Voice Male - Winter 2005
Can We Build a Men's Movement
One Community at a Time?
by Steven Botkin
"How would you live life if you believed that this moment in history was a unique opportunity to help the world take an important step in its evolution?" That was the central question Men's Resource Center founding executive director Steven Botkin wrestled with as he began a 12-month sabbatical in September 2003. As he observed in that Fall's issue of Voice Male, "the growing size and complexity of the [MRC] left little time and attention available for creative visioning. My spirit, which thrives in the limitless realms of imagination, was getting tired of waiting." Out of that wait emerged a proposal to create the Men's Resource Center Coalition, a new organization Steven sees as "the next step in the evolution of the MRC vision." What follows is a description of that vision.
Five months into my sabbatical, I saw with remarkable clarity my next step in the service of the MRC vision: creating a coalition of men's resource centers in diverse communities around the world to share resources, build collaborations, and support new community-based men's initiatives.
Actually, the idea of a global network of MRC-like organizations had been imagined among staff and board at the original MRC of western Massachusetts for several years. Building on our successes, resources, and training, organizers in New Mexico, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, central Massachusetts, and Maine adapted the MRC model to their own diverse communities. Other community leaders, activists, and researchers from around the world have similarly been inspired by the work of the Men's Resource Center. Some, such as groups from Sweden, Japan, Canada, and South Africa, even visited in person. However, for myself and other MRC staff, the demands of managing the ever-expanding activities in our own community consistently overshadowed the time needed to proactively develop the network and promote the MRC model in more communities.
But now, in the space of my sabbatical, this vision was once again calling me powerfully and personally, and I realized it was time for me to respond.
Saying yes to this calling set into motion a dynamic flow of events that significantly changed the remainder of my sabbatical and dramatically reshaped my MRC work. Coming to terms with the fact that I could not pursue this vision of an MRC Coalition wholeheartedly and at the same time fulfill my responsibilities as the executive director of the MRC of Western Massachusetts, I began a conversation with the board of directors about leadership transition. After 22 years as founder and leader of this organization, I recognized, as did the board, that my departure would present many important opportunities for moving into the next stage of the MRC's organizational development. A committee was formed to develop a leadership transition plan, and Rob Okun and Michael Dover, interim co-executive directors during the sabbatical, graciously agreed to continue serving until June 30, 2005.
Next, I embarked on a journey to each of the existing Men's Resource Centers to talk with them about the vision, and explore how an MRC Coalition might be meaningful to their organizations. These informal consultations were rich and productive, deepening our relationships, giving evidence of the unique strengths of the diverse organizations, and demonstrating the value of a communications and resource-sharing network. Every step of the way felt grounded in deep listening, connection, and guidance, confirming for me the rightness of this path.
I was consistently impressed by the diversity of leadership and constituencies among the existing and newly forming local MRC initiatives. For example, the MRC of Northern New Mexico recently helped to sponsor a rural gay men's gathering, and is working closely with Native American men through its "Natural Leaders" and "Fathers Matter" programs. The MRC of South Texas serves a community with a large population of Mexican-American men, and conducts its groups in English and Spanish. Closer to home, the FAMILY (For All Men Involved in the Lives of Youth) serves urban boys and young men in Springfield, Mass., who are predominantly African-American and Latino and may represent what another men's center model might look like. The western Mass. MRC runs young men of color groups, as well as groups for gay men, male survivors of childhood abuse, young fathers, men in prison, and men overcoming violence. Some MRCs also provide services such as food and clothing distribution.
It was exciting to imagine an MRC Coalition rooted in the diverse strengths of these community-based organizations. By developing a strong network for mutual support and resource sharing, and for supporting newly emerging initiatives, the MRC Coalition would be building a movement--one community at a time. Knowing ourselves as part of this larger movement would strengthen and support the local initiatives. National and international partners and funders might support coordinated activities and multisite projects. Together, we could mobilize a powerful collective voice for challenging oppressive cultural paradigms and shifting social consciousness for men.
Returning home even more energized by the enthusiastic support of diverse MRC leadership, I continued to build the foundation for the MRC Coalition. An advisory council was formed, a brochure and website created, and the organization was incorporated and application for tax-exempt status submitted. An Internet discussion group was launched, open to anyone interested in the MRC model, which continues to provide opportunities for ongoing conversations, information sharing, and inviting others into this expanding network. Steering Committee retreats were held for the MRC of South Texas (which included the directors of the MRC of Central Texas) and the MRC of Central Massachusetts. Consultations about starting new community-based men's initiatives have been provided to people in Boston, Providence, Tokyo, the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, Michigan, Sacramento, Burlington, and Philadelphia.
The challenge to realize the vision is formidable and intriguing: to create the optimum conditions for the successful adaptation of the MRC model to diverse communities around the world, and to build a global men's movement, grounded in these community-based initiatives and, working with women, to end oppression and violence. I believe the time is right, and the path lies open before us. All we can do is take the next step.
Steven Botkin is the founder and former executive director of the Men's Resource Center of Western Massachusetts, and a therapist with a private practice in Pelham, Mass.
[Web editor's note: The MRC Coalition has taken a new name: Men's Resources International, with a newly defined mission as an educational and consulting organization to support men's programs worldwide. Their website is at www.mensresourcesinternational.org.]