February 28, 2011

Criteria For Initiating A Young Male

In a conversation recently, I had occasion to revisit the idea that an adolescent male, poised to step out on to his journey to manhood, should know some things. In the way old days, in tribal cultures, that training took a long time. The boys, as the next generation of men, HAD to get it. The community's survival depended on it. Granted, today's world is vastly different, but none-the-less, our young men need to be prepared. I'm talking about the "How To Live" skills beyond the obvious tools we're hoping they are getting in school (different conversation). So what would be on your list of things a boy should know before he was intentionally initiated and accepted into the world of men?

A few years ago, I remembered receiving the following list from my brother in mission, Mustafa Mahdi, the director of The Rising Son, Inc., in Atlanta, GA. While The Rising Son mission has changed some over the years, I love his list of what was required of his young males before they could get an Elder recommendation for a rite of passage experience. In this case, a boy could start working anytime after his twelfth birthday, and if the tasks were completed, he could be sent up for initiation when he was sixteen.
  • Maintain a "B" average or above in school.
  • Cleans room and assists with household chores.
  • Can prepare a complete meal for the entire family.
  • Knows how to plant and maintain a vegetable garden.
  • Knows how to fish, hunt and cook small game.
  • Knows how to save a life (Basic CPR/First Aid skills).
  • Knows how to swim the length of an olympic pool.
  • Can run at least 1 mile in 10 minutes or less.
  • Knows basic auto repair and maintenance.
  • Knows basic carpentry, electrical and plumbing repair.
  • Has completed Domestic Violence Prevention workshop.
  • Has completed Abstinence & Male/Female Relationship workshop.
  • Has a basic knowledge of self-defense and conflict resolution.
  • Has a minimum of $100.00 in a savings account.
  • Has completed a driver's safety course & has a learner's permit.
  • Has visited a local college and met with an academic advisor.
  • Has visited a technical vocational school & met with an advisor.
  • Has selected a "Career Coach" working in his chosen profession.
  • Can draw a "Family Tree" listing all living relatives.  

What would be on your list?

More importantly, who was the man that helped guide YOU through the maze of masculine competencies?

What happens to boys who don't have men to show them even the basics?

If you have some suggestions for the list or a comment about teaching boys to be men in this way, send an email to me at Earl at Man-Making dot com, or add it to the Comments section of this post on the Man-Making Blog homepage.

If you're not yet a subscriber to the Man-Making Blog, and you'd like to receive these posts by email 3-4 times a month, go to this link for a free subscription.

February 24, 2011

Killing Government Youth-Serving Programs

I am doing training workshops for Mentoring Children of Prisoners (MCP) grantees through MANY, the Mid-Atlantic Network of Youth and Family Services. The data indicates there are near two million children of incarcerated parents in the United States. For a variety of reasons, these kids are four times more likely to enter a life of crime than "normal" children. Organizations funded by the Federal MCP grant are working hard to connect these young people with good male and female mentors, and the hope of a better life. I'm proud to be connected to so many people doing such good work, in often very difficult conditions. They are some of my major sheroes and heroes.

An email from MANY today really shook me up. It announced the results of the budget cutting that is going on in the U.S. House of Representatives. The budget they passed includes cutting $100 billion dollars compared from the President's FY 2011 proposed budget. These cuts include, "zeroing out of the following youth programs: Mentoring Children of Prisoners, YouthBuild, Teen Pregnancy Prevention Community Grants, Teach for America, and State Grants for Incarcerated Youth. It also significantly cuts the Corporation for National and Community Service (the agency that runs the AmeriCorps programs), Juvenile Justice programs, Head Start, and 21st Century Learning Centers".

For a complete list of cuts and reductions, you can click here: http://appropriations.house.gov/_files/ProgramCutsFY2011ContinuingResolution.pdf

The H.R.1 bill now goes to the Senate and that is where the battle to serve at-risk and other youth is going to be fought. In all the years of publishing this blog, I have never mounted a soapbox in support of political agenda, but this time it feels necessary to take a stand. While I very much understand the need for fiscal restraint and deficit reduction, and don't want to see taxpayer dollars wasted on bad programs, the complete elimination of successful core safety net programs, for short term (and perhaps political) impact, seems too drastic and very shortsighted.

Congress is currently on recess and will return to Washington DC next week.  When they return, the Senate will vote on this bill before it goes to the President. At that time, important decisions will be made which will have profound impact on millions of people going forward. If you care about the lives of children served by these programs, if you are concerned about the hidden costs (community violence, incarceration, damaged families, reduced literacy . . . etc.) that will certainly accrue when these populations are not served, if you care about the quality of life for everyone in this country, then now would be a good time to let your elected officials know how you feel. You can read the MANY email here and in it find guidance on how to approach your elected officials. IF you care, NOW is the time to act. Contact the youth/children staff members in your Representatives’ AND Senators' Washington, DC offices this week.

To learn more about Mentoring Children of Prisoners grant, how to support children of incarcerated parents, or to learn about the DVD: Troop 1500: Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, visit the Resource Center website for The Corporation for National and Community Service.

If you're not yet a subscriber to the Man-Making Blog, and you'd like to receive these posts by email 3-4 times a month, go to this link for a free subscription.

