Posted by: joshjasper | November 9, 2016

President Donald J. Trump

I have to admit, watching people drop F-Bombs on Facebook last night as the election results starting coming in, and then seeing even more of them this morning, brought a smile to my face.  Their uncensored anger, pain and disgust was a welcome change.  Sometimes I feel very isolated in my feelings about what is going on in our community and in the world at large, and it was refreshing to be reminded that others are just as pissed as I am.

But don’t you dare drop a F-Bomb because you are feeling shocked or surprised.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that’s been paying attention.  It makes perfect sense to me that Mr. Trump won.  And let’s be real careful not to misplace our disgust either.  You can’t be mad at The Donald.  He didn’t elect himself.  Be angered, outraged and disappointed with ourselves.  We did this.  This was all of our doing.  Remember, we live in a democracy.  This is how this works.  The majority of our country  voted him into this position and the rest of us let it happen.

Now we have to be willing to ask ourselves what all of this really means.  What does it mean to live in what is supposedly the most powerful and influential country in the world and the best two candidates we can come up with are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?

I can guarantee you that the people marginalized during Donald Trump’s campaign do not share your feelings today.   Do you really think women, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and anyone else that may feel marginalized are feeling shocked and surprised right now?

Based on their personal experiences living in our country, it would make perfect sense that the majority of our country just elected a man who campaigned on hate, division, sexism and racism.  AND WON.  Yes, people are pissed off about where our country is at right now and feeling desperate to find an alternative candidate.  But don’t think for one second that Donald Trump’s popularity has not been fueled by the purest forms of hate as well.

We as a country are not EVEN CLOSE to being comfortable with having a woman be the President of the United States.  In my opinion, Hillary never had a chance.  And people of color?  Well, we know exactly how we feel about you.  We are threatened by your very presence.

If only we could own these truths. We lack courage as individuals and as nation to really confront these truths.  And so we overcompensate by building walls, creating stricter immigration laws, militarizing our police, and flat-out killing people we don’t like.

Sit in your anger and embarrassment you feel right now.  Allow yourself to really feel it.  Maybe you’ll find that you are disappointed in yourself.  I know I am.  I know I have not done all that is needed.  It’s time for an honest inventory.  And then?

Action MUST be taken.  No more passivity.  The Facebook post this morning where you dropped a F-Bomb is not enough.  Not even close.  It’s time to go to work.

The first step is to actually support Donald Trump when he becomes the 45th President of the United States.  When he takes office, he becomes President Trump.  You may not respect the man, but I do believe it is important to respect the office.  It burns me up when people refer to President Obama as anything other than the President of the United States.  We can’t afford to have more division and hate in our communities.  People are dying on our streets because of this garbage.  No more.  We can support President Trump by making sure he knows how we feel about important issues that impact the lives of people in our country while providing specific resolutions.

Secondly, each one of us needs to really examine our passivity, especially those of use that have privilege.  Yeah, I can hear you already.  Own that shit.  Move past the defensiveness you feel and practice some empathy for Christ’s sake.  Put yourself in the shoes of the black family that came into our office seeking resources the other day.  Allow yourself to really listen to that father of two children talk about being called a nigger when he’s mowing his lawn by people who drive by his home.  Imagine how that must feel.  Imagine how he must feel when Donald Trump talks about African-Americans.  Now imagine how that dad feels this morning.  Can you feel his anger and resentment?

Think about when I travel to colleges throughout our country to talk about the prevention of sexual and domestic violence and imagine hanging out with me afterwards because I always know what’s going to happen next.  Young women are going to stop by and disclose that they were raped.  Every single time.  They will try to hide their tears and pain, but as they share you can tell how deeply impacted they have been by this trauma and how they may never fully recover.  We try to reassure her, but we know.  We know that 25% of the incoming freshman female students on ANY college in our country will be sexually assaulted before they graduate.  We know that enough is not being done and that so many more are at risk.  Now imagine what it’s like for those women waking up this morning to find out that the man caught on camera talking about grabbing women by the pussy is the going to soon lead our country.  Imagine their fear.

