“The best way to create a world that’s safer for women and free of violence is by helping young men create the healthiest version of themselves.”
This month’s FACE of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee features two young men who are working to challenge a culture that supports violence against women, cultivate healthy masculinity and change the future for women and girls. Our spotlight turns to John Morris and Garrett Lee, the faces of our local AMEND Together program, presented by the Nashville Predators.
John and Garrett crisscross the Metro Nashville Public School system and engage 400 boys at 26 different school and community center sites (as well as spring and summer break camps) to fulfill the AMEND Together mission of ending violence against women and girls by engaging boys to be part of the solution. Spend just a few minutes with them in the classroom, at a community center, or during a family engagement night, and it’s evident their passion for this initiative is real and runs deep.
“I really want to help other young men BE THEMSELVES,” says Garrett, a 21-year old Belmont University graduate who got his start with the YWCA’s AMEND Together program as an intern doing field placement in 2021. “I want to help them deal with all the issues that come with being a young man, the feelings you have that you can’t talk about, of not being enough, not feeling valued, or just having a lot of emotions you can’t express without fear of being judged or put down.”
“People need people, and boys especially need other men to pour into them, to be around and to be available,” says John, a 29-year old Nashville native and Murray State University graduate. “Sometimes they don’t feel like they can express themselves to their peers or the men that are present at their schools who might only be a custodian or a coach, since most teachers are women. Many don’t get to see other men. I would have LOVED a program like this when I was in school.”
John and Garrett have daily lessons they bring to their 30-minute, weekly time blocks with the boys. The key areas of focus include communication, emotions, self esteem, manhood, boundaries, consent, empathy, and what it means to be a man. And every day with the boys – who range in age from 8 to 18 – is different.
“Some days, you have really good days where great conversation, when everyone is participating and one conversation flows from the last one,” says Garrett. “We focus a lot on emotions and helping them understand other people, the idea of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, and if you don’t like something you can tell someone.”
Because AMEND Together is offered in elementary, middle, and high schools, John and Garrett have to make sure their lessons and conversations are appropriate for the boys at the different stages in their development. Their greatest joy is seeing the lightbulb go off, applying the lessons that have been shared
“Our high school boys need this curriculum, especially deconstructing the social aspects of manhood and you can give them a little more detail,” says John. “In middle school, you can help mold them. There’s one student I’ve been working with over two school grades. In the first year, I planted a seed and let him know he needed to be a leader, let him know he needed to help the next kids who come in. He was a model citizen this year! He made sure the other boys were serious and he let me know he talks to his teacher when things are bothering him. I saw him change in such a positive way!”
Both John and Garrett find joy in the big and the little wins they see in the boys and young men they interact with through AMEND. They admit that it’s hard to understand if they’re making a difference, but it happens, and they’re especially touched when they hear these two words – THANK YOU!
“That is the most fulfilling thing,” says Garrett. “I went to a school partner meeting and one of my former AMEND students was speaking on a panel. He came up to me afterwards and said thanks and how much he missed being in the group and how it helped him and everyone in the group.”
Parents and guardians have shared how important the AMEND Together program has been in their children’s lives. They’re grateful that AMEND gives them a community, including attending the annual AMEND Together Night with the Nashville Predators.
Thanks to John and Garrett are living the mission of AMEND Together and creating healthy young men. They’re giving them the tools to take care of themselves, understand themselves better, and learn not to resort to violence. They’re helping the boys figure out how to deal with the many pressures and challenges in their lives and ultimately how to be their best selves, which will change the future for women and girls.