February 16, 2011

Connecting with "High-Risk" Boys

In response to my call to men to connect with the boys in their communities, I received a comment from Warren Ivey, who works for Family Service of Greater Boston. Based on his experience, working with inner-city youth, Warren suggests caution is in order for men who are considering a relationship with young men who don't have the same social, family, or economic backgrounds. Here’s what Warren says:

Men in urban areas do well to seriously consider their 'fears' of connecting with a boy who has a background very different from their own. The best way to insure a positive experience for both males and to "do no harm" to the young man is to get some training and have support. Each year, boys in gangs seem to reach new lows of depravity. Misled boys are not limited to inner-city gangs however. Even our suburban communities experience problems with groups of out-of-control young males. Gang socialization often results in high levels of stress and trauma-related experiences for the boys. In addition, many of those boys will exhibit aggressive behaviors, inappropriate social responses, and have inaccurate perceptions about the “real” world. A man might encounter a boy with substance use or gang affiliations, most often ‘handed down’ by older men who are negative role models of manhood. So, it's really important that men who feel led to make a positive connection with a boy, make cautious choices and get some training before getting involved with young males that are not from their part of town.

Last year my agency launched a pilot training curriculum to train staff of community centers, Boys and Girls clubs, YMCAs, etc. that work with boys (and girls) who live in “challenged” communities. The staff and directors/leaders of these organizations were grateful for the opportunity to add more insight to their work with the youth and to increase their knowledge about topics such as: The Me in Mentor, The Mentality of the Mentee, and Signs and Symptoms of Mentee Trauma. This is the type of background information that would really help any man who wants to work with high-risk boys.

For men who are considering making a difference in the life of a boy with very different socio-economic background than their own, and not wanting to let a boy down with another rejection or have big problems in the connection, some training is in order. Study this Man-Making Blog. Read Earl’s Man-Making book and other books and articles on troubled boys. Consider getting training and/or support from formal mentoring organizations. This is all part of a responsible plan of action. Sadly, the urban boys of our cities are in desperate need of relationships with men. But the men who can serve them the best are those who know who they are and the nature of their challenges.

For Bostonians, here is an invitation for the sake of our local boys. Contact us at Family Service of Greater Boston and we’ll help you get started in a productive mentoring relationship.

The suggestion from Warren to get training and support when working with boys whose lifestyles and backgrounds are very different from your own, is very good advice. However, taking a small risk to get involved with the boys from your family, neighborhood, or you community who you do “get” is a very good thing to do.

If you're not yet a subscriber to the Man-Making Blog, and you'd like to receive these posts by email 3-4 times a month, go to this link for a free subscription.

February 4, 2011

Boys, A Deep Canyon and A Tyrolean Traverse

There is just nothing more exciting for an adolescent male than a challenging adventure. They love being tested, and the more adrenaline the better. So the men who formed the Desert Men's Council in Tucson decided we'd put our pack of young males on a rope suspended over a twelve story canyon and see how they'd do.

Even though they trust us and especially our rocks and ropes leader, Chris, the young dudes really eyed up the anchors, the ropes, and the safety gear. At the same time they kept looking over the edge to see the rocky bottom of the canyon way below and the launch point way across and up on the other side.

Once set up, a circle of men and boys was formed and there was the important conversation about safety, supporting others, and no goofing around close to the unprotected edge. The boys listened deep as the men unfolded stories about risks they had taken. Sometimes foolish risks, and then the risks that stretch you, that help you to grow into a larger version of yourself. The men told stories of the times of uncertainty they had faced and how, sometimes, it's important, or even necessary, to push through your fear to do what has to be done. All the while the stories were being told, there were nervous glances across to the launch point and that big step into the deep void that was waiting.

Conversations done, the four boys were asked to volunteer. The ones that were too eager and stepped up first were invited to take a different path, to hold back, and to support others taking an even bigger risk. Then boys who were genuinely afraid of the experience were asked to step forward. They did, they were given cheers and hand bumps, and then off they marched for the other side of the canyon.

The photos at this slide show link tell the rest of the story. The young guys learned it's the first step into the unknown that was the most difficult, and the ride that followed was exhilarating! As the realization dawned that the system of ropes was indeed safe, and fun, and that the Facebook photos would be great, there was a general leaning into the event. Adolescent bravado returned and grew in those who had made the crossing, and before long the guys were lining up for the second ride. Fun.

After the ropes had been taken down and the site cleaned, we again all sat down to talk about what had happened. The guys realized that somehow, in an afternoon, the canyon had become less threatening, less scary, and smaller in some way. It was attributed to the gear, their confidence in Chris, the support they gave each other, and their own willingness to step out of their comfort zone . . . in this case one BIG step. It wasn't a big stretch to apply those lessons to the life of a boy on the journey toward manhood.

You may not have a twelve story canyon handy or the gift of a good and talented rocks and ropes guy like Chris, but among your group of men friends there is the talent, gear, and possibly the interest in an adventure of some kind waiting. What I'm pretty sure of is in reading this, your inner adolescent got jealous. What I can say without reservation is there are boys in your world who would love to go along on your adventure!

If you have a similar story of a pack of guys on an adventure, please add it to the comment section of this post or send it to me. We'd all like to read another outing story.

If you're not yet a subscriber to the Man-Making Blog, and you'd like to receive these posts by email 3-4 times a month, go to this link for a free subscription.