Go to Morton Mississippi with us some summer when we take donated goods down to this incredibly impoverished community and listen to the Franciscan sisters pray and do everything they can to make sure all of the children of color have access to education.  Because they know.  They know those kids don’t stand a chance in hell to break free from the crushing poverty that they experience if they don’t graduate.

Ride with us up to Flint Michigan on our next trip to take clean water to their residents.  You know.  The people who have been poisoned by their government for the last two years.  Let the hopelessness that hangs in the air wash over you and then tell me how you don’t understand why people are killing each other to survive.

But you don’t need to travel to Morton or Flint to experience this type of pain.  You need but step out of your comfort zone and walk in the shoes of someone right here in our community that may experience the world differently than you.  Do that and I can guarantee things will begin to change.  You will eventually demand that leaders take action.  Anything less will become unacceptable.  You will realize that we are better than this.  No longer will you be expecting others to do what must be done. Your voice will be heard and before you know it, you will be leading the charge.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted by: joshjasper | June 9, 2016

Mariana

Each night we laid in bed and listened to the sounds of gunfire and police sirens.  I would hold Mia tight and pray that someday we would be in a better place.  Chicago is my home, but we need to move.  We’re not going to make it here.  It’s not like it used to be.  Everything changed the night Eric took everything from me.

It was my friend that suggested I apply for section 8 housing out-of-state.  We all knew that it was more than a 10 year wait in Chicago.  Wisconsin or Iowa.  I met a friend on Facebook that was from Dubuque and she told me about the city and how her move from Chicago happened pretty easily.  And so I went on the list.  I was number 4,056.

Six month later I was number 1,743!  I couldn’t believe it.  “This is actually going to happen,” I thought.  We’re going to have a new home; a new life.  Mia and I started to pack.  Soon we were number 148.

The owner of our building stopped one night and told me that he was selling the building.  He told me I had to move out immediately.  “But I’m number 148 in Dubuque,” I persisted.  “We’re so close.  Please let us stay until we get the phone call.”

The very next day we rented a U-Haul truck loaded with everything we owned and headed west.  I’ve had it worse, I thought.  I can make this work.  I have to.  My entire world is sitting in the passenger seat.  Mia deserves better.  She’s been through so much in nine years.  The Asbergers, the ADHD, the Tourette Syndrome.  She’s so strong though. “She’s my little monkey.”

It was a beautiful drive to Dubuque.  As we drove over the Mississippi bridge my heart swelled with hope and confidence.  Everything looked perfect.  We’re going to make it.  I just knew it.

A week has gone by and everything I was promised has disappeared.  The apartment is not ready.  We need to get the inspection done and section 8 needs to approve everything.  We’re living in our car.  I put all of our belonging into storage and we sleep in the car parked between the moving trucks near the storage units.  The trucks give us a little protection from the world.

Seven days have passed and it’s getting harder to get by.  I’ve called all of the local resources and we’ve been doing great for food by eating at the Rescue Mission and other churches.  I only have $600 to my name outside of the SSI I get for Mia.  I’ve got to make this work until we get into our apartment, I get Mia into school and I’m working again.

I can do this.

I withdrew $50 yesterday.  We needed to shower and feel clean.  It’s six bucks to get into the Flora pool.  At least Mia can shower there and go swimming.  I’m also on my period and I really need to get myself clean.  My emotions are all over the place.  I usually don’t cry this much.  Everything is starting to come back to me.

How could Eric have done this to me?!  We were friends.  He raped me!  I had a good job managing the storage units and cleaning houses.  I had lots of friends and felt pretty good about myself.  The depression got bad after what he did and I gained nearly 100 pounds.  I’ve lost 50, but I still can’t shake the nightmares.

No one could believe that I kept the baby.  Nine years later though and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.  I love my little monkey.

Sarahjayne and everyone at Hillcrest has been great.  They’ve been helping me connect to resources and gave a me a number I should call.  “I’m sorry Mariana, we just don’t have the resources to get you and Mia out of the car until you are in the apartment.  But, give these guys a call.”

I lost the number she gave me.  Days passed and I went into chat with Sarahjayne again.  As I was leaving yesterday I asked for the number again.

