Men have few digital and literal spaces to have conversations about the complexities of manhood that are facilitated by men. Several activist organizations including A Call to Men, MANup INC, Men Can Stop Rape and activist Esther Armah’s Emotional Justice Unplugged have launched theSWAGspot, a digital community designed to foster dialogue for men by men. Male participants are encouraged to use the Tumblr page to write letters to their childhood or teenage selves.
Dr. Nick – labeled as a “daddy” and “granddaddy” – has started the discourse by penning an article on how Hans Christian-Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” tale helped him through a traumatic assault.
I was a precocious and curious child with a larger than average vocabulary even by the time I was three years old. At the age of five I read Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling and instantly identified with the story. The Ugly Duckling found himself in a situation not of his making and no matter how hard he tried to make sense out of the nonsense of his experiences, he could not. He could not love himself because others for unexplainable reasons bullied, hurt, rejected, and excluded him. He did not know who he really was and allowed his crucifying feelings to determine his happiness. That same year I was raped but the Ugly Duckling who became a Swan let me know, I was not the rape. Things happen to you but things that happen do not have the power to make you something, unless you let them. My godfather told me that God loves children and that He hears them when they cry. I wondered why God didn’t hear my cry. I concluded God did not love me. My godfather also told me that God hates girlie guys and gays. I wondered, was I girlie gay? To dwell in pain of the ridicule from people who I was told loved me was to give power to the abuse, to worship the trauma, and murder the voice I needed to heal.
These painful conversations are the ones Armah hopes theSWAGspot fosters. She considers the digital village to be a “sacred space created to elevate men’s emotional consciousness and to get down to doing the emotional work that is needed to transform self, relationships, institutions, leadership and our movements.”
theSWAGspot will feature various letters from teens on Rikers Island, CEOs, bishops, doctors and an array of other men, including a writer referred to as JS. A portion of his letter about the tribulations of love reads:
The searching you’ve just begun to find love and acceptance is a life long journey that can’t start with being physical with someone else. With all you got going for you, it’s most important to love yourself. Don’t believe what you’ve been told about how young black men are, how disrespectful and unkind you are! It’s not the truth. It’s not you. Love you, young man. Love you.
I didn’t really know anything about love at age 15! What little I did know was taught to me by Mama and the other women folk who were around. The men for the most part weren’t around, weren’t available, in fact, didn’t seem to care much. And what I know now is that my Father and many of the other men in my life didn’t have the skills to articulate and communicate with me. Nor did they make much of an effort to do so. That reality left me with the challenge of piecing together an understanding of love (how to do it, how to experience it, how to share it) from Mama and others, mostly women, whose knowledge was only in part, fairly one-sided…jaded with remorse, regret and disappointment.
This digital village of support and encouragement is a labor of love. theSWAGspot will extend past social media platforms to Manhattan, New York’s Dwyer Cultural Center on June 12. Writer Jason Davis, will engage in a conversation about masculinity with award-winning journalist Jeff Johnson and lecturer Mo Beasley.