Philadelphia program has men talking

    Addiction, abuse and relationships are subjects that can be tough to talk about. Three nights a week men in the “Project Save A Life” program meet in North Philadelphia to discuss sensitive and emotional issues that they say they struggle to talk about in their daily lives.

    Addiction, abuse and relationships are subjects that can be tough to talk about. Three nights a week men in the “Project Save A Life” program meet in North Philadelphia to discuss sensitive and emotional issues that they say they struggle to talk about in their daily lives.

    Listen:
    [audio: 090904lftalk.mp3]

    With its old windows and peeling paint Hatfield House stands out from block after block of row homes lining Girard Avenue.

    Inside the 18th century farmhouse about a dozen men settle into chairs to talk. In the background a smoke detector beeps constantly.

    Facilitator Kasim Ali starts the discussion.

    Ali: What was your first image of a woman being abused? My mother, my aunt, your aunt? Your mother? Wasn’t home, it was in the street, in the street.

    When Ali asks how many of the men will admit they harbor resentment for their mom, 33-year-old Bravette Fleet, one of the youngest men in the room, is quick to answer.

    Fleet: I felt a tremendous amount of neglect from my mom. She was more worried about other things to me than her kids. I was sexually molested by a couple of her boyfriends. I was a pretty good kid. I did well in school. I was involved in a lot of things but I didn’t really have support from her.

    Group leader Kasim Ali tells the group many young men turn that resentment into anger.

    Ali: So when they get in a relationship with someone outside the household and that individual projects anything reflective of mom, since I can’t tell mom how I feel I’m telling you: get outta my face. You understand me? And if the woman raise her voice they think about mom subconsciously and get to wailing on this individual. Because they have not really identified what’s going on.

    Older men in the group chime in with advice.

    Then one by one several men talk about watching their fathers hit their mothers, and deciding at a young age not to repeat what they saw. Some say they struggled to keep that promise, and slowly worked to express their emotions in better ways.

    Bilal Qayyum is President of the Father’s Day Rally Committee.

    Qayyum: American society has this image that to be a man you have to be this macho image and you don’t express feelings and that you commonly as what they say, man-up. I think it’s across all racial classes in America but in certain cultures like in African American culture it’s defiantly something that’s being promoted constantly, daily.

    Robert Carter is the associate director of the University of Pennsylvania’s African American Resource Center. He says in many cultures men are encouraged not to show emotion, but he believes that sentiment is even more extreme in African American culture. He says that’s in part because of images in the media.

    Carter: The black image has been one image where we usually get the hard, the brute, or the comedian or the buffoon. I think Bill Cosby was the closest thing to a prototype of a healthy, well rounded black man that we got to see on screen.

    Organizers say the whole point of the program is to offer the men a safe environment where they’re not judged for what they say or how they feel.

    Talking can help people solve problems says Temple University psychology professor Richard Heimberg. He says groups of people with shared experiences are drawn together too: like cancer survivors and veterans.

    Heimberg: Other outcomes are a sense of validation, a sense of not being alone, a reduction in the alienation they feel, a sense of hope that they may be able to do something about their problems because other people similar to them have been able to do it.

    At Hatfield House the session’s over. Standing at the top of the driveway, Bravette Fleet says he didn’t have a strong relationship with his father. He says there’s no doubt the group has helped him deal with some of his past.

    Fleet: When you look at a situation where you didn’t really have nobody to talk to about certain things before, especially in a  male perspective, you know it helps you better deal with certain situations you had that only a man could understand or you know – just to know that you have other people to talk to.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.