December 9, 2011

Str8Street – Early Gang Intervention

I’ve always said that we don’t so much have a young male-driven violence problem in our cities as an epidemic of under-male-nourished boys. Without the boy-civilizing influence of older men in young guy’s lives, you are guaranteed to have testosterone-fueled, out of control young men running around trying to be “men,” and getting into trouble. There is an often quoted African proverb, which in effect says, If the young men are not initiated into the life of the Village, they will burn it down just to feel the heat. Today we call that situation a gang problem.

Since my Creepy Guy post a couple weeks ago, I’m on a mission to bring to light the good men who are making a positive difference in young male lives. Recently, I was part of the launch of an extraordinary program called Str8Street. It’s a Carson City, Nevada community program with the potential to reach out to lost and gang-vulnerable young males. In Carson City, there is a growing presence of mostly white and Hispanic gangs. One young man, named Jose, had managed to step out of a gang, gotten clean, and then approached the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Nevada Mentor Center with an idea. He wanted to do something to keep young kids off the streets and out of the gang life.

About the same time, the staff of the Mentor Center had heard me speak at a conference on how to get men to show up for young males. We all got connected, had many conversations, and together came up with the idea for Str8Street. The goal of the program is to get a diverse tribe of good men involved in doing things with a multicultural mix of young boys before they are old enough to hear the powerful call into gangs.

For Str8Street’s introduction, we invited men from all parts of the community to a presentation I did titled, Building the Men’s Hut: A Conversation about Men, Manhood, and the Boys in Our Village. In attendance were male staff from the Boy’s and Girl’s Club, parole officers, the sheriff, past gang members, college kids, some young dudes, and many good men from the community. No women were allowed. The result of that program, simply put, was almost unanimous support for the intentions and goals of the program. Many men signed up to participate, community support was enlisted, and a launch date chosen.

The launch event was an overnight campout full of games, adventure, food, and time around the fire. Males of all ages and backgrounds were present, shared in the events, and, most importantly, shared their stories and hopes for the future of Str8Street. At the end of the campout, all the participants got a silver dog tag that read Str8Street, marking their participation and the common bond that had been established.

Since the campout, the boys and men have had a wide variety of learning experiences and local adventures. They’ve learned to shop for groceries and then how to barbeque, gone rock climbing, learned how to create and set goals, done some basic car maintenance, explored an art and cultural museum, had CPR training, gone scuba diving in a pool, and played team sports. As the program evolves, boys will have more input into what they want to experience, and a chance to demonstrate leadership by running parts of the meetings. Each event includes time for going over the rules for the group, the event itself, a post-event discussion about what was learned, and always some casual, side-by-side time to learn about what is and is not working in each of the boy’s lives.

What is so innovative about this program is that good men from all parts of the community are involved. The program keeps men engaged because most of the activities appeal to males of all ages, and the time investment is very short term. In addition to the fun, men get to meet, hang out with new men friends and experience the satisfaction of making a positive contribution to their community. It also is true that adult male hearts are often profoundly softened by the connection to the young dudes.

If you know of a program in which good men are making a difference in boy’s lives, let me know and we’ll put the word out here.

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