Manhood — especially what defines the term — seems to be a current hot topic, and sometimes a controversial one. Nearly 11 years ago, when Gerard Droze, Michael Holoman and Jabari Price first began working in various capacities at Blue Cross Blue Shield, the definition of manhood was still somewhat unclear.
All especially felt the boundaries were unmistakably identifiable when they were being raised 30 to 40 years ago. Yet, as they began to spend time together — first Jabari and Michael, and then Gerard, over regular lunch breaks, conversations and observations increasingly centered on blurring lines. They quipped about teenage boys’ baggy jeans; they fretted over young men experiencing failure to launch; and they grieved when reading negative statistical information pertaining to adult males.
“Initially, it had to do with our own lives … how we thought things should be,” says Michael. “We felt we had come together for a reason; we certainly had a common link.”
The three explored developing a tie business together as they surmised that young men needed assistance in dressing for success. Yet, a business needs capital, and all were growing families of their own. “We just kept talking about the issues that were bothering us,” says Michael.
“It’s just a strange day and strange time to be a man,” adds Gerard.
“The family structure is often not there,” adds Jabari. “There is no consistency. If the male is basically raising himself, he is making poor decisions and choices. There is no one telling him what to focus on.”
Michael shares, “We just kept saying to each other, ‘Someone should do something about it!’ Then we realized that ‘someone’ should be us.”
With Michael’s ability to express thoughts articulately, Jabari’s degree in English and Gerard’s gift as a writer, they decided they formed an ideal trio for the development of a book. Yet, with no knowledge of the publishing industry, or the book writing process for that matter, they started the endeavor as three men attempting to find a light switch in the dark.
“We soon found that when we set out to do it, factors just began to fall into place,” says Gerard.
They all agreed that in order to approach the project professionally, there had to be a plan that included: an outline, a deadline and structure. They agreed that the book would be called The Makings of a Man, it would have nine chapters, and that each person would not only write an introduction, but three chapters as well. After each section was completed they came together for meetings to read, critique, evaluate and rework chapters. Sometimes meetings were tense, but issues were always resolved because, as Michael puts it: “We have a brotherhood. I always wanted brothers growing up, and these are my brothers. We hold each other accountable. Sure we have disagreements now that we are in business together, but we want each other to be better, so that’s the difference, and that’s what we kept in mind while writing The Makings of a Man.”
Prior to becoming The Board of Directors — what they have dubbed themselves outside of their “day jobs” at Blue Cross Blue Shield — Gerard, Michael and Jabari had little in common. One was raised by a two-parent family, one by a single mother and one by a single father. All were exposed to the Christian faith, however, all also faced various temptations in childhood that threatened to, or did, steer them down difficult paths.
They kept their own childhood-into-manhood experiences in mind during the 11-month collaboration on the 2010 New Dawning Publications book. “We wanted to make sure it included our voices,” says Gerard. “We wanted to keep in mind the audience, not let it become too academic,” says Michael. “We wanted men of all ages to be able to follow along and get nuggets of information while they are reading it.”
While they were each finishing up concluding chapters, Michael’s mother died unexpectedly. It was a blow that ended up being a blessing for the book.
“Gerard told me, ‘When I am upset I write about it,’” remembers Michael. “But I’m not used to expressing my feelings.” Michael had written a dry, unemotional chapter that left himself out of the equation. Gerard and Jabari told him bluntly they hated it. After some reflection, he settled down to write from his heart. He titled the chapter, “Consistency,” and shared how the news rocked his world and how he had to choose, as a man of integrity, how to proceed in a character-driven manner.
He cites James 1:8, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Even though he was hit with a tragedy, he knew his reactions to the loss needed to be exhibited in an honorable way. He ended up writing what his friends say is probably his best work: “Being consistent in your character is simple and easy when you don’t have any adversity to test your fortitude and the foundation of your character. The repetitiveness of the chapter is designed to reflect the consistency needed in your character to deal with the holes in the road on your journey and the consistent choices you must make.”
Boys to Men
The Board of Directors launched their book tentatively, hitting some pot holes along the way. Yet, The Makings of a Man soon caught the attention of the Richland Library, a radio talk show host, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Sistercare, as well as educational institutions in Columbia and surrounding areas. Around 3,000 copies have sold thus far. A parent/teacher liaison at Sanders Middle School learned about the book and called to motivate them onto another road less traveled.
“It turned out that what we brought to the table excited people,” says Gerard, “especially those in the school system.”
The three were asked to visit Sanders regularly and work through the book with young boys. They, as Jabari puts it, “shot from the hip.” But when the same parent/teacher liaison suggested a full-blown, formal curriculum, they knew they had to get serious.
“We decided to approach it the same way we did with the book,” says Gerard. “We were given examples of other curricula because we had no idea. Then we each took our three chapters, put our spin on it and developed a curriculum.”
The curriculum, with a stylized look and quality graphics, includes overviews of each chapter, questions to prompt discussion, critical thinking motivators and activities — such as how to tie a tie. Launched in 2012, it also has a section for notes so that students can jot down ideas, points and stories.
In the past few years, numerous students have participated in the 10-session program, including mentored boys with Prosperity Project, an inner-city ministry. Currently, The Board of Directors is partnering with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to host a fourth Saturday of each month, one-hour, open-to-the-public session held at Benedict College of Continuing Education, 111 Doctors Circle, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., that deals with each chapter individually — so that those attending do not have to read the book in order to follow along. Mostly middle-to-high schoolers wander in, sometimes with a male figure, but often alone, and end up staying, listening and opening up about some issues pertaining to the curriculum.
Gerard, Michael and Jabari all admit that they envisioned publishing grandeur during the book-writing process. However, they now see the fruits of their labors in smaller, less monetary-related ways — but in ways they hope will have monumental, lasting effects in the lives of those benefitting from The Makings of a Man and the corresponding curriculum.
The Makings of a Dream
What started as one book and then a curriculum has evolved into another book, The Makings of a Dream, published in December 2015. Often when the three have met with boys and young men, there are discussions about future goals and dreams. They are able to share the process of developing the book with their “audience” and tell participants how starting with a thought can develop into tangible ideas and then into action. “It’s all about finding your gifts and then doing something about it,” says Jabari. “People can think and talk about things, but if they don’t take actions then nothing happens.”
The three sections focus on what to do, how to do it and then just doing it. “It takes initiative and action to go after a dream,” says Gerard.
Another outshoot of The Board of Directors’ collaboration has been a bi-monthly podcast on the TheMakingsofaMan.com website that “invites” anyone interested in their unique, sometimes humorous and always thought-provoking lunchtime conversations. Essentially, the podcast is a peek at what prompted their endeavor in the first place. “We try to give the audience something to think about each time,” says Gerard.
Gerard, Michael and Jabari are currently thinking about how they would like to ultimately have an in-city school for boys where the principles outlined in their books and curriculum could be applied “from the ground up.” Seeing young boys grow into manhood and taking responsibility, planning, communicating, leading, discovering gifts and defining success — all sections outlined in their books — has become a heartfelt passion.
The three friends and business associates agree that their involvement in helping boys become men is a daunting task, one that requires an extra measure of accountability to one another and to those they reach. Regular prayer and the Word of God informs, guides and drives them.
They never imagined any of this when they began meeting for lunch, and they have no idea what is around the corner. Many people envision writing a book one day. Gerard, Michael and Jabari actually sat down and did it — and their only hope is that it makes a difference. As they write in the preface of their most recent release, The Makings of a Dream: “Your ‘silly idea’ may just change the course of mankind forever or, at the very least, change the life of one person for the better.”