the right things to do and say. Be ready to be amazed by the young men's reaction, what happens to your male heart, and the positive reaction from the community around you.

If you have even a little desire to do something and want some guidance, contact me. Right now there is something every man can do in service to young guys. It's time for men to go to work. The boys are waiting and, as men, we do know how to do this!



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September 23, 2014

Boys, Boobs, and Saying "Yes!"

I still remember my first touch of a naked female breast. It was in the back row of a dark movie theatre when I was maybe twelve. I was on an early adolescent date of sorts and I didn't really have a clue about what I was doing. I remember it took all the courage I had to make my way through a long run up of incremental steps to get to the object of my desire . . . that breast. I was with a girl just a little older than me who somehow managed to pretend none of it was happening, didn't say "no," and seemed to like the attention.

The breast, . . . was indeed
wonderful and otherworldly for me . . .

The breast, while it was indeed wonderful and otherworldly for me, was really just another player in the drama. I was already being propelled by my young male biology and in the grip of an ancient gender dance. Up to that moment in my life, I had NO actual experience with breasts or any other element of female anatomy. I also had no real understanding of what was going on in my body. In short, I didn’t know what I was doing or even why I was so magnetized by those breasts. I was simply operating on pure male instinct and loving it.

In my young male world at that time, there were early rumblings about girls' body parts, "scoring," and things vaguely sexual. Those ideas were mostly joked about in my young boy pack. The fact the guys a little older than us were very focused on girls wasn't lost on us, but no one in our age group really had a clue why. We knew something was going on but it was all a vague and exciting mystery.

The internet has changed everything. Today, kids with even a little sexual curiosity can go online and find all the information on the topic they can handle. An unsupervised adolescent male today can easily find enough information to become an amateur gynecologist. The good and the very bad information is all easily available. Because of how much questionable and blatantly bad information about sexuality is out there, adult guidance is even more important now than ever.


Sadly, too many parents are not having "the talk" with their kids . . . in time. A recent survey of parents and their 13 to 17 year-old kids published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (as reported in U.S. News and World Report), speaks directly to the need for an ongoing conversation about sexuality with kids. In the Talking Parent, Healthy Teens survey, just some of what they discovered included:
  • Almost half of teens had intercourse before their parents got around to talking with them about sexually transmitted diseases and birth control.
  • More than half of the teenagers had engaged in genital touching before discussing birth control effectiveness, resisting pressure for sex, and the importance of condom use with their parents.
  • Girls were more likely than boys to have had talks with parents about sex.
We all know someone has to talk with our young guys about these issues. Mark Schuster is one of the authors of the Talking Parents, Healthy Teens survey and is a co-author of a helpful book titled, Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (but Were Afraid They'd Ask). It's perfect for parents trying to gear up for having "the talk" with their kids. If you're a parent of a young male, read a book, if necessary, and start the conversation with your young man. There is just too much at risk to pretend our young guys aren't going to be sexual.

When considering these conversations with young males, the questions of how to talk about sex, when to bring up the topic, who should be having the conversations, and what the content about sexuality should include, combine to create an extremity complicated matter. These questions are beyond the scope of this post, but I do feel those of us working with young males should be talking among ourselves and with the parents of young guys about how to raise the topic.

That all said, there may be a conversation parents and those of us working with the young dudes can have right now.

The California legislature has just passed a bill that clarifies what it means to have consensual sexual activity. “Activity" means not just the act of intercourse, but all the steps that lead up to two people getting it on. Here is a lot of information on that legal initiative.


This legislation begins to move the discussion out of the realm of someone having to say “no” and instead now requires both parties to say "yes," and keep saying yes as things progress! That means, "continuous, affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement by each party to engage in sexual activity.” Now that kind of agreement would have made my approach of a long run of incremental steps to get to the object of my desire, unacceptable. I’m thinking that would also be true of a lot of the strategies used by young guys these days.

. . . our young guys will need to know
how to have a
sexually intimate personal conversation.

Adolescent male sex impulses can be a lot like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining mass and momentum along the way. Given that fact, it’s going to take considerable guidance to make sure our young guys and women are safe in this new day of positive consent. In addition to managing powerful personal biological drives, our young guys will need to know how to have a sexually intimate personal conversation. We can and do need to teach them how to do that.

In our school-based and other circles with young men, personal truths are often spoken. When trust has been formed, there is a level of personal honesty, emotion, and real vulnerability that is often shared. The challenge will be to get young guys to bring this form of intimate exchange into their relationships with women . . . and to do so in the heat of a sexual moment.

There is plenty of grey area remaining between the California law’s legal consent requirements and the reality of human sexuality. But requiring a series of yes's along the way is a good start. Laws regarding consent won't stop someone intent on dominance, manipulating a partner, or committing sexual assault. Just having this issue in the public view can be a good reason to bring up the topic with our young men.

If all the barriers to having these intimate conversations can be overcome, discussions about having a healthy, mutually respectful, and positive relationship with a sexual (or any) partner can be launched with our young men. I say "Yes" to that!



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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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