Resources Unite?  A volunteer center?  Why would strangers help us?  I’ve always been a giver.  I’m not a taker.  I’m the volunteer; the person that helps others.  It’s so hard to ask for help.

But maybe someone can help or would just be willing to listen.  We’re so alone.

I guess it can’t hurt to give them a call…

Posted by: joshjasper | June 2, 2016

Black Power…or the lack thereof.

I had one meeting yesterday and way too much time alone with my thoughts.  I have to be careful with days like that.  Too often that is a recipe for feelings of self-doubt to bubble up and a questioning of any and all of my work.  I begin to feel like an impostor; a fake.
Everything becomes inadequate.
We’re planning a forum later in June in which stakeholders will discuss the violence perpetrated in Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, and Waterloo.  More specifically though, we’re going to talk around the issue of the increase of gun violence within various black communities throughout the tri-state area.  That’s what we are really concerned about, but I’m not sure if that will actually even be named.
More policing.  More cameras.  More lighting.  More meetings.
My head was starting to pound and I was getting increasingly agitated when sending the emails out yesterday to invite people to the discussion.  I don’t know if I can be in another meeting in which we talk about trying to understand why people are walking the streets with guns and sometimes shooting one another.  We know why.  Of course we do.
Solutions will be offered that will not matter; they will not work without going deeper.  I know it.  I know this will all of my heart.  And I think you do as well.  Some of the suggested solutions will actually make things worse. We must have honest conversations that lead to meaningful work.  We absolutely must.  If we don’t, the violence will persist.  It will worsen.  That much I know.
I had to get out of the office.  Right now.  No more emails.  No more pretending to not know the solution to a problem that is age-old.  I got in my car and drove and ended up at Comiskey Park.
I watched the black men play basketball, wondering what it must be like to live in their world for even a day when I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only one watching.  A police officer was parked next to me doing the same thing.  So were the cameras that were mounted on the electrical pole facing the playground.
I get it.  It makes sense that those things are there.  But what about the unintended consequences for having all of that present?  How would I feel if I was always being watched, knowing that I am seen as a threat by so many?  That makes me anxious even thinking about that reality and it most definitely would shape my attitudes and behaviors toward others.
Young black men are carrying guns and shooting people because they have nothing else.  They are in a state of despair and lack the hope of ever realizing success.  They are forced to gain power and status in ways we may never understand.  Their reality is so far from the norm, but it is the norm for them.  Every single day.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not excusing violent behavior.  But IF we ever want to realize prevention, we MUST understand why the violence exists in the first place…even if the truth is really hard to accept.  And the truth simply is this:  There are a lot of people in our community, and in every other community throughout our great country, that flat out hate black people and will go to extreme measures to ensure that they never realize success.
From the comments that litter Facebook posts, online forums and news articles,  to the tired narrative that is told in every form of media, to the crosses that continue to burn, to the jobs that don’t exist, to the education that is lacking and to the efforts to keep people of color at an arm’s distance from all other opportunities to connect with others and our community.  It’s everywhere.  It’s not hard to see.  It’s just really hard to accept.
Black men are reminded every day by you and me of the role we want them to play.  They are the thug, the nig$#@, the reason why our community is no longer safe.  “They” are the problem.  We have people that genuinely believe that we would return to our state of utopia if we simply exported all black people from our community and built a wall on the bridge of the Mississippi River that would prevent them from ever coming back.  If we would just stop the marketing campaign that is believed to exist in Chicago that focuses on attracting black people to the Dubuque promise land of free housing and jobs, we would be in a better place.
Yeah, I wonder what it’s like to live in a community like that.  And I just wonder how I would cope.
Posted by: joshjasper | May 9, 2016

Band-Aid vs. the Cure.

I stood on the sidewalk staring into the eyes of a two-year old that sat naked on the crumbling front steps.  He looked me up and down while he drank his Pepsi while I wondered about his clothes, his parents and his future.  We were there to deliver beds to a family that lost everything in a fire.

The wooden floors were worn and covered in dirt.  The front door hung from only one hinge and had a missing window.  Maybe it was my training in the Marines years ago or just curiosity, but I found myself scanning each room as I passed.  Each room was the same as the last.  Empty.

