Reflections on our young men's program

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Young men perform at the Summer Celebration.

By Jack DeJesus, Young Men's Program Organizer

When our Young Men's Program started this summer, I was admittedly a bit nervous. Sure, we had done a ton of recruiting and put a solid curriculum together, but I've done enough youth programming to know that these things usually don't turn out as you envision them. And just as I thought, it didn't turn out that way.

It turned out much, much better.
Here were 15 young Asian men, mostly from Oakland, coming in here and talking about... excuse me what? Sexism? Patriarchy? Gender? Homophobia? Aside from the talks that young people might have at school or after-school programs that tend to gloss over these topics, here we were dedicating a whole summer breaking down and examining these issues, how we as men are impacted by them, and what we can do to be better allies. It felt like a tall task as these young men started filing into the program space, nervously feeling each other out, perhaps as curious as I was about what this program was going to be about.

But week after week, there we were, having these awkward, challenging, important, and transformative conversations, building with and supporting each other. Thankfully we had a good group of guys; the older ones holding it down and making it comfortable for everyone to participate; the younger ones stepping out of their comfort zones and sharing their experiences.

One person who sticks out is Ken, who for the first few weeks seemed super quiet and kept to himself. I'd often wonder if he was absorbing the information we were sharing with him. But towards the last few weeks, there he was, engaging with the other guys, raising his voice and participating in the activities. Another one who makes me smile is Eddie, who also was pretty reserved at the beginning of the program, but gradually revealed a deeper, extremely thoughtful side of himself the more and more we met.

The highlight for me really was the Summer Celebration. Here these guys were, not just talking about these things among themselves, but sharing these issues with their communities. Plays about homophobia, interpretive dances about class oppression, songs about Asian male stereotypes. It really showed a tremendous amount of courage and trust for them to go and put themselves out there. It was then that I realized this program was a success, but more importantly, that these young men were now a part of my family.

This isn't just a summer program for me. I expect to be in these guys' lives as long as they let me, building on the topics we covered in the last couple months, applying the lessons learned to their everyday lives. I appreciate ACRJ for allowing this space to happen, the youth organizing team for the support and expertise, and these amazing young men for reminding me that men in our community are totally capable and willing to examine and challenge patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia. I really hope that we can continue to build on it. Thanks ACRJ!!!

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