Campus & Community

Men of Color Leadership Symposium at FIU inspires dialogue on positive masculinity and community growth

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Left to right: Marcus Bright, Nicolas Chavez, David Bynes, Maurice Gardner and Marlon Hill participate in a panel discussion on positive masculinity at the FIU Men of Color Leadership Symposium

More than a dozen community and industry leaders gathered at FIU's Men of Color Leadership Symposium in April to discuss emerging thought leadership on the topic of positive masculinity and share their life experiences with students.

Hosted by the Men’s Engagement Center, a program in the FIU Centers for Student Engagement, the symposium is a one-day conference and networking opportunity that inspires connection and facilitates open channels of communication among men of color.

This year’s event highlighted the importance of strong, present role models and positive rhetoric regarding education. A quote by Frederick Douglass, shared by CSE Program Director David Bynes in his welcome message that morning, set the tone for the meaningful conversations to come: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

Panels and guest speakers throughout the day examined cultural norms and values, and challenged attendees to consider what “masculinity” means to them personally compared to what society and tradition have led them to believe it should mean.

chandler-jules.jpgChandler Jules asks a question of panelists

Chandler Jules, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in English on a creative writing track in May, gleaned meaningful insight regarding his next steps from the symposium. Jules is a member of the Eclipse Fashion Society at FIU and intends to pursue a career in film following graduation.

"Because I am finishing up my senior year, the topic of autonomy being fleshed out by our panelists struck a chord with me. They reminded us that we are the ones who control our lives, and while it may seem overwhelming, we are also given the choice to make it something great,” Jules said.

Keynote speaker Paul Moore, a law expert and professor in the FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, shared his definition of positive masculinity: “playing a constructive role where we’re shifting our influence and how we understand those things to impact our lives.”

Doing so, Moore said, requires you to understand your role in the community and your family, direct your attention to priorities that help you be productive, develop an understanding of history, and define where you stand in terms of challenges and controversies.

Moore reminded attendees that “it is not weak, it is not less than, it is not uncool to perform in school. What is masculine and strong is to perform in school to the extent you can, and to do well so you can set yourself up with options in the future.”

Paul Moore answers a student's question during his keynote address

Other sentiments shared by speakers throughout the day enforced the idea that men of color, as well as the whole community, can benefit from being open to supporting each other emotionally.

“What we need to do more of as men of color is listen and understand each other’s experiences – especially to what our young men are facing, what their challenges are, what their traumas may be, and what we can learn from that to see where we can grow from there,” said Maurice Gardner, a career services expert and life coach.

An important but challenging step in this process is learning to understand and express your emotions – sadness, anxiety, overwhelm, joy – especially with the people closest to you.

“Learning ‘the language’ takes time and a lot of effort. It’s like any other skill,” said Marlon Hill, a lawyer with expertise in corporate, intellectual property and government transactions. “You’ve got to give your support system a clue as to where you’re at in order for them to help you get to where you need to go. Your vulnerability will be converted into something very positive.”

And don’t be discouraged when you get to a bump in the road, speakers echoed throughout the day.

“Embrace the challenges of whatever you may be dealing with right now and understand that they are equipping you with the knowledge and experience for what is to come later on,” said Marcus Bright, an author and former district administrator for 5,000 Role Models of Excellence.

Expanding your idea of self-worth and the traits that define it will help overcome the feeling of discouragement, Bright later added. “When society traditionally places so much value on the financial contribution of men, how do you have a multidimensional assessment of yourself that goes beyond just your financial value?”

The Men’s Engagement Center facilitates programming throughout the year to help college-aged men connect, find mentors, and grow personally and professionally. Visit the program's website or follow it on Instagram to learn about upcoming opportunities.