Black Men Healing Conference focuses on sexual exploitation
By Dwight Hobbes
There are a great many programs and projects to aid Black women and improve life for Black youth, aimed at empowering socially embattled sistahs to overcome obstacles and salvage youngsters from circumstances that lead to dead-end futures. Regrettably, when it comes to Black men, little is said or done that isn’t limited to keeping them from going back to jail or prison, which makes this year’s Sixth Annual Community Empowerment Through Black Men Healing Conference a must-attend event.
The conference primarily concerns itself with filling that void for men. Importantly, it’s grounded in the understanding that healing Black men doesn’t happen in a vacuum, that Black women’s well-being inextricably is involved.
Heading up the Black Men Healing Conference (www.brothershealing.com) is the founding organizer, renowned behavioral consultant Samuel Simmons. His specialty is helping African American males get their mental and emotional
health together. Simmons is SAFE Families Manager at The Family Partnership administering the Be More Project, which is geared to counseling young men on the ways and means to stop behaving violently toward females.
Awarded the 2009 Governor’s Council on Faith and Community Service Initiatives Best Practices Award, Simmons has long been a go-to clinician when the aim of court proceedings is an alternative to locking up convicted Black men. He takes the opportunity to address community issues, interviewing guests on Voices at KMOJ Radio, 6 pm on Fridays.
Continuing her conference participation over the past several years is PRIDE program director Artika Roller at The Family Partnership. PRIDE, developed by a sex-trafficking survivor and her counselor, aids and empowers females to recover from commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, sexual violence, and prostitution. It provides 24-hour crisis counseling, support groups, legal assistance and advocacy, resources and referrals, case management, education and systems advocacy.
PRIDE works to increase community awareness of sex workers as human beings ensnared in a lifestyle they never willingly chose, and to improve the system’s response to them as victims. TeenPRIDE specializes in sexually exploited adolescents and those at risk to end up victims to intercede with preventive counseling.
Roller told the MSR in an email, “The Black Men Healing conference does an impressive job of framing the issues that are important to African American males, including breaking
down the impact of trauma, and presents effective methods for the entire community to heal. We can look at [contributing factors like] welfare laws and incarceration rates, unemployment.
“[PRIDE and the conference] both have the same message. We don’t want our women to fail at the expense of men and we don’t want our men to fail at the expense of women.”
Simmons and Roller spoke with the MSR at a South Minneapolis coffee shop about a salient aspect of this year’s conference, sexual exploitation of females by males. Reflecting on the connection between men and women, Simmons said, “The conference has never totally been about Black men. It’s always been inclusive of women.”
He says of PRIDE’s participation, “That is valuable because of the work Artika Roller does. We cannot exclude women and girls. So often we talk about boys and men like there’s only one gender in our community. I find that very disconcerting, because the thing is, we’re really talking about our babies and they come in both boys and girls. Both groups have to understand sexual trafficking is not healthy.”
Roller states, “A large number of African American [females] are caught in the cycle of violence. We have to look at healing women from sexual exploitation and sexual violence at the same time that we look at men,” which, of course, is logical since healing men promotes healthy individuals who no longer exploit and abuse women and girls.
“How do we heal both women and men,” asks Roller. “How do we educate our men about [abusing] women and how do we stop the demand for [prostitution] trafficking in the sex industry? [We must] stop supporting the culture that says it’s okay, that has girls who were pimped out, for example, at the age of 13 and, now, are in the system.”
The inept criminal justice system, infamous for its revolving door that has females in and out of jail: Once you’re convicted of prostitution, you’re not exactly attractive to a prospective employer or to a landlord. Because of that one mark on your record, your options in life are severely reduced, especially if you’re lacking an education to begin with.
You are stigmatized, punished for a crime and blamed for a lifestyle you were either tricked or forced into. After all, what little girl ever dreamed deep in her heart of growing up to be a hooker? They certainly don’t actively aspire to criminal careers as grown women, resorting to the kind of degradation and humiliation they’d never want their daughters to endure.
“African American females,” Roller adds “are impacted the most by sexual trafficking, have the most trauma. Our men need to understand that they are not objects, that they are not something to sell.”
Simmons notes, “A lot of people don’t consider African American females when they think of sexual trafficking. Our girls are affected more, but, folks tend to think [of] other women, Asian or White.” He goes on to point out, “An important piece is how do we get Black men to disassociate their manhood from objectifying women.”
Roller observes, “We can talk about solutions, but how do you carry that out? What does the methodology look like? What do we do to get there? Because we’re good at framing the problem and talking about the ills, but when we get deeper, healing is the issue on both sides.”
She says of this year’s conference, “Sam has put together [an agenda] that can really have an impact. It’s intergenerational. We have the younger generation [and] middle generation.”
The conference’s overall theme is “Shifting the Paradigm: a focus on African American trauma as a public health issue.” Other presenters include community activist LaDonna Redmond and Justice 4 All program manager Justin Terrell.
Community Empowerment Through Black Men Healing has held this event since 2009 with increasing success as professionals types converge in droves to attend. Early registration is recommended. The event will be held on September 19 and 20 at Metro State University, 700 E 7th St. in St Paul.
For more information, go to www.brothershealing.com.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls, 55403.
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