Sometime in 2014, I stumbled across Tony Porter’s 2010 TED Talk (founder of A Call to Men). I was immediately drawn in by his ability to share what we at TMI Project call the TMI parts of his story, the parts most people usually leave out because of shame and embarrassment. I knew he understood how powerful storytelling could be for social justice movement building when he concluded the talk by saying, “My liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.” I also knew I wanted to work with him someday. What I didn’t know was that day was not so far off in the future.
In 2015, Tony presented at Ulster County Community College for Domestic Violence Awareness Day. I sat in the front row. Across the aisle was Coach Jeramie Collins from Kingston High School who brought a few of his football players to listen to Tony talk about the cultural expectations of masculinity. I watched Tony transform the room and inspire the boys and men in attendance to want to live fuller lives, to access their authentic selves, and speak up in the face of violence against women. I was impressed by the way he worked the room and how engaged the men were by the end of the presentation. What, I wondered, would they all do differently when they went home? How would they know how to alter behaviors so ingrained in them? It occurred to me that presenting TMI Project’s methodology to interested boys and men after Tony provided context and inspiration could be very powerful. Over the next year, Tony and brainstormed ways we might work together with high school football players and document the process.
In 2016, TMI Project partnered with A Call to Men, Stockade Works, and the Kingston High School Football Team under the guidance of Coach Jeramie Collins to create a documentary. The football players, after working with Mr. Porter to learn about “The Man Box,” would participate in a TMI Project memoir writing and storytelling workshop to confront a hyper-masculine culture and redefine what it means to be men. That fall, Tony presented to the varsity and junior varsity football teams. They were engaged and participated willingly. However, when it came time to sign up for the writing workshop, not one student raised their hand. The hyper-masculine culture we were working to confront head-on led to our first challenge: the students could not admit, in front of one another, that they had any desire to write about their experiences.
Over the next few weeks Coach Collins worked to engage the students privately, and five young men stepped forward to participate. Of the five, two students named Zac and Gabe completed the workshop. In the spring of 2017, the pair presented their stories to all of the players. As we had hoped, peer influence worked and eight more students signed on for the next TMI Project workshop. In June 2017, Tony revisited Kingston High School to meet with all of the students who committed to complete the writing workshop and launch the new series. Every student there said they signed up because they were inspired by hearing Zac and Gabe share their stories and they wanted to lead by example, too. We are eager to capture the experiences of these brave young men and put their stories into the world, and inspire an infinite number of their peers to step outside “The Man Box” and redefine what it means to be a man.
Tony has been working passionately and diligently to get good men to speak up in the face of violence against women for decades. His vision? A world where all boys and men are loving and respectful and all girls and women are valued and safe. We’re so honored to be able to recognize his work in transforming the cultural expectations of masculinity. Considering the state of the country and the world, I can’t think of anything more important.
TMI Project is honoring Tony Porter along with four local Hudson Valley leaders and change-makers on September 28th, 2017 at Voices in Action: Community Outreach Showcase & Fundraiser. We hope you will join us!