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Beyond the Mask Workshop

On Thursday April 12, 2018, approximately 100 of our young men participated in a workshop led by Mr. Ashanti Branch, a youth leader featured in the film The Mask You Live In and founder of the Ever Forward Club in Oakland.  The purpose of the workshop was to create a space for our young men to deepen their exploration of healthy and unhealthy masculinity, especially as it relates to their involvement in sports at O’Dowd.

The event was a partnership between Health and Wellness and Athletics.  “The positive response of these young men at the workshop show us that our young men are willing to engage with each other on a deeper level when we create an opportunity for them, and willing to follow adult leadership who will encourage and teach them how to engage on a deeper formative level, to go behind the mask, to address fears around sharing more vulnerability,” says Associate Athletic Director Carlos Arriaga of the event and with an eye towards future work around this issue of healthy masculinity in athletics at O’Dowd.

For Mark Lederer, Director of Health and Wellness, there is a connection to culture of care and Charism at O’Dowd. “Providing our young men with opportunities to reflect on their growth, to grow in the strength and courage of sharing deeper truths about themselves, is an important part of the work we do at O’Dowd educating the whole child. This work is both inspired by and an expression of our Charism calls to Community in Diversity, Strength of Character, Academic Excellence, Kinship with Creation, Social Justice, and Joy.”

Freshman student-athlete Basketball player Taj Phillips thought that the workshop was “very beneficial because it gave me the opportunity to express my vulnerabilities to my peers and friends without the fear of being judged or criticized.”

Junior student-athlete Xavier Brown reflected on the workshop. “This workshop showed me that men can have different emotions. Even though that’s contrary to what the media often portrays. A lot of people say that being an athlete is the epitome of trying to become a man, that it is about what your athletic build is, or what you can do on the field, on the court, or in the pool, and it really showed me that there’s always two sides, that it doesn’t have to be about being physical and trying to be dominant. There is an emotional underside that every man goes through, and that is OK to show. If you are more real with your teammates, that builds trust with your teammates, and trust is key when it comes to sports. I think that the workshop was a different way to gain that trust.”

Rugby Coach and Religion Teacher Doug Vierra appreciates the “potential of doing the specific work of developing male spirituality by meeting in teams and in other affinity groups for deeper sharing.” For Retreat Director and Religion Teacher, Michael Downs, “Walking into the gymnasium, a space that holds our athletic competitions and eucharistic celebrations, seeing a circle of young men was powerful. It felt somehow both fresh, and ancient, and the level of intention and attention was palpable. It was clear that our boys are hungry for guidance, and the time and space to talk about what it means to become good men.”


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