Masculinity Is ‘Being What You Need To Be’ To Do What Needs To Get Done

An urban peace activist on what it means to be a man in 2017.

DeVone Boggan. 

Changing gender roles are key to accelerating the culture shift around changing the way we work and live. Redefining Masculinity is an editorial package that investigates what it means to be a man in 2017—and beyond. As part of it, we’re asking a wide range of men across industries, ages and background to answer 6 questions about what masculinity means to them. Read more about the project here

From 2007 to 2016, DeVone Boggan ran the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond, California, a public-private partnership that targeted the most dangerous young men in its city and gave them a monthly stipend in exchange for pledging not to engage in violence, leading to a 71 percent reduction in firearm assaults causing injury or death. Now Boggan leads Advance Peace, a nonprofit focused on taking the model to other American cities. Please find his conversation with Thrive below.  

THRIVE GLOBAL: How would you define masculinity? 

DEVONE BOGGAN: Being what you need to be, to get done what you need to get done—in family, in marriage, in community and in work. As such, masculinity has to be a very flexible concept. In today’s society, “what it means to be a man” is not so straightforward nor should it be.

TG: Who in your life shaped your view of masculinity? 

DB: Several men, including my father, grandfathers, uncles, mentors, etc. As society has evolved/matured, so have most of those who may have ushered visions of masculinity into my life. I would also say that several women including my mother, grandmothers, aunts and mentors of the opposite gender have influenced my view of healthy masculinity.

TG: Was there a particular moment when you felt you’d become a man? 

DB: No, however once my father and mother divorced when I was 9 years old, I felt I needed to be a “man around the house” as I was the oldest child. Not such a healthy perspective for a 9-year old. However, from that time on, I have always felt that I was a man, learning, maturing, evolving—still today evolving.

TG: How has society’s view of men changed since you were a kid? 

DB: As a kid, I was taught that men had roles and women had roles, very different roles. This perspective clearly puts men and women in a box, and potentially stigmatizes the man or woman that steps out of the box, or goes beyond/around the box, or through or over/under the box. I believe that as a society today we still aren’t where we need to be or want to be, but thank God that we are not where we use to be, and I believe that we as a society are working hard to remove the chains that bind us to the great limitations that can be placed on both men and women as it relates to one’s so-called role as a male and/or as a woman or other in society.

TG: Does masculinity influence your work? If so, how? 

DB: Hard to pinpoint, but I am sure that it does subtly from time to time (hard to escape accumulated societal influences and experiences). However, I am and work hard at being a reflective and conscientious person. I am first human, and work hard to exemplify humility and humanity, and love in every [work] interaction. I would say in my work the influence of masculinity is around work hard to recognize and intentionally breaking unhealthy perspectives of maleness and masculinity.

TG: What do you think children should be taught about masculinity? 

DB: Nothing, absolutely nothing! My children are being taught by both my wife and I to be great, no, phenomenal human beings in a world of other human beings! Children shouldn’t be taught to limit themselves and others as to the infinite healthy possibilities of experiencing a rich and flavorful life as female, male or other.

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