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Redefining what it means to be a man

What started as an after-school program for boys has grown into a national organization
Jermal Alleyne Jones
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Jermal Alleyne Jones is the co-creator of Next Gen Men (NGM), a team of staff and volunteers empowering boys (and men) with the ideology that gender equality benefits them too. Their youth programs teach boys to question gender stereotypes and assumptions – with a goal of building the emotional intelligence required for healthy relationships and positive mental health.

Born to parents who would separate soon after his birth, Jones would be raised amongst step siblings. “I consider them all just as brothers and sisters,” he said. His brother, Shaquille, would die by suicide when he was 13.

He describes defining moments of his youth; including watching his mother struggle to make the right choices. “She was in and out of jail for most of my childhood. Losing my brother to suicide, and watching my dad lose it all. These life events taught me hope, empathy, courage, the importance of being kind, and an understanding that many people will have barriers that you are unaware of.”

Raised primarily by his father, he says, overall, he had a happy childhood, “despite my mom not being around, moving quite a bit, and a harder than ‘normal’ family experience.” He says he was able to make it through hard times thanks to family friends who would “put him up some weekends.”

“I learned to be adaptable, to focus on the positive because hard times don’t last forever.” He recalls idolizing Tiger Woods, admiring his ability to focus and block out outside noise.

He says boys grow up bombarded with images of masculinity. Later this month, Jones will be speaking at a local Woke Men’s event about redefining what ‘manhood’ means – with intentions of changing those stereotypes.

Working as a domestic violence counsellor for men, he sees anger, shame, regret and pain. “These sessions can get heated when discussing male privilege and male violence. Building rapport with these men is not always easy.” He describes magical moments when a participant comprehends how they’ve abused their privilege, “or when they have sexist double standards for their son vs their daughter and clearly it hasn’t served them well.” Moments like this give him hope - that they will teach their sons better than they were taught.

Jones says his struggles have afforded him a heightened awareness of how lucky he is. “I am university educated, have some accomplishments, and am able bodied,” he says, “I want to positively impact as many people as I am uniquely qualified to do.”

NGM challenges young men to have the ‘big conversations’ they need to have including practicing consent and how to live with confidence and empathy. What started as an after-school program for boys aged 12-14 has grown into a national organization; engaging men and boys on how to be a positive member of their community.

When asked which of his accomplishments he holds highest, he says, “I’m proud that I’ve changed my last name to Jones, my mother’s last name. For me it represents adversity, belief that people can change, and most importantly the power of hope. We have a great relationship now, but it wasn’t always that way.”

He says his success is due, in part, to never taking the easy way out. “I could have said, well, it isn’t in the cards for me to be happy and succeed, but when you become an adult you have a responsibility to deal with all of the things in your life, some your fault and others not.” He says he has made a conscious choice to break the cycle. “If it was terrible parenting you experienced, it’s unfortunate that it happened to you, but you have a choice to be a different kind of parent.”

Woke Men’s Stories of Resilience and Challenge is a Collaboration between the Woke Women’s Movement and Juici Yoga, happening on February 28, at the Registry Theatre.

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