Do Real Men Share? HAAMI and African-American Male Mentorship

By Dr. Gregory Washington

Group of HAAMI students at a monthly HAAMI Session.
Group of HAAMI students at a monthly HAAMI session.

The opportunities are great for African-American men on campus.  The challenge for many of us whether student or faculty is to take advantage of the paths trudged by our ancestors and elders. We need direction but we sometimes we don’t have it, recognize it, or accept it from other men who look like us. I have had the privilege to mentor African-American male professionals and students for several years now and I frequently reflect on the lessons I have learned. I want to believe and sometimes get feedback related to how my sharing has benefited others, but I am increasingly aware of the value I get by staying connected to other men. The United States can be a cruel and harsh place for black males without guidance. I was fortunate to have my father available to guide me for over fifty years of my life and still at times I went crazy left instead of right.

Dr. Washington speaks to a mentors of the HAAMI Program.
Dr. Washington speaks to a mentors of the HAAMI program.

There are unwritten rules that African-American boys and men learn and use as they move through the world.   Successful African-American men understand the rules of the game as they relate to interacting with those different from them, and many of them understand the rules of ‘the streets’ are equally, and in some cases, more important. Teaching these rules to boys and young men of color can be a valuable part of helping them and ourselves avoid the traps this society has set for us and supports critical understanding of the masculine and nurturing components of ourselves.  Yes, there are traps from the Old and New Jim Crow laws in place and whether they are inadequate schools, selling the easy package, or the omnipresent get rich without work message in the media. It is important to realize successful African-American males have learned to operate in the society of the United States by strategically maximizing the resources available to them and carefully choosing ways to challenge the racism and inequity found in social institutions. These resources include relationships with successful African-American males.

Ed Harper, Hooks Institute Board Member and HAAMI mentor, speaking with a HAAMI student at the 2015 HAAMI reception.
Ed Harper, Hooks Institute Board Member and HAAMI mentor, speaking with a HAAMI student at the 2015 HAAMI reception.

Safe places and networks where men can be honest are rare. We need more men and boys sharing nurturing places where conscious African-American men, who understand history, culture, politics, and the economics of exploitation, can be real.  Part of the challenge includes the fact that men typically consider sharing feelings feminine in part because it emphasizes self-awareness and vulnerabilities. Some men see it as a sign of weakness to share emotions, particularly men of color from urban neighborhoods.  We are frequently taught that sharing feelings, fears and insecurities can make us vulnerable to harm but exploring emotions, coping skills and vulnerabilities are frequently important tasks that promote our growth. Let me be clear, real men connect and share. We have successes and challenges to share, join the real men at HAAMI.

Dr. Gregory Washington Bio

Dr. Gregory WashingtonGregory Washington, LCSW, Ph. D is the Program Coordinator of the Hooks Institute  African American Male Initiative (HAAMI) and an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Memphis. He is also Director of the Center for the Advancement and Youth Development (CAYD) and Co-Director of the Mid-South Institute for Family and Community Empowerment. Dr. Washington is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. He works as a community clinical practitioner and has practiced as an individual, family and group therapist in Illinois, Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee. His research interests include culturally-centered empowerment methods and the risk and protective factors associated with youth development. A major goal of his work is to identify and promote the use of innovative culturally-centered group interventions that reduce risk for disparities in behavioral health and incarceration outcomes among young people of color.

The Hooks Institute’s blog is intended to create a space for discussions on contemporary and historical civil rights issues. The opinions expressed by Hooks Institute contributors are the opinions of the contributors themselves, and they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change or The University of Memphis.

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