Re-Imagining Manhood: Four Leaders Discuss the Sacred Masculine

Humanity is at a crossroads, and what happens next will be determined by our ability to work together. Visionary leaders are rethinking the social constructs that keep us divided, like traditional gender roles, so we can reconnect with ourselves and recognize our place as part of a cohesive whole.

In this panel, four leaders discuss their work to uplift sacred masculinity, which helps men turn away from social conditioning to embrace their authentic self. By pairing the “action” of masculinity with the flexibility of feminine compassion, men can break free of the rigid, repressive description of manhood prescribed by larger society.

This panel features Jerry Tello, co-founder of the Healing Generations Institute; Jewel Love, CEO of Black Executive Men; Héctor Sánchez-Flores, Executive Director of the National Compadres Network; and Will Scott, co-founder of the Weaving Earth Center.

Will Scott

WILL: My name is Will Scott, and I’m one of the co-founders of the Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education here in the North Bay area. Today, we’re going to talk about a deeply personal topic that I hope will be a piece of a bigger conversation around what it is to re-imagine manhood, what it is to remember this energy of the sacred masculine. I hope that we can contribute something to that, and heal what is needed with regard to the long, deep legacy of patriarchy.

Let’s introduce ourselves.

Jewel Love

JEWEL: Thank you for that introduction. My name is Jewel Love and I’m bi-racial, Scottish-Canadian on my mother’s side and African American on my father’s side. So for me, starting with a brief story and introduction relevant to this topic, I dropped out of USC film school at 26 years old. I was just devastated, and that was one of the first times that I really contemplated not being here. So I called upon wise spiritual teachers for guidance… and I ended up with Babalao, an African diviner from the lfá tradition, in his South LA apartment. I remember being really soft spoken, like my essence and my spirit was barely there. I remember saying to him, “I think I need to be initiated by a group of men.” Just out of nowhere. And the advice he gave back was, “I think you need to initiate yourself.” I’ve been dancing with that riddle of both the need for mentors and initiations, and needing to figure things out on my own.

I do have some experience, with the Mankind Project and as founder of Urban Healers and Black Executive Men, but I’m still very much a student. I’m looking forward to learning from the dialogue today.

Héctor Sánchez-Flores

HÉCTOR: Buenos tardes. Good afternoon. So I’m privileged to represent some families that I am still attached to, like my grandparents and parents, and in my home I saw many examples to follow and some to question. Because I come from a family, it was not uncommon to have dinner in our home in Mexico, and have doctors, priests, murderers, abusers all around the table having dinner. If you walked in, you wouldn’t know who is who. My father was able to inform me, and to cultivate in me a sense of responsibility to my family and community. I used to view this as a deficit and I view this now as his greatest gift. At that time, he only received a third-grade formal education but remains the wisest man I’ve ever known.

He gave me an image of what it was that I should aspire to be, which is important now as a father myself.

Jerry Tello

JERRY: Good afternoon. So I grew up in an indigenous, native, Mexican family but in Compton during the ‘50s and ‘60s. I was in high school during the Civil Rights movement and remember walking to school with National Guard tanks. One of my memories and nightmares that I still have is having to talk my your friends about how to get home, and having to walk the girls home because the National Guard would be standing there with rifles and ready to sexually harass them. This all defines that feeling of having to act like nothing was bothering me, and even though we were scared, we’d have to put up like we weren’t. And sometimes that gets stuck.

My journey here started by becoming a therapist, and when I was the first male hired at the East LA Rape Hotline in the early ‘70s, I began working in sexual assault and domestic violence. But I didn’t find a lot of programs related to the folks I was working with, so I got together with some people and we decided to do something. We couldn’t wait for government or anyone to make a change, we had to do it. We wanted to work with other men to help them heal and help them be better.

We started our meetings with 19 men. And one of them really opened up, saying, “I was abused as a kid and I don’t know how to love my wife, or my kids, and I just don’t know how to love.” He began to cry, and when he opened up, it opened us all up. It shifted this narrative and dialogue, so everyone went around and shared their heart, and we realized the most revolutionary thing we could do was to heal ourselves.

That’s how our journey began into this work, and I’m still healing myself to break the cycle for my children and grandchildren.

