More than 350 young men in grades 9-11 from high schools in the area gathered at Montclair State University on March 23 for “Boys to Men…Making the Transition,” a male empowerment conference that explored what it means to be a man in today’s society.
Featuring presentations and workshops on topics such as the importance of attending college, maintaining healthy relationships, financial literacy, making good decisions, and effective leadership, the all-day conference was organized by Montclair State’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program, together with numerous campus partners.
“The Boys to Men conference attracted minority males from throughout New Jersey to expose them to individuals and topics that will assist in their growth and development, and in their interest in attending college,” said Takeem L. Dean, assistant to the dean, CEHS, and co-chair of the conference. “ We hope they will apply to Montclair State—or another college—upon high school graduation. It was a great thing to see so many motivated young men in one place gathered together for a good cause.”
Byron Hurt, a documentary filmmaker and the keynote speaker, set the tone for the day with a screening of his film, Hip Hop Beyond Beats and Rhymes, which explores the issues of masculinity, violence, sexism, and homophobia in hip hop music.
Discussing the film after the screening, Hurt explained that he wanted to make the film “to give young boys like yourselves a chance to think critically about the music we listen to, the images of black and Latino masculinity that are pervasive, that are all around us, and the kinds of things that we can do to redefine masculinity.”
Hurt noted that it is not just hip hop that reinforces a culture of hyper-masculinity, but also other musical genres such as rap, and many sports. Commenting that most of the young men he speaks with aspire to become rap artists, football players, or basketball players, he said “It’s very rare that I have a room full of men saying that they want to be a college administrator, a dean of students…or a doctor. Our focus has been narrowly directed into sports and entertainment.”
According to Hurt, holding the conference at Montclair State was good because the boys in attendance could meet and hear from those who have been successful in areas other than sports and entertainment. “We have so many people here in this room…who are serious scholars, academics, and administrators—who are an example for you [of people] to look to as a model,” he said. “I think that’s very important.”
Some of the conference’s breakout workshops were “Masculinity; The Stereotype,” “CEO of Self,” “Treat Her Like a Lady: Raising Men to Treat Ladies Right,” “Money Matters,” “Bullying – Are You a Bully? Being Bullied? How? Why?” and “College Student Panel.”
Co-chaired by Daniel Jean, executive director of EOF and Academic Development together with Takeem Dean, “Boys to Men” was sponsored by the EOF, CEHS, CHSS, Residential Education and Services, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Center for Student Involvement, Admissions, Auxiliary Services, The Brotherhood/La Hermandad, African American Studies, the President’s Commission on Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Diversity, EM/SAS, and the Montclair State Chapter of the NAACP.