The past weekend, my brother and I went do a program headed by one of our mother’s friends. It’s called Blackboard Chicago and is a summit for black men from all walks of life to come together and try to help each other be better men (both for the family and community as well as ourselves). When my mother pitched it to me, I will admit that I was hesitant. I didn’t necessarily know what all of that would entail but in my mind, I envisioned a day full of older men complaining about rap music and why the boys were skinny jeans.

Still, I was trying to get out of my comfort zone so I agreed to go.

I was actually pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t what I feared at all. It was a good mixture of men from the area and beyond of all ages allowing themselves to be open as well as a little bit vulnerable. There was an emphasis being yourself and not the self you present to the world which is something we don’t often get to do. There was also a no judgement rule so people could share their opinions and grievances without feeling nervous.

Many of the exercises revolved around finding common ground with one another, looking inward, and opening up with a person you might not know. There was also space to brag on yourself a little bit which I needed to remind myself that I’d done a lot of incredible things.

When it was all said and done, my brother pointed out that it was probably one of the few positive experiences we’d had with older black men in a church and I realized that he was right. So many of our interactions with older black men came were in a church environment and often the interactions would be flat or patronizing. There was always a wall or coldness to it that I sort of became used to and expected. So it was refreshing to be around men who could allow themselves to be open enough to voice their doubts and insecurities which often mirrored my own.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I am glad that I went. I will admit that I didn’t completely let my guard down and I regret that, but I would definitely go back next year.

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