WILL: Thank you, Jerry. Thank you all. A little more about me: I grew up not far from here, actually, in Coast Miwok territory. My ancestry comes from all over Europe, and part of my identity here is as a cis, heterosexual man, and to recognize the legacy of colonization of which I’m part. And just as it’s important to unpack and uncover the way we’re socialized as men in this patriarchal society, I think part of that is reckoning with our stories and history. 

My work is about reconnecting people to the natural world, and remembering ourselves as part of a cohesive whole. And I believe that the old roots of patriarchal thinking began when humans started to domesticate and separate themselves from the natural world, at least in European lineages.

The intersections of social and environmental realities are not separate from one another, and when we’re talking about re-imagining manhood and healing different communities and healing our relationship to food or water or place, eventually we’re in one conversation. And I have a lot of thoughts about our discussion today, but I really want to look to the three of you and uplift: is there anything you want to make sure we do here this afternoon?

JERRY: It draws me that these young men are sitting right there. I want to thank you for coming and sitting right here in front of us like that. Because I think that’s why we do this. It reminds me of how my father was a loud-talking man with a look that could make us kids shake, but I also remember him crossing to the middle-class part of town where people didn’t look like us, and he would shrink and become more passive. How do we get taught how to pass over that bridge? 

The work I do with young men is about how to cross that bridge in a good way. Part of my journey has been to honor the four sacred directions: the feminine, the masculine, the child and the elder directions. There has to be a time when you can embrace all of them and be strong in compassion. What I’m beginning to understand is that sacred manhood is the ability to be flexible and to move in whatever direction is needed for the good of all your relations.

JEWEL: Beautiful to hear you speak. It’s soul food, so thank you for that.

People always talk about the hero’s journey, and how we all have this unique journey or arc toward discovering something within ourselves that’s better for the world around us. It usually happens through a few stages, and so for me, this really low point I mentioned after dropping out of USC… I couldn’t share that with my family or friends. It was just so crushing but soul awakening at the same time.

I really discovered that path of men’s work, around emotional and psychological healing, and maturing through those stages of development — youth, adult, elder, ancestor — and moving though the life cycle. When I think of manhood, it’s responsibility for my own emotions, for my family, career, and society. The ability to respond to energy that’s coming my way, personally but then socially.

And I think one of the biggest kickoffs of these men’s group, initiatory work, healing practices, was the Me Too movement. It woke people up and really pushed men to ask, “How am I relating with women, trans people, gender non-binary?” And one of the key ones is: “How am I relating with other men?”

And for me that’s really the core in my work is, as a man, relating to other men, and finding authentic ways to do that. And something I’m constantly watching out for are: What are those structures? What are those communities that can both build a bridge between honoring these traditional roles of manhood and masculinity, and so-called newer roles of tapping into emotion, healing, things of that nature?

HÉCTOR: Thank you for sharing, Jewel. I just want to add, Jerry talks about that first gathering of men… I came to that gathering probably around five years later. And when I walked in that first day, I started to notice many aspects of manhood that the broader community says doesn’t exist within the Latino community.

When we walked into a room, there were presumptions made about us as Mexican or Latino men — before we were using terms like Latinx and “they.” But when I was in that círculo, none of those presumptions were true. I recognized in those men the same things I saw in my uncle and father, but also in my mothers and grandmothers.

I realized that a real man is a man that’s not stuck in only one role. In those círculos, I saw men that were shapeshifting, if you will, into whatever was appropriate for that moment, and sharing their struggles in a candid way, and offering the prayer of what it is they aspire to be, so they could be better fathers, sons, husbands, partners.

To this day, I’m privileged to be working to amplify that message, and in the meetings I go to across the country, I see men doing what men can do, being real in their struggle, being real in their gifts, being real in the things they want to work on and improving, and also being real on the incredible talents that they possess. When I look at these young men, I want to share one thing that I wish somebody would have shared with me: being or working or striving to be who you are means that you’re not stuck. Use everything at your disposal to be what you need to be in a given moment, so that the people you claim to love get the best of you. To demonstrate the love you have for the people you care about.

WILL: This is rich, and I love that we’re somehow we’re beginning where I thought we might end, with these young people here and the question of, “What are the things we want to impart to the next generation moving forward?”

