(photo by Marissa Weekes Mason)
This article is sponsored by First Person Arts and was reviewed before publication.
“When you hear the words ‘Black men,’ what is the first thing that comes to mind?”
While interviewing Jamie J. Brunson, executive director of First Person Arts (FPA), about an upcoming event with the Engaging Males of Color Initiative (EMOC), I didn’t expect to be the one answering questions. But there was no more apt way for a storyteller like Brunson to set the stage for FPA and EMOC’s June 17 event, a virtual screening titled, ‘BEyond Expectations: Letter to My Father, Letter to My Son — Evolutions.’
“Based on what you see in the media, you would think only Black men are criminals,” said Brunson. “We are working to shatter misperceptions. We want to shine a spotlight on their real lives and relationships.”
Centered around fatherhood, and launching just three days before Father’s Day, ‘BEyond Expectations: Letter to My Father, Letter to My Son — Evolutions’ is a film about the powerful bonds that exist between fathers and sons of color in Philadelphia.
The event is one in a series of almost 20 that the memoir and documentary arts organization has produced with EMOC over the course of their seven-year partnership.
Established by the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) in 2014, EMOC’s mission is to promote mental health and wellness among males of color. This group, which is inclusive of African-American, African, Asian, Caribbean, and Latinx men, suffers disproportionately from mental health and wellness issues due to stigma and lack of access to or awareness of the types of resources that exist for them. EMOC works inside Philadelphia’s neighborhoods to build health literacy, offer support and impart services in spaces men of color trust.
FPA’s documentary-style storytelling format — based on the belief that everyone has a story to tell, and that when they tell it, they find connection with others and the world — has proven to be an effective model for reaching EMOC’s target audiences.
“When they see storytellers of various ages and races, it allows them to say, ‘Wow, that’s just like my story. Maybe I can get help, too,’ said Gabe Bryant, EMOC Coordinator for DBHIDS. “It’s been a brilliant opportunity for us to look at these issues broadly, reduce the stigma and lead males to the services they need.”
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The digital event on June 17 will be the second time FPA and EMOC have collaborated on the topic of fathers and sons. The first was a live event in 2016, featuring men of color whose stories scaled the highs and lows of father-son relationships, from deeply love-filled bonds to broken fatherhood and toxic masculinity.
But then came 2020, a year that brought generational trauma to the surface when the tragic murder of George Floyd and many other men of color led to civil unrest during a global pandemic. It was also a year where families were forced into isolation together. Bryant and Brunson felt it was a powerful time to revisit the dynamics between fathers and sons across Philadelphia’s communities of color.
“My dad got Covid and it was the scariest moment of my entire life,” said Bryant. “It reminded me how much he means to me. I knew after a hard year, there were other stories like mine, having to do with the emotional wellbeing of men across the city, that would inspire a strong sense of hope and healing.”
This year’s film will feature a few famous Philly faces, including journalist Bill Anderson, whose father, radio icon Cody Anderson recently passed away and assistant professor of urban teacher education at Drexel, Dr. H. Bernard Hall, who’s navigating issues of race with his two young sons.
While the film centers around males of color, it was not made for them exclusively. Bryant said that in his experience as EMOC coordinator, time and again it was a female loved one who called in to get support for her spouse, brother, grandson or son. These women are also looking for answers and healing. It’s something Brunson, herself, can relate to on a very personal level.
“I have a passion for this program because I needed to know that every male of color was not my father,” Brunson said. “I needed to know every black man was not a danger to his family.
“Over the last seven years, our partnership with EMOC has helped me better understand what it’s like to be a male of color — the trials and trauma they go through. That there are good men. Strong men. Men that love their families. Men that stay.”
Bryant and Brunson hope that audiences of all genders and races will watch the film, which Brunson calls a multicultural event, in an effort to step out of their comfort zones, listen to those with different perspectives and get to know their communities better.
“[Filming these stories] was heavy, but freeing,” said Bryant. “Looking in the storytellers’ eyes, you could tell this was something truly transformative — a weight off their shoulders. Having that weight lifted by virtue of a story is liberating. I hope that people who watch will share that feeling.”
To register for the free digital event, ‘BEyond Expectations: Letter to My Father, Letter to My Son — Evolutions,’ audiences can click here. Ticket-holders will be sent a Zoom link the day of the show. Doors open at 6:45pm and the film starts at 7:00pm sharp, followed by a 30-minute ‘talk back’ session with guided questions, moderated by Chad Dion Lassiter, executive director of the PA Human Relations Commission.
For more info about EMOC, please follow EMOC on Twitter @emocphilly or email email@example.com. If you are in need of resources and services, please visit www.dbhids.org/boost or call 888-545-2600.-30-
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