Next Gen Men is a Canadian nonprofit working towards a future where boys and men feel less pain and cause less harm. Their ambitious yet powerful mission is to change how the world sees, acts and thinks about masculinity.
To do this, they meet boys, men and masculine identifying people where they are at – in schools, workplaces, community settings and increasingly online. They use educational sessions and relationship-building tools to unpack the influences and impacts of patriarchy. And they explore through a feminist lens how male socialization affects important areas of their lives such as relationships, friendships, mental wellness, health and more.
Jake Stika, a co-founder of Next Gen Men, has been dedicated to his organization’s work since 2014. He is convinced that this work saves lives, because unpacking his own beliefs around masculinity definitely saved his. He is passing the message on and contributing to making this world safer for everyone.
How did Next Gen Men begin?
Next Gen Men started from my lived experience as a straight, cisgender, white male.
As a young man, I had all the checkboxes of privilege that exist in society.
But, in my late teens and early twenties, I struggled with my mental health, specifically depression. At 19 years old, my coping mechanism was binge drinking and fist fights; at 22, my coping mechanism was self-harm. That’s when I decided to start therapy which helped me get on a healing journey.
I came to understand the masculine script that tells you, “you gotta be tough, you can’t show emotion, you can’t ask for help”. It was this script that was harming me. And what’s messed up is that nobody was telling me those things. It was my programming from growing up a boy and into a man.
The story also starts with Jermal, another of our co-founders and my best friend from university. He lost his 13-year-old brother to suicide back in 2007. He was a young black youth who was experiencing homophobic bullying. We believe that he might have been in the closet.
Those two experiences, Jermal’s grief and my struggles, made us want something different for the next generation of men.
That’s when we met our third co-founder Jason, who had been working in sexual health education with boys in Jamaica and has a background in public health.
The three of us started Next Gen Men in late 2014.
And how exactly do you tackle this vast topic to change how we see, act and think about masculinity?
We have three main verticals: youth, community, and workplaces.
Within the youth section, we carry out a 10-week after-school program for boys between 12 and 14. But during the pandemic, we moved our activities online and created an online space on Discord called the NGM Boys Club. One of the boys themselves deemed it “the safest place for boys on the internet.”
We partner with government bodies to build this work to engage men and boys across provinces and Canada. On the community side, we host monthly discussions. We have a private online forum where we keep conversations going between events.
And lastly, our workplace vertical, which is called Equity Leaders, works in male dominant industries. We work with their leaders to advance gender equity and broader diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Diversity and inclusion are really important, but the issues themselves are as diverse as the problems. We focus mainly on gender as it’s the largest demographic divide in society, roughly 50/50. If we can’t be equitable across that divide, we’re not going to be equitable to more marginalized and underrepresented identities.
Our work focuses on how we can use skills of understanding power, privilege, allyship, bystander intervention, etc., in a familiar and applicable way.
I’m curious about the work you do with youth. How come you chose the 12 to 14-year-old age group, and how do you get them to think about the topic of masculinity?
We chose the 12 to 14-year-old age group because that is when we see a rise in rates of homophobia, misogyny, racism and other kinds of marginalizing attitudes. The reason behind that is that boys are still socialized in a culture that talks about how great they will be and how much power they have.
But you ask a 12-year-old boy, “what kind of power do you have?”, they answer, “I don’t have any power. My mom tells me what to do, my teacher tells me what to do. I can’t do anything!”
So they start practicing their power through differentiation among their peer group. Gender, sex, and race are the visible differentiations that they can find.
That is when we want to intervene.
In our curriculum, we have three pillars. The first one is “Self”. If you don’t have a solid sense of self, you use that differentiation to adjust your power and status in that group.
So we want to fortify who they are, their value and teach them how everyone equally has value. Through this, we can hopefully mitigate the need for this differentiation.
Then we move into “Health”, which is mental, physical and emotional. Here we give them the tools to have Health and Help-seeking behaviors.
We teach them that being healthy is not just a personal pursuit. It’s a community matter. On the one hand, we need other people to get involved and help out; on the other, asking for help grounds us in connectivity to our community.
And the last pillar is “Others”, which is diversity, inclusion, healthy relationships, consent and those broader topics.
That is fascinating! How do these kids respond to what you are bringing to them?
I often get asked, “What gives you hope?” And for me, it’s always the young people. I look at them, and I compare myself at their age. I didn’t know what a trans person was, and feminism had never crossed my mind. They all know about these things already at their age.
