Making of a Man, Men’s Conference
Where do I begin! It’s been a couple of days since we had our Making of a Man, Men’s Conference, I’m blown away and still trying to process what took place.
On Sunday 29th September at The Transformation Centre, Aston, Birmingham around 70 black men ageing from as young as 13 – 67 attended Making of a Man where we explored some of the prominent topics from our #DearYoungers Forum over the last year, which were Identity, Brotherhood and Manhood. May I pause here and add that we were successfully able to engage young people with what society would deem as disenfranchised, disengaged, hard to reach, including those who are currently in local gangs from different post codes, which had been a challenge for us over the year.
On the day of the event we had 59 people who had registered online to attend and we were pretty anxious about this, given young people from different post codes would be in attendance and so there was a level of risk assessment we had to do and we had to strategically position specific individuals (relatable role models that are respected) to manage any potential risks.
Doors opened at 3.45pm and at this point the people slowly arriving but by 4pm, there was a barrage of men in the foyer area, breaking the stigma of Black Men don’t know time lol. The energies were already high at this point, with a nice vibe and we could fill the brotherly love flowing even though some of the men who arrived were also anxious asking the team lots of questions. This including some of the older mature generation, who said they were sceptical about attending the event.
On the day
At around 4.15pm we officially kicked of the event and we were formally welcomed by our founder and visionary Nathan Dennis who set the scene of who, what and why we were here. Before Nathan jumped into his presentation he starts with an icebreaker, press up challenge to get the testosterone going and to break the tension of which at least 10 men jump at the opportunity. It was the person who could do the most press ups and it was one of our mentors who won, however he’s a personal trainer, which was kind of a fix lol.
Within Nathan Dennis presentation he have furnished us with some shocking facts around black men which included that around 4000 men take their lives every year, 12 men per day and at this point you could hear a pin drop and you could see the devastation on the men’s faces, even my mouth was wide open in unbelief. Nathan then went onto mention how much it costs the government per person when they are incarcerated which was around £45,000 and then boom out of nowhere we hear a strong voice of authority (Beresford) that confirms the cost for a black man to be sectioned, £190,000 which echoed across the room and crushed our hearts. Even as I write this, I feel the pain from Sunday, but in this moment, we remember our mental resilience and the event continues. Nathan proceeds with setting the rules of engagement advising everyone this is safe confidential space where there must be a level of trust and respect.
Next to speak is me and I’m assigned to give a brief overview of our #DearYoungers Project why and who it was created for. I then pass the baton to Beresford Dawkins from Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust who shifts the event to a whole next level with an interactive exercise to change the energy. Beresford instructs all the men to link arms in rows and to leave no man unlinked. Once we were all linked, Beresford then gets us to repeat a mantra, saying ‘We may not have it all together but together we have it all.’ Beresford makes us repeat it over and over for it to sink in, until we are unified and engaged fully, the roar in the room is sensational. Beresford then proceeds to breakdown what identity is and how culture/tradition can have a great impact on our identity. Beresford ends his presentation with getting the men to link arms again and to say the mantra, ‘We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.’
Next up is me and I’m what the young people would say gassed (excited/hype) but also super inspired by Beresford’s delivery. I begin to take the men on a journey of some of most powerful forums for the year. Starting with The Make up a of Man, asking the men a key question, ‘Who teachers you be a man?’ When we first asked this question in our forum with about 9 men no one said Father and so given that we were in a room with 70 men I was expecting someone to say Father, but shockingly again no one said it! The closes answer was ‘I learnt how to be a man by doing the opposite to what my father did’. Notwithstanding this there was a gentleman in the audience 67 years old who was attending with three of his sons and grandson, who we took time out to celebrate as this was a great example and one of our associates (mentor) was also in attendance with his 3 sons. At this point it felt as though a time bomb went off in the room but continued to unpack how to master masculinity and aggression using the examples of Superman (masculinity driven by purpose) and Hulk (masculinity driven by aggression). See previous blog.
