You’re in middle school – 12, 13, maybe 14. Your life is full of rooms you must walk into and questions you want to ask. Freedom is a sunny day, a friend and bike ride away.
You’re a middle school boy. You care a lot about video games and the music you listen to with your friends. You like to be loud, and fun can include a little roughhousing. You say words you don’t always mean. But that’s all okay. It’s a part of growing up.
You’re a brown middle school boy, a Black middle school boy. Before you have a chance to speak, the world is building you boxes. Some look okay, but others are clearly too small or too large for you. Made by someone who has never spoken to you, asked you who you are or heard you talk about your dreams.
Every week, Goodman’s middle school LOFT program dedicates time to a unique group that asks every kid to talk about who they are — dreams, fears and everything in between.
MAScK — Men Always Seeking Change and Knowledge — leads a group of primarily Black middle school youth to not only become aware of these boxes, but name them. Question them. Break them down and flatten their influence.
The story of MAScK is decades long. Starting before The Goodman Community Center existed by name — back when we were The Atwood Community Center. Before our 2007 move to the Ironworks building at 149 Waubesa Street. Because what would one day become MAScK began decades earlier with the Atwood Community Boys’ Group.
Goodman’s Family Advocacy Manager, Arthur Morgan, has held nearly every youth leader position imaginable over his 30 years with our center, but he has spent the majority of his career working with middle schoolers.
“I did boys group for 18 years, then it got passed on to another gentleman that was here for a while … and Howard took it over in Ironworks. For 18 years, we focused on the issues that the kids had at school, at home, and what we felt would help them be better, more responsible young men.”
Like Arthur, current Assistant Director of Youth and Community Development, Howard Hayes, has been lending his skills to the east side and greater Madison community through Goodman for decades. Despite having decades of his own experience, he still considers himself new to leading middle schoolers.
“I've done it for eight years, but I can’t say I’m like Arthur. Arthur could walk into a middle school classroom and say, ‘Hey, how long do you need me? 30 minutes? Okay, I can occupy these kids for 30 minutes.’
“I walk in there, and probably 15 minutes in I’m starting to sweat.”
Still, when Howard earned the reigns of Boys’ Group, he began moving the young men in new and powerful directions, largely thanks to his work with Madison group DAIS, ‘Domestic Abuse Intervention Services.’
“They were looking for folks to do the Dane County Delta Project. They did a three-day training for folks in the community to go out and talk to young people about sexual assault and domestic violence. I went, and I really enjoyed it.
“It was a perspective that I felt really spoke to me because I grew up in hypermasculine environments: sports, my dad was in the Army, I’m the younger of two [boys] and we were always competitive [with each other].
“So, when I think of someone who does advocacy work for sexual assault and domestic violence, I would be considered the perpetrator: the person who encourages the negative behaviors of masculinity … but I’m really not that person. I understand how people see that, because of the environments that I put myself in: I go to sports bars … all this other stuff. But I was trying to find a way, or a space, for folks to recognize me as something different within that [hypermasculinity]. It just happened to be DAIS.
“I considered it an honor for them to say, ‘would you like to speak to young men about domestic violence?’ I helped them build a curriculum. I think they asked because of me growing up in like that kind of environment. I could see blind spots.”
Howard’s relationship with DAIS became the transformative foundation for evolving conversations within Boys’ Group, and kickstarted his own personal and professional development.
“DAIS took me to a training in Atlanta in 2004. They took me to a training in New Orleans, specifically for folks of color about sexual assault and domestic violence, in 2006. That was a big growth spurt. I wasn’t even working for the organization and they were saying, ‘let me put you in the spaces where you can get a full rounded picture.’
“As time went along, I focused on sexual assault and domestic violence with the young men in Boys’ Group.
“I think we’re going to prevent young [middle school] boys from perhaps committing sexual assault or domestic violence as men if we have them in a place where they can support each other, encourage each other, and grow together.”
