June 14, 2012

Men FOR Boys - Near and Far

With the evening news and papers again filled with reports of what a few very twisted men have done to boys, I want to create a counter-point by honoring some of the very good men I'm aware of who are standing strong for boys. In this post, I'm profiling two groups doing Rite of Passage events, who then provide ongoing support for the young males in their communities. These are just the most recent examples to come to my attention, but they are representative of many more programs deserving to be held up for the world to see. It is my intention to continue with this theme for a few posts. I just wish that the work of good men making a positive difference in boys' lives was more newsworthy.

The two programs briefly described below are part of a global network of groups working through Boys to Men International, (B2MI), out of California. This organization now has centers in twenty U.S. cities and globally in places like Switzerland, South Africa, Canada, and the United Kingdom. While these programs use similar approaches to a Rite of Passage experience and follow-up support, they are also making their events culturally relevant and locally meaningful. For more information about this approach to working with young males, contact Boys to Men International .

The men of the Boys to Men International center in Cape Town, South Africa, have been initiating and supporting young males from their surrounding communities for seven years. Each year they initiate over seventy boys, who then become "Journeymen" as they continue their movement toward adulthood. Word about the work of the Cape Town Boys to Men team is beginning to spread. Just recently they took on a special challenge.

The center was approached by the nearby, government-run Constantia Primary School to help some young male students. These were boys who displayed leadership potential but seemed to be held back by personal issues. For so many boys in this community, the effects of absent fathers, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and physical and emotional abuse, all create problems that are common in South African working class and lower middle class households. These problems start to play out for the boys in their school environments.

The men and Journeymen of the Cape Town B2MI center stepped up and put eleven boys, ages 11-15, through a Rite of Passage Adventure weekend. The weekend took place on the beautiful Bloublommetjies Farm at the foot of the majestic Du Toit's Kloof Mountains, about an hour from Cape Town.

Using their proven weekend passage template, seven men and four Journeymen (J-Men) held ground for 48 hours as the eleven initiates went through a series of challenging physical and emotional experiences. Assisting the men and J-Men was one of only two male teachers out of seven in the whole school of 280 pupils. One of the staff men reported this teacher watched from the sidelines for most of the event. As is often the case this man who, ". . . is a powerhouse of support for the boys, had his heart opened wider and wider as the weekend progressed. It was clear the weekend was an initiation for him, too."

The masculine chemistry of these Rite of Passage Weekend experiences always touches the hearts of all males involved. This Cape Town event was completely staffed by volunteer men and J-Men. In addition, the weekend was totally funded by external sponsors. It's more proof that good men everywhere, anywhere, when they hear the call to action, can change the trajectory of a boy's life and be mightily gifted in the process.

Dylan Wheeler is a 20 year old young man from Asheville, North Carolina. He is one of well over 60 young guys whose lives have been shaped by Journeymen Asheville (JA), another center of the Boys to Men International network. They, too, recently offered a Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend (RPAW), the fourth for JA. As with the Cape Town event, their RPAW’s are staffed by men from the community and Journeymen. The powerful masculine camaraderie of JA's organization has been life-changing for many, and Dylan is one good example. In order to better understand the experience from Dylan’s perspective, I had a chat with him. Here are the highlights:

Earl: Dylan, what lead you to get connected with Journeymen Asheville?

Dylan: My parents had gotten a divorce and my dad wasn’t in my life that much. At the time I was mostly living with my mom. I was going to a church youth group and met a man named Chris, who was helping to create the JA program. He was a guy I looked up to and was someone I could talk about my drug addiction or anything else in my life. When he mentioned JA, I didn’t really know what this mysterious weekend thing was, but I trusted him and so when he suggested the RPAW I said okay. I was 16 then and became one of the first initiates to go through the program in Asheville.

Earl: What were some of the lessons you took away from your weekend experience?

Dylan: A huge piece for me was the separation from my mom. I felt like I had been overly connected to her, more boy like. At 16 going on 17, I realized I really WAS becoming a man and I could and should take more responsibility for myself.

Another powerful thing was the realization that on that weekend, I was really supported by a lot of men. Some I didn’t even know but who obviously cared about me. I had never experienced anything like that before.

Earl: After your weekend experience, did you step in to the other activities offered by JA?

Dylan: After the weekend we do what are called In Groups and Out Groups. In Groups are where we sit in a circle and talk about what happened with us over the last week. There are always Journeymen and older guys really talking about real stuff. I hear stories form older men about their lives and I get supported by the guys in the circle for what I am dealing with. Telling my truth in the circle and being really listened to is pretty awesome.

When we have an Out Group, it's stuff like sports, soccer, hikes, and hanging out in nature. Just having fun with other Journeymen and the adults makes me feel really happy.

Earl: Why did you decide to go back and staff an RPAW?

Dylan: I wanted to see it from the other side, be in a place where I could observe and listen to the men, elders and the new initiates speaking. I guess I also learned a lot about giving to and supporting others, and putting in my time so others could have a good experience.

After staffing the RPAW, and getting out of high school, I stepped away from the JA program for a while. I spent a year and a half following the dream I always had to travel. I feel like that dream actually happened because I had men from JA encouraging me and supporting me in pursuing my dreams. I really believe that if I hadn’t done those weekends, I wouldn’t have seen Colorado and New Mexico, and traveled across the U.S. And I wouldn't have gone to Europe and visited Italy, Holland, and Switzerland either.

Earl: I understand you have really gotten involved in the JA organization. You are on the Board, you are a mentor, and you even manage the organization's Facebook page. What are you getting from all that involvement?

Dylan: I know that I’m giving back to my JA friends, the initiates, families, and even my community. I’m also getting a lot of personal support for my life. I have a place where I can bring my fears, issues, and even share my happiness. I guess I feel like all of me is welcome at JA and I can really be who I am.

Earl: How do you think your life would be different today if you hadn’t discovered JA?

Dylan: It's really possible, given who I was and where I was headed, that I’d still be using drugs, feeling way lost, I probably wouldn’t have traveled, and maybe I'd even had dropped out of college from fear or lack of confidence and no real support. The power of all the support I’ve gotten has really changed my life. I really recommend that for everyone.

Just below is a short clip of another JA young man named Therrin, sharing his story about the changes he’s experienced as a result of his connection to Journeymen Asheville. The stores these young men have shared are not uncommon and powerful testimony to the transformational power of a male tribe, Rite of Passage experiences, and what most often happens when good men (and young males) show up for boys.

If the clip doesn't appear, go to this YouTube link.

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1 comment:

  1. Tim W.11:02 AM

    I loved reading your interview with the young man; great questions (and responses.

    I'm reading Issue 2, 2012 of the Nature Conservancy magazine and wanted to share the following suggestion with you/others about what a man can do with a kid:

    Go Outside...And Take a Kid With You.

    A treasure hunt is a fun way to help a child connect with nature. Go to the backyard or a local park and search for these items. (Find a version for older children at nature.org/treasurehunt.)

    1) Find something round. 2) Find something smooth. 3) Find something that smells good - or bad. 4) Find a place where an animal would be happy.


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