Future Kings: Giving our boys new stories

Many times people ask me: “What is the end game of Future Kings? What do the boys take with them after the programme?”

When this question is posed, I know what people mean: “Do the boys get some form of training? Do they get a certificate?”

These questions are legitimate and contextual. We have become accustomed to tangible outcomes for everything we do: a certificate (even if it is of attendance), a physical skill (plumbing or computer literacy), a salary or even a badge.

Without something that we can present to others, most of us feel that any programme is inadequate and almost a waste of time.

Not for Future Kings. We are about different outcomes. I will explain shortly.

The other day I was attending a funeral in Soweto. In attendance was a gay relative of the deceased and a group of his friends, most of whom were also gay.

While waiting for my friend, to whom I had come to give my condolences, I found myself standing among some men who had also come to pay their last respects.

“Why makes someone decide to be gay?” one of the guys enquired.

The other fellows offered their reasons while some said they could not fathom why “this anomaly” happened.

The enquirer added: “Which man allows himself to be penetrated by another?”

The insinuation, supported tacitly and implicitly by the rest of the other men around, was that gay men – and I suspected all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual (LGBTI) family – are depraved.

I did not know any of the guys. I am not sure if I was invited into their conversation. I invited myself anyway.

“But it is not a choice. It is who they are. Like you and me,” I proffered.

Before I could finish what was clearly an unpopular and frowned upon view, the instigator of the conversation asked: “But where were they all along? Why are we only seeing them now?”

I told him and the rest of his choir that homosexuals have existed for as long as humans have inhabited the earth. “It is because of bigots like you that they were always living a lie. They have now decided to come out in spite of your hate and intimidation.”

At which point I told them that I am grateful for their company but was not going to endorse their bigotry by continuing to take part in that conversation, which later deteriorated to the obvious and unscientific blaming of homosexuals for HIV and Aids.

Which brings me back to what the ultimate outcomes of Future Kings are.

Boys in Soweto where I was raised and where I was the other day, and in many other neighbourhoods rich and poor, rural and urban, are continuously exposed to such stories of homophobia, patriarchy, sexual abuse, crime, hate and disrespect.

Our intervention is to bring them new or alternative stories. Future Kings aims to say to them that their “reality” is not the final word. It is just one story that may or may not be true.

Future Kings wants to tell them other stories, and allow them to make their own choices about which stories they like, which stories represent the men they one day would like to become.

We seek to tell them stories of toil and commitment that can lead to success; respect for humankind especially women, children and vulnerable groups including the LGBTI; hatred and fear of crime; community service and entrepreneurship.

In a manner of speaking, Future Kings is another initiation school. We put boys through classes and camps to teach them about their responsibility, duty and debt to society.

We are not in competition to any programme, especially ones that give boys physical skills and the resultant certificates. We complement those programmes. Only we focus on the inner man.

I dream of a society where boys still rise up when an elderly person walks into the room, they help the elderly and infirm walk across the road or carry their wares, call the elderly Sir, Madam, Uncle or Aunt, where they do not lift a finger against women and where they do not believe they are better or stronger than the next person.

I want them to know that it is okay to be a man that loves women with respect, that does not force himself onto girls, that does not use brawn to negotiate their place in society, that cries and that just cares for everyone’s peace as much as his own.

Future Kings wants to say to our boys #BeThatGuy without a certificate but with a badge of honour.

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