The urgency we feel about our work, about getting our message out as far and as wide possible, has led us to a decision to rename our organization. At our annual Challenge & Change awards celebration May 1st, we announced a new name for the MRC--the Men's Resource Center for Change. Dropping our geographic identification as the MRC of Western Massachusetts doesn't mean we're leaving our roots, our home base here. But as the Men's Resource Center for Change, we can continue to grow--in New England, across the country, and wherever in our world our voice is needed. And our voice is needed.
In so many ways, May 1st was an amazing day for us. The sun broke through what started as a cloudy, rainy day to shine on an enthusiastic crowd for the annual Northampton Pride March, attended by thousands. The MRC has supported and participated in the march and rally for many years. This year, we were honored to be asked to contribute an essay for the Pride Guide, the official publication of the march. (Also published as our April web editorial: see the Archives below to read it.)
Our Challenge & Change awards celebration has certainly grown. When we held the first dinner in 1996 we were thrilled to have 90 people attend. We could never have guessed that a decade later we'd see more than 400 turn out to honor our awardees and the MRC.
This year we presented our Ozzy Klate Memorial youth award to a remarkable 16-year-old, Elias Sánchez-Eppler, who is already an experienced advocate for conscientious objection and challenging a possible military draft. Our women's award went to former MRC board member Brenda López, Springfield, Massachusetts' domestic violence prevention coordinator. And state Sen. Stan Rosenberg was honored for his unceasing efforts in support of so many progressive causes, with special note of his leadership in the fight for equal marriage rights in Massachusetts. A truly inspiring trio.
At the event I announced a series of initiatives that we have been developing which we expect will take the MRC into its next decade of service in the cause of real social change, under the name Healthy Manhood--Healthy Society. I described some of them at the event:
- The MRC's Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE) program has been renamed Moving Forward. Formerly the program was solely a state-certified batterers' intervention effort that provided additional services for women whose husbands or partners were enrolled. The new, enlarged program is aimed at promoting healthy relationships as well as ending abuse. In addition to our work with men in the batterers' program, Moving Forward incorporates anger management groups for men and women (which we began offering in January); violence prevention education for young men; and workshops to teach relationship communication to select couples.
- We are also developing a new program, Guiding Boys and Young Men on the Path to Healthy Manhood, aimed to work more comprehensively with middle school boys, and consulting with the mentors who serve that critical population. In our early years, we worked primarily with adult men but added a youth program, primarily for high school age males, in 1989. We have run groups for middle schoolers before and this month began a new series in nearby Easthampton, Mass. The new program will devote extra attention and resources to middle school boys.
- The final new initiative is called Reaching New England with the MRC's Voice. This effort is designed to share the MRC's message more effectively with allies and colleagues around the region. We've been assisting fledgling and growing men's centers and initiatives in Worcester and Boston, Keene, N.H., and Burlington, Vermont. We also have consulted with men in Portland, Maine, and Providence, R.I. We want to help unify this burgeoning network with trainings and technical assistance and expanded distribution of Voice Male, our quarterly magazine.
We also have plans to expand our support programs, extend our youth programming to elementary school boys, and provide training for couples around shared parenting.
Healthy Manhood--Healthy Society is also the name of a long-term fund-raising campaign for the MRC, and that marked another major shift at this year's Challenge & Change: Thanks to more than a dozen local underwriters, there was no charge to attend the event, but we invited all who came to make a donation to the work of the MRC. And the response was excellent. Between our underwriters, one-time gifts that night, multi-year pledges, and donations still coming in, we will have raised nearly $50,000. We believed in our supporters, and they showed in no uncertain terms that they believe in us. On behalf of our dedicated staff, board, and volunteers, Thank you to all who gave that night.
At the dinner I showed a short excerpt from the acclaimed documentary, Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear and the Selling of American Empire. It showed the ways planned representations of George Bush perpetuate the flaws of conventional masculinity and male domination and suggests how damaging that posture is to a truly healthy manhood. (For more information about the video, visit www.hijackingcatastrophe.org.) What we saw that night symbolizes what we are challenging. This is not about Republicans or Democrats or political parties. It is about what is toxic and regressive versus what is nurturing and promotes growth.
What we want to change--the old-style, conventional brand of manhood that diminishes masculinity, is harmful to men, to women and to children. The images about men and masculinity that we see everyday, keep men trapped in a rigid box of conformity. They must be challenged. They flood our airwaves and our consciousness. We must speak out against them. We must challenge them and we must change them.
It's no accident that we call our annual dinner "Challenge" and "Change." Our charge is to challenge a culture that says "Wanted: Dead or Alive," that says manhood is best exemplified at "High Noon in the Wild West." Our charge is to change that culture.
Changing culture isn't easy but I feel hopeful. Even in these dark times, I feel, as Sen. Barack Obama puts it, "the audacity of hope." That we can create a masculine culture of peace, based on cooperation and connection. That men can join women in the work of creating peace in the family and peace in the world.
We cannot do this work alone. We know better. We need your help. All movements for social justice are fueled by our hopes, our dreams. We need each other to go forward. If you weren't at Challenge & Change 2005 on May 1st you still can help. Please consider what you can contribute and then click on the DONATE NOW icon on this or any other page. Together we can make a difference. Thank you.
Rob Okun can be reached at [email protected].