El Puente’s South 4th Street headquarters was buzzing with activity last Thursday night. There were the expected art programs, music and dance, as well as educational activities, all designed to serve the Latino community, to which the organization is dedicated.
In the back of the building and one flight up, a group of forty men, nearly all black and Latino, sat in a circle discussing the issues that impact them as a group. The event, “Latino and Black Community Speak,” opened conversations about mass incarceration, breakdown of family and traditional gender roles and a lack of suitable adult role models, with participants seizing the opportunity to explore community-wide solutions to these and other matters.
“Latino and Black Community Speak” was the latest theme in a monthly roundtable series organized by Manhattan-based nonprofit, CONNECT. Now in its sixth year, the New York City Roundtable meets in Harlem to discuss various men’s issues. Led by CONNECT Co-Executive Director Quentin Walcott, better known as Q, the organization seeks to redefine what it means to be a man, and to build communities that embrace equality and reject violence.
“Tonight is about how black and Latino men relate to each other,” Walcott said, opening Thursday’s discussion. “It’s about exploring experiences and the importance of what men talk about. I knew individuals were against domestic violence, but were afraid to speak out publicly, [due to peer pressure]. CONNECT reached out to unite them against domestic violence.”
Moving the series to Brooklyn and specifically to El Puente was Juan Ramos, founder of Community Driven Solutions, whose activities also center on the prevention of domestic violence. Ramos has known Walcott for nearly 20 years, since the two started working against domestic violence and violence against women. The large number of men with whom El Puente works, and who Ramos believed could benefit from the conversation, was a motivating factor in bringing the roundtable to Brooklyn, he explained.
“It’s about prevention and accountability.” Ramos said. “It’s recognizing the trauma that men go through, so they recognize the violence they’re passing along. It’s important to keep the discussion going. It’s not a whining session. It’s a need to come up with solutions.”
Despite the uphill battle of keeping the dialogue open, Ramos credits its success to a coalition of leaders that refused to give up. One of the newer leaders, Councilmember Antonio Reynoso joined the circle Thursday night. “There’s so much to do with few resources,” he said. “This roundtable is going to be a resource for me to obtain information and volunteers to get the word out on the ground.”
For more information about CONNECT, including upcoming events, visit http://www.connectnyc.org/. For additional information about Community Driven Solutions, visit http://www.communitydrivensolutions.org/.