There’s a reorientation toward a quality of the sacred, a quality of relationship and interdependence and connection. Our responsibility to those relationships is part of healthy adulthood, and it’s important to view our lives as part of an ecology of sacred relationships. Do you all have anything to say about how we move forward with male solidarity and understanding there’s an alternative meaning of what we’ve been led to believe?

JERRY: A couple of thoughts come to mind. We’ve been doing this work for a long time, it’s just we’re men of color doing this work, and we don’t get acknowledged. Right? We’re recovering the sacredness of relationships that always should have been there. Part of that is the detoxification and decolonization, but it’s also about re-grounding. It’s about learning and re-learning.

When my oldest son Marcos turned 13, we had a ceremony for him. We brought the family together, put him in the middle, and we talked about our interconnectedness. I said, “Look around this circle. Everything that you do will affect everyone here. But any time you need something, you have all these people too.” And he spoke on that too.

When the party was finished and everyone went home, something hits me as I’m walking into his room. I said, “Marcos, you did a great job. You spoke well and we’re really proud of you. But I don’t know what to do after this. My dad died when I was 13. I don’t know how to guide you from here.” And he responds, “That’s okay, Dad, we’ll learn together.” See? It’s that openness to recognize that we don’t have to know everything, or be everything — we just have to be open to the journey.

JEWEL: On that note, there are a few pieces that came to mind. You’re talking about the larger questions here, and I’m always wondering how we speak to that scope. There are a lot of solutions and solutionaries out there that work on these issues, but on large scales.

One thing that comes to mind is concerts and festivals. There’s this huge issue at festivals of primarily women getting groped. It’s a common thing. So earlier this year, Urban Healers put on this workshop called Consent Kings. What it did was invite men to have a conversation around consent, but in a framing that men have already been brought into, which is a king. Most guys want to be a king — seen as one, treated like one — we love that. That framing works. So we got onstage at a music festival to talk about how important consent is. How it’s the duty of a king to ask if you want to dance with a woman or engage with her, and that’s the role of a king. Where are my consent kings at? The hands were all going up. Because the other option is a scumbag. Right? You’re a king or you’re whatever.

It leverages that work with the psyche of where men are at, then get them into pro-social behavior. And there are tricks to work with large crowds of people to get the behavioral outcome you want, and that was one.

WILL: Closing comments?

HÉCTOR: So I work within an organization that does this every single day. The National Compadres Network does this in communities across the country – 14 states, 40 cities. And everywhere we go, we discover men that are working to live their sacredness. I frequently say that you’ll never discover a more fortunate man than myself. I get everything reflected to me that is beautiful, and I’m indebted to those thousands of men that I’ve come across, that are struggling for goodness.

Yes, along the way, I’ve uncovered some that are earlier in the process, but that beacon is still there. And my hope is that as you go out, that you train your eye to pick up on those beacons, because it may not be what we were trained to see in men. But it’s there. And I’m very hopeful of the future, that we are moving the starting line a bit closer to that sacredness.

JEWEL: I think the thing that comes to mind is to answer the call. If you got a call that’s pulling from you on the inside and you’ve been thinking about it, there’s no waiver for this, just answer the call.

The other practical, logistical thing, is that Black Executive Men provides therapy and coaching. We’re based in Oakland. Don’t have to be a black man, but you can definitely give me a buzz for that. Also, Urban Healers is going to be taking in new men. It’s a men’s healing program that’s looking to bring healthy masculinity and emotional literacy to Oakland. You’re welcome to reach out to me about that.

WILL: I think from my perspective, what’s with me now is the richness and the complexity of the conversation here with these cultural differences.

When men or masculine-identified people get together like this and have these conversations, the question I sit with — especially as a white man — is who am I accountable to in my conversations? Who am I checking myself with? I want to just take this moment, especially for people who hold significant privileges like I do, that we need to be double accountable when we’re holding those kinds of privileges and power positions that are unearned. And how do we make ourselves worthy of the unearned privileges that we have been given? And if we aren’t worthy of them, how do we give them back? That’s a question I leave with.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Our bi-weekly newsletter provides insights into the people, projects, and organizations creating lasting change in the world.