“Where was the furniture”? I thought. There was not a chair, couch, table, dresser or bed in the house.  Nothing.  The walls stood bare.  For just a moment I imagined what it would be like to live there.  I stared out the window and felt a sense of despair wash over me.  I felt trapped.  Hopeless.  Alone.

I am proud of what our community has done for this family.  This family of seven now has beds to sleep on.  Progress has been made.  But not enough.  And that lack of significant forward movement has gnawed at me for as long as I can remember.  I wonder at times if this is why I’m at Resources Unite, doing what I do, meeting the people I meet.

I am surrounded by the reminders of what could be.

I can still name each of the girls at the Florence Crittenton Center.  We housed 52 teenage girls and 12 of their babies at any given time.  That job in East Los Angeles 15 years ago is where I really began to examine my effectiveness as a social worker and the effectiveness of the work itself.  I cringe when I think back of those girls and what we could have done for them instead of simply providing for their basic needs.  We could have been so much more for them in such a critical time in their lives.  We did our jobs.

I am sorry Dynasty, Desi, Shenell, Keena, Essie and so many others.  You deserved better.

FCC girls

The girls needed an ongoing system of support.  Like me and most everyone I know,  they needed family, friends, mentors and anyone else to be by their side during the ups and downs of life.  They needed more than beds.

Week after week we receive phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from people in need.  Their needs are great.  Sometimes we are able to connect them to resources and rally the community behind them and sometimes we cannot. Too often what we provide though is the band-aid versus the cure.

The people who need beds, repairs on their cars, a partner that does not abuse them, clothes for a job interview, a place to live and food all have one thing in common.  They need to not feel so alone.  They need people in their lives that can provide the hope they so desperately need.

There are severe consequences for allowing people to live with such despair and hopelessness; consequences for you and me.

Guns and physical abuse become the only road to power.  Drugs become the only escape. Lives are lost. The future of the two-year old on the steps is never realized.

 

 

Posted by: joshjasper | March 30, 2016

The Sounds of Silence

My head is full of blog posts from so many recent experiences.  It’s time for a release. I write with music playing in the background. The music moves me and helps me feel things in a deeper, more sincere way.  Other distractions fade to black, while memories from long ago begin to well up within my heart and mind.  Everything starts to feel connected.

So many of my recent experiences have revolved around meeting with people who are struggling with issues that are indescribable.   It is hard to find the words that best detail their pain.  Hopelessness and despair fill the silence.  The wars they have been waging feel like they have long been lost.

Imagine visiting a city with a population of 102,000 people.  You realize that something is definitely different about this town as you begin to drive around.  You can feel the tension in the air.  The streets look as if they have been on the receiving end of mortar fire.  Potholes two feet deep and the same in diameter litter the roads, making it nearly impossible to navigate.  Someone years ago decided that fixing the streets was no longer a priority.  The grocery stores have all moved out and places like Jimmy Johns and Dominos no longer deliver for fear of their safety.  We were in town for 72 hours and didn’t see one police officer.

The city of Flint is in a state of crisis and has been so for decades.  We went door to door delivering water to people who were in the most severe need.  What they needed most though didn’t come in the water bottles we were delivering.  They desperately needed to be reassured that somebody cared; that even one person was out there paying attention and cared enough to do something for a community that has long been silenced.  Their greatest fear was to be forgotten.

flint hug

People begged for us to stay.  “Please come in.  Just sit for a few minutes. Keep the water.  Just stay.”

This would never have happened in Dubuque, Iowa.  We live in a city full of people with voices that are heard and respected.  In cities where the poor, black and brown are the majority, those voices are not heard.  They have no real influence or power.  They don’t fear being forgotten.  No, they realized long ago that they never mattered enough to be forgotten in the first place.  And the silence from the people who can change this reality is deafening.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  —-Martin Luther King.