“They’ll be more willing as a group to say, ‘hey, we don’t stand for this’ or ‘Yo, man, you’re doing your thing. Appreciate you,’ you know? To have that place is powerful. I have been able to see it at work. Kids later on go, ‘I know I was like that, but I paid attention. And now as an adult, I take into account a lot of stuff that you said.’”
However, Howard thought there was still room for improvement in the original Boys’ Group dynamic. The Boys’ Group commitment to include only boys, and the presence of other gendered groups like Girls Inc. at Goodman, left some of the students feeling caught in the middle of masculine and feminine spaces.
So, Howard told them to come join MAScK.
According to Howard, bringing girls into a once exclusively male space is what separated MAScK from Boys’ Group. MAScK became a place where all forms of masculinity could be addressed and unpacked rather than a space made only for boys.
“Those first conversations that included the girls spoke more about what they experienced in their environments. The girls presented more masculine, and MAScK looks through the lens of masculinity.
“It doesn’t matter what sexuality, gender — masculinity is what we talk about. Then people can come in and decide for themselves where they are, and as we’re having this conversation, masculinity starts to expand.”
“That’s why I like doing MAScK. It’s based on the folks in the room and how far we want to stretch masculinity. You hear folks talk about the ‘locker room’ or ‘locker room talk.’ But there's another place in the locker room: after a loss when you’re crying and everybody’s together like, ‘Yo, man, no matter what happens, I love you. No matter what, this will not define us. This will not be our story.’ You're just in a locker room and you’re together, right? There are terms that we use in public that don’t describe the whole full scope of what masculinity is and what masculinity means to the individual. There is something to be said about those intimate spaces where masculinity is supported.”
In the early days of MAScK, Arthur had one major concern: could their team create an environment that provides their kids with connection, togetherness and belonging? Not just during the hour-a-week sessions or on the Goodman campus, but wherever they go in life.
“We had to try to figure out a way to get the kids to buy in and be a unit together. A lot of the young men from Boys’ Group still keep in contact with each other outside of Goodman. We want [our kids now] to do the same thing with MAScK. We want them to not just have it here, but to take it to school — to where they see each other. Help build each other up through life. And I feel like you get that when you have a cohesive group that looks out for each other.”
Proof of the original Boys’ Group kinship happened to be sitting immediately to Arthur’s right.
Middle School Coordinator Kijuan may be a relatively new youth leader compared to Arthur and Howard, but his personal connections to Goodman, the Atwood Community Center and Boys’ Group run just as deep.
“My cousin was in Arthur’s Boys’ Group — he had my whole family, but I wasn’t part of it. I’d come home and my cousin would be like ‘yeah, me and Arthur and the boys just came from the radio station!’ He had all these experiences Arthur showed him. It helped his relationship with me. He’s progressed through life; he’s had real male role models aside from his family. The group is helping people understand what it’s like to be a man growing up.”
Today, Arthur’s hesitation that MAScK wouldn’t result in collective and transformative long term relationships has been set long at ease.
“I’m super proud of where MAScK has come. Howard has figured out a way to bring that [original Boys’ Group vibe] to MAScK and have them feel like that’s their group when they’re outside [Goodman].
“I remind these young brothers that MAScK is everywhere. MAScK is the dean of students at White Horse, MAScK is the head coach at Memorial. We have young people all over the city who have been through MAScK or been through Boys’ Group, and we want to keep that going.”
As far as Goodman’s commitment to MAScK and Howard and Arthur’s vision, Arthur had this to say:
“I think the longevity of the group has been something Goodman has been proud of. Our Senior Director of Business Services, Dewayne, was in Boys' Group — I coached him in sixth grade.”
This is the history of MAScK as a program — a wonderful place to start. However, the story of its leaders, connections and community doesn’t end here. Like the people who find a home in MAScK, the qualities that make MAScK special go far beyond how the program got to 2023.
In order to fully understand what it means to be a part of MAScK, you have to understand the perspectives of leaders Arthur Morgan, Kijuan Smith, Howard Hayes, and the newest member, Indigo Alcorta.
MAScK is family, MAScK is masculinity, respect and personal connection.
Arthur said it best: “MAScK is everywhere.”
Part Two Coming Soon.
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