When he was growing up, Jerry Tello’s grandma blessed him constantly throughout the day.
Such a gesture, he came to realize, was preparation for the times when he would be made to feel like a scourge or a delinquent because he was a young Latino man.
“She inoculated me with her blessing,” said Tello, the director of the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute, in a speech at Cal State Long Beach Tuesday. “Each and every one of you, whatever’s happened in your past, whatever you’ve done, that doesn’t matter. Each and every one of you is a blessing.”
On Tuesday, high school and middle school students from Long Beach Unified School District schools participated in the first Boys and Men of Color Summit at Cal State Long Beach. Initially organizers anticipated 150 students, but that number rose to 300 then 420, said Jose Moreno, the chairman of the Chicano and Latino Studies Department at CSULB who participated in the summit’s planning. They made room for all 420 with standing room only in some workshops.
Part of the summit’s goal was to create a brotherhood between the students, deconstruct the meaning of masculinity and end the so-called school-to-prison pipeline where young men leave school and enter the criminal justice system, said Jessica Quintana, an event organizer and the executive director and president of Centro Community Hispanic Association.
“They get confusing messages that they’re supposed to be tough and not respect women,” Quintana said. “Showing strength and violence is not what we want to be doing in our community.”
Students were assigned a history-maker and directed to workshops.
In the Jackie Robinson room, young men listed characteristics of what it means to be a man.
On a sheet of paper Jordan High students Robert Ortega, 17, and Alex Salgado, 16, and Renaissance High sophomore Ethan Hightower, 16, wrote what they thought it meant to be a man. As a group they came up with a few words.
Provider, fatherly, confident, honest, loyal, ambitious, good character, intelligent, responsible.
They then were asked what it meant to be a woman. Words like loyal, love, caring, pride, self-respect, good cook, motivator, open minded came up.
Workshop leader Daniel Castillo then asked the boys if they possessed any attributes typically associated with women. Many hands shot up.
“It makes you a more well-rounded man,” Castillo said.
Stereotypical male attributes are a social construction, he said.
“Because you’re afraid of being judged you don’t question anything. You just accept it,” Castillo said. “You have to understand there is this constant competition with other men.”
After watching a video examining the portrayal of masculinity in Disney movies, Jordan freshman Jared Coleman said he didn’t feel the same way he once did about his childhood cartoons.
“It’s not how they make it seem,” Coleman said.