I had just finished a session with the Chicago Cubs and noticed one of the guys hanging around afterwards.  He thanked me for the training and shared his very personal story of what it was like growing up in his home as a child.  Tears began to well up as he shared the pain he felt living in an abusive home and how those experiences and the lack of support has shaped him into the “shell of a man” he is today.  He quickly ran out of words while the sadness that he has felt for years began to fill the room.

Where were the friends and family in this man’s life that could have been that support he so desperately craved?  Surely someone along the way knew of his struggle.  Why did they remain silent?  Why do I remain silent when around others that are filled with pain and sadness?

I’m afraid. My fear keeps me silent.  My guess is that your fears work the same way.  We need to do better. We must.  And not just for others, but for ourselves as well.

“Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.  Because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping.  And the vision that was planted in my brain still remains.  Within the sounds of silence….”

 

 

 

Posted by: joshjasper | December 7, 2015

This is my rifle.

My transformation began the moment I stepped on the painted yellow footprints 20 years ago.  Our heads were shaved and the word “yes” was replaced with “kill.”  Every day we were told of the enemies that wanted nothing more than to destroy the people we love and our country.

I was given my M-16 A2 service rifle and quickly memorized the “Rifleman’s Creed.”  We would recite it together while lying in bed with our rifles.  “This is my rifle.  There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life…”

I had never fired a gun before.  It felt clumsy in my hands.  Within a month though, I was firing my rifle with accuracy from 1,000 yards.  It never left my side. My rifle had a name.

After three short months, the transformation  was complete. I was a Marine.  More specifically though, I was ready to fire my rifle into any and all perceived threats. The enemy was real.  Or so I thought.

If I close my eyes now and imagine standing on the rifle range in San Diego, I can feel the weight of the gun in my hand. My fingers gripping the cold, plastic hand guard with the sling wrapped through my left arm. My breathing begins to slow. My finger is straight and off the trigger until I have acquired my target. I slowly begin to squeeze the trigger and now twenty years removed, the smell of cordite fills my nose and my chest swells with confidence.

The enemy did not fear my rifle. They feared the Marine. They feared the man I had become.

Another day has passed and yet another shooting has taken the life or lives of many. We once again begin to question gun control, mental health resources and people that don’t look like us.  The script never changes.

But what if we took the time to step back and examine why people are picking up a gun and killing so many?  Maybe we would find that it’s not about the kind of guns that are being used or the state of someone’s mental health.  Imagine if were able to have the courage to empathize with the individual carrying the gun into a school or place of business.

Imagine what we would learn.

I think we would find men that are struggling with their identity; men that are angry and that are desperately looking to feel confident and powerful.

We would find me standing on the rifle range again.

 

 

Posted by: joshjasper | November 6, 2015

Black Lives Matter?

I woke up with a profound sense of sadness. My heart felt heavy. I felt like crying.  I had been on the road for a few days and a little depression was to be expected. Away from home, family and routine can get me down.

This was different though…Darker.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people in our community that are distressed; feeling despair and without hope. I haven’t completely processed the recent meeting with community leaders from Waterloo and Cedar Rapids.  The agenda focused on violent crime and community engagement. We spent most of the meeting talking about increased gun violence, specifically in the black community.

“We can’t police our way out of this. People are hurting. We need to do more as a community.” I could feel the pain the Waterloo Police Chief felt as he shared.  I imagined for a moment what he sees everyday. The tears, the rage and the blood.

We talked more about the broken families, the lack of job opportunities, the disconnection from community and the ways people cope when they are desperate. Again I tried to put myself in someone else’s shoes.  I couldn’t imagine that kind of desperation.

I thought a good workout would shake off my blues.  I was three miles into my run before it hit me.  I had to stop to catch my breath.  The realization of where my sadness came from nearly knocked the wind out of me.

The college team that I was working with was like any other team that I’ve worked with on any given college campus in the country. They were probably 19 or 20 years old, but acted like they were 12. My classroom management skills were put to the test. There was a lot of cross talk going on. It was like a party. The room would erupt with laughter after someone would pass gas. Time and time again.

I should have been frustrated, but I wasn’t. I think I understood before really knowing.

