Cliff talks about his kids, his love for them, his dreams for them and how he loves, supports and invests in them without condition. He talks about the safe haven that Our House Shelter is for single fathers, the only shelter of its type in Arkansas. Consider the implications of the inequitable access that men such as Cliff have to public benefits such as Earned Income Tax Credits.
The stories of these young men should challenge us as policymakers, as funders, as community investors and social entrepreneurs to appreciate the role that organizations like Young People’s Project, Algebra Project, VAYLA, Our House Shelter and the Oasis Center play in local communities. As we evaluate returns on investments and bringing these investments to scale, we must look at the lives of Albert, Tony, Miguel and Cliff and see both the fruits and the failures of our investments.
Albert, Miguel, Tony and Cliff also each talk about their notions of what it means to be a man. Their reflections are more than philosophical; they are instructive. The racial, gender, sexual and other identities that young men and women experience and convey play important roles in their conceptions of community, of change and
progress. These young men’s descriptions and definitions of manhood illuminate how intertwined race, gender and place are in each of their identities and experiences.
The concept of manhood that Miguel describes is informed by history. It is a concept dominated by Malcolm X, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., who stand in lieu of fathers, uncles and community role models. His unyielding sense of civic purpose is the manhood he identifies as his own. He has never known his father and has not been able to name a male role model in his daily life, but that fact has not kept him from forming ideas about what he should be. Miguel’s concept of manhood requires an imagination, a sense of history and faith.
Albert Sykes first remembers believing that men and fathers belonged at home with their families from the TV character Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. Albert saw his father mostly on weekends, and most of the men he knew in the neighborhood prescribed to a brand of manhood that was authenticated by “hanging out and driving fancy cars.” Now Albert is a 26-year-old husband and father of two who sees his life work dedicated to making Jackson a place where “boys can become men, and impacting the way in which “young men see themselves.”
Cliff speaks fondly about having “two great dads,” a father and a stepfather, both of whom he holds in high regard. These men instilled a firm concept of manhood in him, centered around character, self-respect and responsibility. Cliff is a father of four, he and his family are homeless and he works odd jobs while he looks for steady employment. To him, being a man does not have much to do with success or