There are many initiatives and institutions that are working to support marginalized youth. That is essential, and I don’t want to diminish that. But we can’t lose sight of the youth who are in positions of privilege. It’s vital to sit alongside them and help them identify where they fit in. The tough part for them, especially cis straight white boys, is finding their place and role in a changing society.
What you say is interesting because we rarely look at the patriarchal system through the lens of cisgender white boys and men. And it’s just as important because this system harms all of us. In that way, it’s necessary to ask how do we fight against it together?
bell hooks, renowned feminist author, wrote in her book “Will To Change: On Men, Masculinity and Love”:
“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”
When I read this for the first time, I had a chill. It was 100% my lived experience.
And this is what we want to prevent – that act of self-violence and community-based violence among men. I believe so much of patriarchy is built on that.
If we successfully change how we see, act and think about masculinity, it will have ripple effects. I believe it is a root cause of the violence that women, girls, trans and non-binary people experience.
What is the most important thing to know about Next Gen Men?
I want to go back to our mission statement, where we want to create a future where boys and men feel less pain and cause less harm. Baked in that statement is empathy, followed by accountability.
We need empathy to understand that in today’s society, 3 out of 4 suicide deaths are men, and over 80% of toxic drug overdoses are men. Men have shorter life spans and higher death rates at work.
Men are the primary perpetrators of all forms of violence. Aside from gender-based violence, they’re the number one victims of all forms of violence, often at the hands of other men.
It is pretty shitty to be a guy too, so we have empathy for that. However, as I said, men are the primary perpetrators of gender-based violence, family-based violence and systemic violence.
So we are trying to find where we can help unlearn and prevent those attitudes and norms from forming along the journey. That is where accountability comes in.
That’s why empathy and compassionate accountability are the most important things to know about Next Gen Men.
These are important values, especially in this social media era in which young people are growing up. In a way, it’s great because we can access information that wasn’t available before. Still, it can also be a dangerous and violent space.
Absolutely, and I don’t want to make “cancel culture” out to be the boogieman, but the fear exists for a reason. And the reality is that none of us are our worst moments. There is so much more to us, so much more nuance.
So, how can we hold that space for one another to make mistakes but also heal and come back to be part of the community? When we cast people out, that is the worst thing that can happen to someone.
We want to make sure that people have room to make mistakes. And I don’t mean repeatedly making the same mistake because that is abuse. Instead, when someone makes a mistake, we call them in and invite them into healing, forgiveness and restoration.
What is the impact of the work that you do?
We’re in a tough space because we are doing prevention work. It’s hard to measure events that didn’t happen.
However, in May of this year, we hosted our second annual Future Of Masculinity summit online, and 94% of participants said it was a safe space that they want to participate in again. That also shows how hungry young masculine identifying folks are for these conversations and how unmet it is.
We’ve also noticed that about one in three youth who joined the Discord server are neurodiverse. It isn’t easy to be inclusive in all ways at all times, but we put in as much effort as we possibly can. And we’ve heard back from parents that this outlet is one of the spaces that helped their children thrive through the pandemic.
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How do you see the future for Next Gen Men?
We want to keep working on what we have already developed and continue to build community. Seth Godin talks about how communities need 3 things: a cause, leaders, and connecting people with each other.
We have a cause, and if we consider Next Gen Men to be a leader, how do we continue to connect people? This is what we are focusing on. We want to build capacity with educators in a community setting so that they know each other and continue doing the work together.
So we partnered with the federal government in Canada to launch a network to engage men and boys practitioners.
But at the moment, I don’t want to bring new ideas to the organization but grow the ones that we’ve been planting and watering.
Who inspires you?
I’m such a bookish person. So I would say bell hooks again. She really models compassionate accountability in her work. I would add Terrence Real, who wrote “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression” in 1998, but it could have been last week. He talks about male socialization and the risk it puts us for depression and mental health issues.
And lastly, Seth Godin. He really puts out the idea that “people like us do things like this”. He questions how we can leverage that and invite people into this work. As inclusive as we try to be, this work can sometimes feel exclusive. We want to take that strength-based approach and give a place for everyone to take up this work.
How to find and support Next Gen Men ?
Check out their website nextgenmen.ca where you’ll find links their youth, community and workplace programs. The best way to stay in touch is by signing up to their Future of Masculinity newsletter.
Want to support? Get a NextGen membership. It starts at $5 a month or $50 a year and it funds their youth work.