I was leading a discussion on overcoming adversity when the laughter was sucked out of the room in an instant and the room fell dead silent when I asked someone to read aloud the quote that was projected on the screen. The quote was from Nelson Mandela:

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

The deafening silence had nothing to do with Mr. Mandela.  The room was quiet because no one wanted to read the passage out loud. It became painfully obvious that there were guys in the room that couldn’t read the sentence.

Oh my God! What are we doing?, I thought. This can’t be happening. Not again.

You are more than this!  You have so much more to offer than to dribble a basketball, throw a football or run around a track.  You are being tricked…Used…Taken advantage of. And so much more.

The lure of status and importance now is blinding them for what may be coming so very soon.  I wanted to remind them that this is not the real world. Please get your education! Get everything you can while you are here.  All of it. I wanted to tell them how difficult it was for me when I got out of the Marine Corps. I had everything and was told everyday that I was invincible.

Then one day it was all gone. Reality settled in and I was lost.

But what happens when college is over and they can’t read? I thought specifically about the 12 black guys in the room. I wasn’t worried about the two white dudes. Their privilege would help them more than they will probably ever realize.

I wanted to scream.

I wanted to give the guys a hug and give them the heads up that they so desperately needed.  But maybe they already know. Maybe that’s why everyday right now is a party.  Maybe they know that right now is just a break from the real world; a break from being forgotten, marginalized and overlooked.

My heart breaks over that possible reality.

black lives matter image

Posted by: joshjasper | September 7, 2015

You Want Answers??

I don’t think I know “George,” but his comment on my last blog post inspired me to get writing again.

“So Josh Jasper…that is your solution?  To ask males to be introspective?  How do we go about doing this and changing the culture of hate and killing?  Please advise.”

Thanks for asking, George.  Let’s get right into it.

There’s an exercise that’s been around for years that takes a close look at gender stereotypes and masculinity and in my humble opinion, does a really nice job peeling back the layers of why boys and men behave the way they do.

To begin, I share with attendees that we are going to play a bit of a word association game called the “Man Box.”  I explain that I’m going to share a statement and I want to know the very first words that come to your mind.

The statement:

What are the very first words that come to mind when you think about what it means to be a stereotypical man in today’s society?…What’s it mean to be a REAL man??

Before taking any answers, I remind them about our previous conversation about how men are portrayed in the media, in music, video games, television, movies and everywhere else.

I have done this exercise in Dubuque, Iowa and Brisbane, Australia and nearly everywhere in between and the answers are ALWAYS the same and it looks like this:

man box

These are the words that are shared every single time when asked to describe a stereotypical man.  I pause for a few moments for everyone to soak this in and then ask another question and remind everyone to blurt out the very first word that comes to mind, no matter how offensive they think it may be.

The statement:

If you’re not being a real man in today’s society, you’re a what?

Here are the responses that are shared EVERY SINGLE TIME outside of the box:

outside the box

“These are your words,” I remind everyone.  Take a hard look at what’s going on here and consider for a moment how young boys and men’s behaviors are shaped by this type of messaging.

It’s time to dissect the box and so I ask where people want to start.  Outside or inside?

Outside, it is!  Each time I do this exercise, one theme always emerges.  If you’re not being a real man in today’s society, you’re either one of these two groups of people.  Do you see it?  That’s right.  You’re either gay or you’re a woman.  And let’s be clear here, we’re not celebrating homosexuality or being a woman on the outside of this box.  We are using some of the most derogatory terms imaginable to describe these people. Additionally, let’s ask ourselves WHY you think those two groups of people are singled out every single time.  Of course this is because women and homosexuals are seen as less than in our society; inferior, weaker.

Let’s move inside of the box for a moment.  It’s here that always gives me the most pause.  I ask the men in the room to raise their hand if they are everything that is inside of this box.  “Raise your hand if you are nothing more than what is described here.”  No one ever raises their hand.  But every man in the room will share the pressure they feel to stay securely inside those four walls.

Most of the words inside of the box by themselves are not a problem.  It’s okay to be strong, tough and aggressive.  But why is it that when I ask people what they mean by “strong,” the answer is ALWAYS about physical strength.  NEVER does strength have to do with character of character.  We must broaden the definitions of these words for the young men in our community and introduce new words like courage, integrity, respect and empathy.