Moving onto the next topic I took the men through the journey of Brotherhood and what it is. I always remember in our forum one of our young people 13 years old saying that Brotherhood is, ‘A Status higher than friendship’, which when mentioned at the event provoked the men to think deeply. We then went on to unpack what the word Brother means, at which point we did an interactive exercise (inspired by Dr Matthew Stevenson from Chicago), which involved 11 men linking arms in a circle with one person in the middle. Another man from the audience was then instructed to try and get the person out of the middle of the circle men, which proved to be indestructible. The person was told to invite a friend up to assist him in getting the person out of the circle, however again they were unsuccessful as the men in the circle who linked/united would not allow the circle to be broken, to protect the person in the middle. During the exercise the competitiveness and energy was high, and when they men found out that the word Brother in Hebrew means fence, they were blown away and in awe, at which point we had to put a pin in it and have a break. We all then went downstairs to have dinner together where discussions continued like in the form of a mini #DearYoungers forums.
‘We may not have it together, but together we have it all.’
After break, Beresford brought the men back together by making us link arms to say the mantra, ‘We may not have it together, but together we have it all.’ At which point I continued the journey taking the men through Manhood and unpacking what it is, through an interactive exercise. 10 men were invited onto the stage, split into 2 groups of 5, where they were instructed to stand side by side in a line, each group facing each other. The men were then told to hold hands and some men refused to do so as this challenged their masculinity and belief system but after some deliberation, they held hands. This exercise again involved the men being connected, however the person at the end would have to reach for a child’s toy which we called Manhood. I was positioned at the top of the line holding the hand of one person from each group (side). My role was to squeeze the hand of each person I was holding hands with from each group and they would pass the squeeze on to the next person and so on, and once the person on the end felt the squeeze they could open their eyes and grab the toy (Manhood). We did two rounds of this and on the final round while the men had their eyes closed, we removed the toy (Manhood) and so when it came to grab the toy (Manhood) it wasn’t there. The outcome of this was that the person on the end who was reaching for the toy (Manhood) and It wasn’t there said they felt a sense of false hope, they were reaching for something that wasn’t there. It was also said that if the connection is broken at a certain point there is no chance of being able to reach Manhood. It was then revealed that the word Man in Latin means Hand and so for us to develop into Manhood we need a hand to help us and stay connected. Manhood isn’t automatic is something that you must assemble and build.
Next up was DanMan one of our mentors who was really inspired by our Brotherhood Forum and so wrote a Spoken word piece. Here is a verse:
One of the meanings of the word Brother,
Surprisingly it means fence
Like slots and panels or barbed wire
My brothers Surround me
Expand not condense
stand united together…
deflect any offence
The Power in brotherhood
is rich and royal
Its power is surely immense
Look out for the online video for this spoken word.
Our next speaker was James Lindsey Employment & Skills Delivery Lead at West Midlands Combined Authority, who inspired us with his story on Social Mobility and how we have the power to change our story to access and create opportunities.
Following this one of our speakers from a previous forum, Adam Brooks spoke about how to let go of beef. He starts his story with explaining how he was stabbed in the neck in this exact venue and the wound was 5mm away from taking his life. This took Adam on a journey of aggression, revenge and depression as he couldn’t get closure as the person that committed the offence unfortunately took his own life. Adam talked about the power of forgiveness and that it’s something you have the control of and reinforced the concept of mental resilience in terms of how we think and what we think of ourselves. You are the dominate force in your life, when you change, everything must change.
We then had the privilege of having a private screening of the ‘Man Up’ Documentary which featured Nathan Dennis and one of our mentors Antonio Henry, who exposed their personal story of challenges with Masculinity.
Finally, we had a panel discussion, on the panel were three young men who have been on our #DearYoungers programme, along with Nathan Dennis and Antonio Henry who featured in the documentary. The feedback from the men was overwhelming and a lot of men stayed behind to embrace the love the in the room and brotherhood. All the men left inspired and challenged, however they were reassured that ‘We may not have it together, but together we have it all.’