This week, the TEDx men surprised us yet again. Dita was moved to tears and Mark regularly looked over at me with the smile that I’ve gotten to know as meaning “Is this for real?”. Now that the TEDx team is jelling after the addition of the speakers-in-training a few weeks ago, it was time to discuss what being on the TEDx team stands for. I invited the men to commit to ideating, designing, creating and executing THEIR event, to commit to counting on each other and being a source everyone can count, to commit to co-creating our weekly TEDx time into a space of experimentation, expansion, exploration and expression, etc. The conversation could have stopped here.
Instead, over the next 20 minutes, the men started sharing why this space matters to them and how they expect to honor it:
“This creates relevance and we need relevance.”
“Putting on TEDx takes courage.”
“TEDx is a privilege.”
“This [transformational growth] is a process and we’re all in different parts of the process.”
“We here to work together as a team.”
We have the blessing of working with 18 men who are deeply committed to executing this crazy TEDx vision, who come together as friends, peers and collaborators. We can quickly forget that, outside of our sacred space, the dynamics on the yard are quite different. The racial divides pressure the men to avoid contact with each other. There are constant pressures towards negative behaviors; contraband – drugs, cell phones, electronics – are continuously tempting. Fights are a regular mode of communication. There are countless rules about what you can and cannot do. And many behaviors are considered to be signs of weakness, quickly leveraged by other men.
Therefore, it takes courage to stay committed to a path of positivity and to take small steps beyond the pressures of those yard politics and rules. One team member is so committed to the diversity of the team that he regularly goes out on a limb to reach out to the men with whom he “shouldn’t” be speaking.
As written a few weeks ago, all paths from black to white travel through grey, which is made up of moments of black and moments of white. In prison, falling back into moments of black is judged quite harshly. And, like one of the guys said, it’s a process. We attempt to honor that process with as much humanity as possible, while constantly inviting the guys and ourselves to step it up.
As the 20-minute conversation (Mark, Dita and I sat back and listened) began to come to a close, the men said: “This is the TEDx brotherhood.” It’s inspiring to see this camaraderie and companionship. Not just because of the above-described challenges or that these guys are inmates (with all of the perceptions that entails). But because, in this camaraderie, the men are, yet again, an example to all of us on the outside. They take companionship and support of another to a level I rarely experience on the outside. This camaraderie they create enables the safety required for true and lasting change.
Soon, we’ll have a secret handshake…