Boys and men are not seeing enough men in their lives with those characteristics.  They certainly are not seeing that from the way the media portrays men.

At this point I share what I have found talking to high school men throughout the country.  I ask young men what they do when they get angry and it’s always one of two things.

  1. I hit something.
  2. I hit someone.

When we teach young men that they must repress their emotions, that they must not cry at all costs and that the only emotion they can feel and act out upon is anger and rage, well, are we really surprised when they do?  We must teach our boys how to effectively express their feelings in healthy ways that meet their ongoing needs.  And if someone in the home can’t do that for them, we need to find a mentor, a friend or a family member to step up.  This is a community effort.  We all have something at stake here.

Back to the whiteboard and to George’s question.  Here it is George:

We need to redefine what it means to be a man that doesn’t include abusing power and control.  We must better equip ourselves with the tools to help young boys and men with their fears and insecurities so that they are not trying to fill that empty void with drugs and violence.  This is about empathy.  Equality.  Respect.  And maybe most importantly, this is about love; the unconditional love of oneself and for one another.

I was angry in my last blog post because I know in all my heart that this is all doable.  We can make a difference.  But we have to be willing to put in the work.  Right now.  We can’t wait anymore.  Please.

Posted by: joshjasper | September 6, 2015

Good Intentions Vs. The Truth

jackson park rally

Jackson Park was filled with good intentions today. Hundreds stood together with balloons in hand to remember Nancy Krapfl.  It was just days ago that Nancy was raped and killed on our streets by a young man in our community. I know the organizers of the peace rally had the greatest of intentions.  I believe every person that took the microphone felt like they were saying the right thing.  I know they meant well.   Even the guy that took the mic and promoted his self-defense classes.

I was making my way to the park when I first noticed someone wearing a martial arts uniform.  My stomach sank.  Please tell me she’s just passing through, I thought.  The young woman was handing out flyers.  I took a deep breath and pretended not to see her as she passed by.

“See something, say something.” the organizer repeated throughout the afternoon.  “We need to take our town back,” another exclaimed.  “99% of us are good people.  It’s that 1% that is the problem.”

There was a self-defense demonstration.

self defense class

I wanted to rip my fucking hair out.  I started to get light-headed and hoped as I scanned the sea of white faces that others would be just as disgusted.  Their applause echoed in my ears.

Take a self-defense class.  Be vigilant.  Walk in pairs.  Never walk at night.  Keep a key between your fingers.  Carry pepper spray.  Park under a street light.  Don’t wear anything provocative.  Don’t drink alcohol.

Ask women what they do to “prevent” from being raped and this is what they will tell you.  And more.  A lot more.

Pay attention here.  Please.  That shit is not prevention.  Telling a woman to take a fucking self-defense class is not preventing anything.  All of that stuff is risk reduction, at best.  It all has value, but has NOTHING to do with preventing anything.

If we were truly invested in prevention, we would focus all of our energy in understanding why men are acting out so violently.  I could make your head spin with statistics about men’s violence against women and other men, but it clearly doesn’t matter because you would rather talk about us versus them.  You want to talk about taking your town back.  Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds?  Seriously.

You want to rewind the clocks back to the good old days.  Remember those times?  The times in which men and women were equal and our streets were overflowing with respect.  Oh wait, you don’t remember that blissful time?  Yeah, I don’t either because it never existed.

Just be honest.  You want to roll the clocks back to a time in which there were no people of color in our community.  Somehow you think “they” have our community and now it’s your job to take it back.  Come on.  You can’t be that ignorant.

After every rape, murder and school shooting that takes place in our communities we immediately want to discuss mental health, guns, neighborhood watches and surveillance cameras.  And every single time we miss it.  Every. Single Time.

The common denominator in all of this mayhem is men.  We have to talk about this truth.  And when we do, we will FINALLY begin to understand how to realize peace.  We will realize that it has been in front of us forever.  We’ll realize that our silence has been our greatest threat.

