I wear a few hats at Youth Heartline, which shouldn't be too surprising, given the nature of small non-profits. One of the hats I wear is as the facilitator for a curriculum for young men called Council for Boys and Young Men.
It's a group-based program that really tries to unpack all the things we tell boys what it means to be a man, what being "strong" looks like, and to really foster reflection, self-awareness, and change within a group of young men. If you boil it right down, the program wants to address toxic masculinity.
I've been doing these groups in Taos for over a year now. I've worked with two groups of young men, all of whom who have been referred to me through the Juvenile Probation Office.
Like with all things you do for the first time, I was not fully prepared for what I was going to encounter. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to connect with these guys, that I wouldn't be able to make a difference. That, at least, was part of the training. Sometimes, like with all things, all you can do is plant some seeds and hope that they sprout one day.
It turns out, I am able to connect with young men. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but I do.
They find me on Facebook. They are eager to say hello when I see them about town. They show how they're moving differently in the world. They have told me about the devastation in their lives. Some of which they have done. Some of which they have had done to them.
The boys would joke in black humor about the aunt who is such a junkie that she had arms that looked like a T-Rex because each forearm had a permanently open wound that continually leaked pus. Or they'd talk about difficult meetings with child protective services because mom was on substances but turns out their aunt didn't really want to raise them either. About waiting for a ride that never came.
But it's a different story that haunts me (though I'm not going to forget these other ones). "Jordan" was on the young side of the group. He started out really quiet, then very talkative - but his talk was a lot posturing about how tough he was. Until one day he stayed after group to talk to me, visibly nervous.
In that moment, he was his actual age, if not younger - stripped of all bravado. He told me about his cousin who lived next door, and the beatings he endured, of the domestic violence that raged through the house so bad that Jordan could hear it through the wall of his bedroom. He told me that he wanted to report it but that he was afraid. Afraid of retaliation - against him, against his cousin.
He told me something he had told no one else. He told me that he was afraid. That he still wanted to do something through that fear. In that moment, I knew that in all those previous weeks of silence, of bragging, I had still gotten through and made a connection. Not just that, I had planted a seed and it was sprouting right before my very eyes.
I made the call. I'm not sure if it resulted in what Jordan and I hoped it would, but we planted that seed together. I no longer worry if they'll sprout - I know they will. My job is just to plant as many as I can and convince others to do the same.