CURRENTLY BEING EDITED FOR CONTENT AND GRAMMAR. DRAFT VERSION
The Men's Network: Generations of Men Coming Together
A group of men that have some type position within the Community Baptist Church, decided to get together every Tuesday at 9 am and have breakfast. This ritual would come to be known as the Men’s Network. The location of the breakfast always takes place at this one-story community center right across the street from the Old Finney Library. Stepping foot into the Men’s space, there was indistinguishable noise—people sitting at different tables conducting multiple conversations at once. Laughter, coughing, chewing, and talking happening all at once, filling the air with an abundance of sounds. Hanging from the walls are old photographs of family members who served in the military and hold significance within the foundation of the network. A variety of food is lined against the wall; eggs, biscuits, sausage and bacon—all cooked by the pastor to feed the men. There is a whole building that could be occupied for this occasion, but only the front room and the room adjacent are utilized for the event.
The idea of connecting and collaborating—sharing knowledge and ideas with one another, are the fundamental goals of the network. A group of men empowering their community members to be the best version of themselves and to learn how to navigate through life is what this network believes in. Mr. Staples, a founding member of the network and the pastor of the church, gave a history on how this idea came to be. Through his words, he recounted over a century of his family’s history, highlighting the men in his life and mentioning only one woman. His niece, who served in the militarily along with many of his other relatives, also holds a significant place in the story of the Men’s Network.
The history that paved the way for the network goes back to slavery on the Emery plantation. Joseph Emery, who owned anywhere from 200-300 slaves, was the older brother of Jefferson Davis—the Confederate President. Joseph owned a slave named Benjamin, who ran away and was returned back to the plantation. Instead of cutting off a body part which was a common punishment for runaway slaves, Joseph had a conversation with Benjamin. The conversation ended with Benjamin becoming the over-seer to the rest of the slaves on the plantation. Within time, Benjamin formed a community among the slaves, and that community would be the voice of reason when a slave was to be punished. Benjamin accumulated wealth during his time as a slave, and he used the money to pay Joseph so that his wife would not have to do manual labor in the fields. He was also about to provide for his son Isaiah.
Over time, Benjamin was paying to live on the plantation with his family as a freed man. When Joseph died, his daughters foreclosed on the home that Benjamin was staying in. Shortly after, Benjamin died. His son Isaiah wanted to maintain his father’s legacy of bringing black people together in a shared community, so he bought some land in Bolivar County, Mississippi, which came to be known at Mount Bayou. As Mr. Staples continued to explain his family history with pride, he mentioned how many members of his family fought in the Confederate Army, in hopes of obtaining their rights as human beings. His family who had settled in Mount Bayou had accumulated so much wealth, that when one of uncles were being threatened to being lynched, he was saved by the banker of the town. The banker convinced members of the lynching mob that if they were to kill his uncle, the family would divest in the bank and the town would go bankrupt.
The lesson in this story is that his family, and the community that they created, was strong and resilient because they worked together, and empowered one another. Hard work is something that Mr. Staples feels is necessary for anyone to be able to support themselves. He spoke about his childhood, and his passion for wood work, carpentry and architectural drawing. He said “if you know how to use a hammer, you will never starve”. The value that Mr. Staples places on a persons’ work ethic is something that becomes apparent with his history of attending school and working at the same time. Although Mr. Staples believes that education is extremely important, there have been many times when he chose his work over his school. He’s worked at 1 of the 33 plants in the Milwaukee area, and that has in many ways prevented him from obtaining a degree within 4 years. MATC and Stratton are two colleges that Mr. Staples attended on and off in between working at Babcock and Wilcox and building the Genesis Beauty Salon before receiving his associates degree in electronics from ITT-Tech.
Although Mr. Staples claims mechanical and architectural drawing to be his main passions in life, he utilizes the men’s network to pass down the skills that he possesses. He said “I need to show the men that come here, that there is nothing you can’t do”. That attitude has transpired in the work the he is planning to do with a few other men involved in the network this upcoming fall semester. The Men’s Network has an agenda to work with either Washington High School or North Division High School this upcoming fall semester teaching students’ carpentry and wood shop skills—the skills that Mr. Staples started off learning while he was in high school. The deciding factor on which location will be chosen depends on funding and availability of equipment.
Another member of the Men’s Network who shares similar ideas is James Brown. Mr. Brown is someone that I was referred to on several occasions by other men involved with the Men’s network. He’s a community activist and feels that he was born to do what he does. He chooses to work with the youth and he spoke about people are concerned with young people not wanting to listen. He says that they listen…it’s just what they listen to has changed. He spoke with the Mayor not long ago and they talked about the youth center that Mr. Brown once had. He wants to create another center that would revolve around the term tolerance. He says that it’s something you should consider. Life is a gift and people (of color) try to forget what we have experienced. He says that we must work hard with the young people to let them know their responsibility is to make the world a better place to live.
When I spoke to him, I wanted to know more about the network and the type of work that they do. Instead, we had a conversion—him talking and me listening for the most part, about life. It’s important that youth have some guidance in their lives. It’s important that they are willing to accept that guidance, more importantly. “I’m going to go into the school, and I’m going to work with the students who want to learn something from me”, Mr. Brown explained.
I wanted to talk to Mr. Brown about his thoughts on education, and how it influences the stability of a community. He spoke about education in terms of skills, and what someone can provide to someone else. To him, it doesn’t matter if you spent 10 years getting a higher education or if you spent 10 years working as a mechanic in a shop—if you have the knowledge to produce something, you will always have work. The concept of work appeared on several occasions during our conversation, and it seemed to change meaning each time. Work was utilized as a masculine term. It seemed to be representative of responsibility and skill.
In a continuation of that conversation with another member of the network, Arthur Brown discussed his views on responsibility and skill. Many times, he would provide his thoughts on the younger generation of men, and how he views the decisions they make. Mr. Brown grew up in Mississippi and relocated to many states before settling in Milwaukee. He spoke about the youth often, particularly young men.
He spoke about how it’s “a shame to look at them” –when referring to how they wear their pants. As the conversation progressed, he expressed his discontent with his feelings that young people have everything they need to be successful in the palm of their hands. Mr. Brown believes that all the youth must do is reach out it grab what they need. “Learn how to do work”, Brown said as he spoke about what the youth are missing. He also spoke about how the youth needs to get it together now, before it’s too late—which explains his involvement with mentoring the youth.