Before you drive to my house and accuse me of being anti-male, know that more than 97% of serious crime is committed by men in our country, but the VAST MAJORITY of men are not violent.  Did you catch that?  That is a really important distinction to understand.

In short, a relatively small group of men are acting out violently while the rest of us “good guys” sit back and do nothing to challenge their abusive behavior.  We are teaching men to be disconnected from their emotions and from their community.  Young boys and men are being taught from an early age that they must be powerful, controlling and aggressive without ever giving them the opportunity to explore who they really are without being judged and shamed.

The real problem is the good guys with great intentions that lack the integrity and courage to challenge the norm.  They hurt us the most.  They are in fact killing us.  Those are the guys that through their silence are giving other men permission to act out in harmful ways and are doing nothing to redefine what it means to be a man that includes respect, empathy and equality.

I get it.  You want the easy solution.  You want to point your finger at a group of people and drive them out of our town.  You think if we all take a self-defense class and report crime as it happens that we will somehow change other people’s behavior.

You don’t want to talk about challenging the root of this problem because the root would trace back to you and your behavior.

Rest in peace, Nancy.

Posted by: joshjasper | September 2, 2015

Men’s Abuse Against Women

I was packing my stuff up in my hotel room last night in East Lansing when I saw the news article about the woman who was raped and killed in our community.  Not again, I thought.

Early in my training sessions I ask attendees to stand.  I tell them we are going to do an exercise that will ask them to decide if they agree or disagree with a particular statement.  If they agree, they can move to the left side of the room.  If they disagree, they can move to the right of the room.  And if they’re unsure, they can stand in the middle.

“There’s a serious problem of some men being abusive towards women in this country.”  I usually repeat the statement two or three times to make sure it really sinks in.

After everyone has made their way to their respective areas, I begin to ask individuals why they ended up where they are.

95% of the 10,000+ people I have presented to in the last year report immediately to the left side of the room, while the remaining stand in the middle.  The unsure folks are there usually only to make the point that women can be abusive to men as well.  I validate their points and then ask the group what makes this a “serious” problem.

“One person being abused is too many.”

“That could be my mom, daughter, sister or wife.”

“Abuse isn’t just physical.  It can be verbal or emotional too.”

“I’ve experienced it.”

I make sure and repeat every answer and when everyone has shared, I move closer to the group and take a deep breath.  I thank everyone for participating and begin to share the only statistic they will hear throughout the 90 minute session.

Years ago a study was done in the United States for the purpose of understanding why people go to the emergency room.  This research was conducted throughout the country across class and race.  It had nothing to do with abuse.

They found that the leading cause of injury for girls and women between the ages of 15-44 comes from men.  More specifically, these women are going to the emergency room due to dislocated jaws, broken bones, burns and concussions.  It turns out that the total of the next four reasons why women go to the emergency room doesn’t equal the first.

I allow the room to stand in silence for a few moments to really feel the seriousness of this reality. Many heads are down and I can feel the discomfort in the air. Tears are beginning to well up in the eyes of a few.

I then ask how they are feeling.

“Sick to my stomach.”

“Pissed off.”

“Disgusted.”

“Afraid.”

I ask everyone to sit down and I then conclude the exercise with a final question.  “When asked if some men’s violence against women is serious, nearly everyone agreed immediately.  And when I shared with you the prevalence of this major public health issue, it left you feeling desperate for answers.  Knowing all of this, why do you suppose we all (including the dude that teaches this stuff) remain silent and do little to nothing to challenge this abusive behavior?”

Because certainly we all know that no one wakes up one day and decides out of the blue to knock their fiancée out in an elevator, or to rape their girlfriend or to attack and kill someone.  This abusive behavior starts well before the point in which we are left feeling helpless and without answers.  This stuff starts with boys being socialized to be tough, aggressive, macho, emotionless young men that have little to no opportunities to share their feelings and connect with others.  It starts when we begin to objectify young girls and women.

Maybe most importantly, this stuff starts and is reinforced through our maddening  and seemingly never-ending silence.

And now here we are again in our community asking the wrong questions while trying to direct responsibility to everyone but ourselves.

God.  We need help.  I fear too many of us are actually standing on the right side of the room.

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