Written by Joe Sigurdson, Community Development Director

Another day, another mass shooting in America. The arguments that follow are painfully predictable:

“We need stricter gun laws and background checks!”

“This is not a gun issue; it’s a mental health issue!”

“Stop politicizing the issue. It’s too soon to talk about this. Let the families grieve!”

Here’s the deal: We HAVE to talk about this now. We have allowed others to speak for us for too long, and we cannot trust any legislation to provide the answers to this problem. We cannot keep deferring the responsibility to politicians. It is going to take work on our part to stop these shootings from happening.

We, as a society, are dealing with the outcome of a culture that is producing disconnected children. Our children are trying to hastily fill the gaps in their lives instead of creating genuine connection with their community. Many children, especially boys, turn to gangs, drugs, alcohol, stealing, cutting, and pornography to fill those gaps and numb the pains of loneliness.

In my 21 years of working with young men, I have observed several basic needs that are essential for every human being to thrive. Most of these needs are driven by primal desires that are imprinted in our DNA as social beings: the need to be connected, the need to be valued, and the need to have PURPOSE. These exist in all cultures around the planet and tap into a part of our soul that longs to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. This is the need that draws us to fiercely defend our family, religion, country, community, sports teams, etc. Simply put, we all long for a sense of purpose, belonging and connection.

Gangs are particularly good at satisfying this primal need of belonging. They provide an empty, deceptive disguise of safety, fellowship, and meaning. In principle, they fill those gaps in many disconnected, lonely boys and, in doing so, lead them to a darker sense of purpose.

At Boys to Men Mentoring, we address a young man’s primal needs by providing a healthier alternative. We do this by sending teams of men into schools on a weekly basis to build a community of positivity for these young men to lean on.

In order to provide this for our young men, we need caring, committed men. These men are not perfect men by any means, and the process of earning a teenager’s trust is not easy. It requires every man to bear his own vulnerabilities and insecurities for everyone in the group to judge.

But, something magical happens when he does!

The boys begin to trust the men and soon begin to open up themselves creating a circle of brotherhood that I’ve seen change lives.

I know, I know. You’re too busy. You don’t have anything to offer a young child. You don’t want to screw anything up. You don’t want to be liable for saying or doing the wrong thing. All valid concerns, but let’s be realistic about the outcomes of doing nothing. If we as a culture don’t fill these gaps of disconnection, then the gangs, drugs, and government will. We will continue to see the increase in school shootings and gang affiliation. The heroin and opioid crisis will continue to plague our society, and we will eventually have more teenage boys in jail than in school. We cannot continue to passively default to, “It’s not my problem,” when in fact it is our problem.

It is our responsibility to do the work necessary to change the course of our society’s future prosperity.

I’m not saying Boys to Men is “The Answer”, but we certainly are an answer. When we show up, listen, accept, and encourage these boys finally feel safe. When they feel safe they share the truth. When they get honest about their lives, they become aware of options they had not considered. They make better choices, and they feel better. When they feel better they do better. Their grades go up, their attendance goes up, and their disciplinary issues virtually disappear.

We will never be able to legislate caring, commitment, trust, honesty and community. Please visit boystomen.org and find a group of good men and boys to hang out with a couple of hours a week. That first step could change the world.

We are all a part of the solution.