accolades, but is a feeling you cultivate for yourself. “You work hard, you be honest,” he says. “You be respectful, and you demand respect.”
Tony Nguyen clearly relates his notion of manhood with having to fend for himself after his mother died suddenly when he was 15. “To me, supporting myself, without no help at all, that’s being a man, that’s how I see it,” he says. Tony speaks passionately and earnestly about his love for his community, the salvation he finds in dancing and the family he has found in VAYLA. These are more than Tony’s interests, but are vital components of his identity, his manhood.
Renowned author and scholar M. Scott Peck writes about the difference between “community out of crisis” or “accidental community” versus “community by design.” Miguel the community organizer; Albert the community visionary, Tony the community artist and Cliff the father and husband and community role model, each in a context of apparent crises, dare to build purposeful vision-driven community.
Albert, Miguel, Tony and Cliff’s communities in Jackson, East Nashville, Versailles in New Orleans East and Little Rock have informed their notions of manhood. Their communities have inspired them to work for social justice, secure and safe families and opportunities for young people. Their communities have both failed them with lack of jobs, inadequate education and unsafe neighborhoods, and inspired them to serve and advocate for their neighbors with zeal.
The stories of each of these young men serve as clear illustrations of how young men have been and are marginalized. These young men serve as examples of the sorts of leaders and social entrepreneurs that public, private and philanthropic sectors must find a way to support, encourage and leverage.
The challenges facing entire communities of color—men, women and children—are monumental. Policy makers, philanthropic institutions and nonprofits do not have the luxury to flip a coin and call “heads or tails.” We must invest and support both sides of the coin—the strategies that seek to dismantle the structural inequities and policies that impede more access to opportunity for men in communities . . . and the young men who are poised to lead change in their communities via their unique and unparalleled ideas, skills and genius.