This reality has been deconstructed by a legion of scholars in social science, science and by writers and poets -many of them feminists – both women and men. This conversation has happened in pockets of society that are either too small or widely unheard and thus the conversation does not reverberate. We are one of a mere few organizations that have published curricula that speak to these issues – it is one of our salient and most essential values – to teach our young people to analyze and critique ideas of masculinity and femininity that are
destructive to society and themselves.
At The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (BHSS), for 18 years, we have guided boys to define what it means to be men, and leaders and brothers. We have helped them to form these definitions through a 4-6 year rites of passage program that seeks to help them hone ethical and moral codes by which to live. We teach them their history and also the current inequitable realities they face, and we train them in developing the skills they need to overcome these conditions. We empower them to live as they want to live – and reject the degrading and damaging
definitions of masculinity that confront them.
We teach them to be comfortable in different forms of manhood, to work to counter sexism, to analyze and reject the misogyny they are exposed to in the media, in their communities and often in their homes. We teach them as well to reject homophobia, to reject bigotry toward people simply because of whom they love, and to reject the notion of manhood being represented only by heterosexual men.
This work is difficult and it takes years. We must help these young boys to remove hardened layers from their psyches, protective scars of what they have been told they should be, to chip away like stone masons – not to create men, but help them reveal the manhood that lives within themselves – one defined by self, and their own spirits and self love. In these efforts we work to help boys heal from trauma. The teenaged pregnancy rate in Harlem is 15 percent – BHSS members and alumni have a rate less than 2 percent. One out of three black men in America between the ages of 20-29 are under supervision of the prison system – either on probation, parole or incarcerated. After 18 years no members or alumni of our organization is incarcerated and less than 1percent have a prior felony. Our approach works.
Frederick Douglass, a man who, many years before other leaders, saw the interconnected struggle for black freedom and the women’s movement, once wrote: “It is easier to build strong boys than repair broken men.” America’s response to unmatched levels of violence has been to create a massive prison industrial complex, an immoral and unethical, system to cage it’s citizens. That a large percentage of those incarcerated are non-violent drug offenders is deemed immaterial. Those who break the law will be demonized and will pay. A man I know
who served over twenty years in prison says often that he has been inside many of America’s correctional facilities and he has yet to find one that corrects anyone. These are institutions of punishment and profit. It is too expensive to incarcerate millions of young men in coming decades. We know this approach does not work.
In addition, mass incarceration is immoral and unethical. Those who advocate it should be judged for their actions – propagating an unjust and inhumane profiting from the caging of human beings. This too is a form of violence.
However, the work of building strong and free boys, those who reject a destructive predetermined idea of manhood, those who reject a definition of masculinity based on domination and violence, those who will choose other paths instead of guns and destruction, this is profoundly moral and ethical and necessary work. It may be difficult, but the benefit to society, to families, and to our communities is immeasurable. It is time to build strong boys.