July 07, 2008
Reflection: MRI Trainging in Springfield
After several weeks of intense preparation and anticipation, the second annual Men as Allies: Promoting Positive Masculinity, facilitated by MRI, kicked off at American International College. Starting on Wednesday, June 25, 2008, a group of 40 people representing places as close as Springfield and as far as New Mexico and Hawaii, came together to share and learn about engaging men in being allies with women. The purpose of the training was to create a common understanding of how to systematically engage men and boys in being allies to women in the home, workplace, and the community at large.
Firstly, I cannot adequately express the importance of having this communal learning experience-formally called 'training'-here in Springfield, MA. There it often times a fixation for doing work on an international scale, and that can be not only exoticizing which is highly problematic, but also limiting because it loses touch of the reality that there is also important connections to be made right here in this state. So the commitment from MRI to bring people together in the community that it is located in really speaks to its clear vision, understanding of it own positionality as non profit organization occupying space in Springfield, and its steadfast belief that through reclaiming our birthright of connection-we can do our own individual healing as well as building a healthy community. That is the premise that the training was being held, and the each day was constructed very intentionally to model the kind of interaction that is necessary for making change within the organizations that were represented those three days and the individuals that participated.
Day one started with opening remarks by Steven Botkins and James Arana as well as a song by Julius Ford and a narrative from Francis Hubbard (both are community activists). The primary objective for the first day was to explore the continuum of violence, establish a common language and understanding of how men's violence has impacted the American culture, and bring truth to the concept through sharing our personal experiences with violence. Given the pervasiveness of violence, the group seemed to respond with openness to the topic and a profound willingness to support each other in exploring and remembering what feelings the issue brought up. I was amazed by the diversity of the group and what that meant for the perspectives and experience brought to the group. It was equally unnerving to know that because there was such diversity, a higher level of cultural sensitivity was integral in creating a safe space for everyone to participate. I felt that the group did a phenomenal job at being attentive and really listening with compassion.
Day two was full of life and energy. After debriefing the previous day, the group participated in a self-directed activity called 'Breaking the Silence.' Everyone was asked to stand in a circle, and the individuals that felt compelled to do so, would say something that is true for them and stand in solidarity with others that have experienced the same event and be witnessed by the one that hadn't necessarily had that same experience.
Two other really powerful activities were the women's circle and the men's circle. I was personally moved by the women's circle because when men share space with women to tell their stories and how they have been impacted by gender based violence, the potential for transformation is on the verge if we can listen with intention and compassion. In the process of listening to five women share their experience of with violence to each other, I felt an invitation to be an ally. I was amazed by the courage of the women in the group to recount what I perceived to be very traumatic events and step into their life history with strength, bravery, and a desire to confront that pain, while simultaneously allowing the men to be a part of that in a way that felt safe and respectful.
In the closing for day two, we planted the branch that had been blessed by our elders with stones. Every member of the group brought a stone to offer as the foundation of the branch, and every stone had significance and value. In offering a stone, you were offering a piece of wisdom to the boy that was denied his birthright of connection (the branch represents the boy, and the stones that hold him up is the collective love and wisdom). This particular closing really resonated with me because I am fortunate to have the opportunity to impart that love and wisdom onto a baby boy. As a new father, I had the overwhelming feeling that as everyone was speaking to the boy that had longed for this connection, they were also speaking to me-the awaiting father. The members of the group were saying 'no need to fear this new journey of parenthood, we are here, and we will help to be a good father to that little boy.' It was at that particular moment that I felt my spiritual being embrace the calling to support young men. I fundamentally believed that if we can engage young fathers, we can change the course of violence and up root it from its depths in the community.
The last day was about reflecting on the learning that took place over the previous two days and then translating those experiences into personal and collective action steps. I found it really helpful to think about what individual boundaries this training breached and what tools I can incorporate into my life. And while thinking about the individual self, also thinking about how I participate in the culture of the organization that I work with and ability to affect the places that I am invested in. The duality of change (internal vs. external change) was something that I have come to better understand and now know that the ability to create change has to start from within and metastasize.
The closing ceremony asked us to consider our need for connection and to remember how beautiful it is when we have it in our lives. In being so consumed by approaching responsibility of becoming a parent coupled with being moved by the ceremony of casting a stone and offering words of peace and wisdom to the little boy that lacked that connection, I now realized that I lost sight of who was being spoken to. It was the little boy in me that had the connection severed and I needed to offer the words of solace for my own self-growth. Needless to say, I had a life changing experience at this year's MRI training and I am incredibly grateful to the men and women that I had the honor of connecting and building with. I have found this space to do my own reflecting extremely powerful and insightful for the development of my own positive self-concept, and encourage those who have something on their hearts to do the same.
With Love and Courage,
Posted by at July 7, 2008 11:32 PM