In June 2008, Rob stepped down as executive director of the Men’s Resource Center for Change. A central part of the organization since 1992, Rob delivered a “farewell address” at the MRC’s 12th annual Challenge & Change awards dinner on May 4th. What follows is an edited version of his remarks.

Yesterday, a number of MRC staff and volunteers marched with our banner in the annual Northampton Pride March where we celebrated the rights and lives of the LGBTQ community. It was, as it is each year we march, heartwarming to be among the thousands celebrating gay rights. And it was heartwarming to hear recognition for the MRC from the throngs along the parade route.

Today, May 4th, is another important date to mark. On May 4, 1970—38 years ago—four students were shot and killed and several others wounded at Kent State University in Ohio. National Guard troops had opened fire on an anti-war protest staged after then-president Richard M. Nixon reported he had secretly ordered a bombing campaign on Cambodia, widening the illegal Vietnam War. Days later, Mississippi State troopers killed two students and wounded 12 others at Jackson State University. The war had come home.

Here we are today, 40 years and one month after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—whose spirit I invite into this room. Here we are today, five years and counting into the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wars that, despite the glut of images we have access to daily, remain antiseptically distant from us.

Despite all the gains social change movements have made on so many fronts over the past four decades—and, take heart! there have been many—we have not yet been able to stop the blood that stains our nation’s hands. From our vantage at the MRC, we understand well that the way boys are socialized on our school yards, playgrounds, and athletic fields sows the bitter seeds too many men reap on the killing fields in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. We see the connection between men who’ve been over-trained to fight and under-trained to love.

At the Men’s Resource Center we know that domestic violence and abuse and international violence and abuse are branches of the same poisoned tree. Just ask the vets coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq struggling to return to their lives, struggling to return their marriages, struggling to return to their families.

Thursday night I was privileged to attend a special event for a sister organization, Safe Passage, at which the First Lady of the Commonwealth, Diane Patrick, spoke. It was a wonderful evening and the Governor’s wife gave a moving, personal account of the abusive marriage she struggled to escape long before her marriage to Gov. Patrick. I had an opportunity to speak with the First Lady before her talk and was gratified to hear her acknowledge her appreciation that more and more men are trying to do our part. In her remarks she said, “God bless the Men’s Resource Center.” How wonderful. Every week in groups in all four counties of western Massachusetts—from North Adams across to Athol, from Springfield up to Greenfield—the MRC sees, up close and personal, the devastating effects of what happens when men act abusively. We work with men who have been ordered—or strongly encouraged—to attend our 40-week groups. We teach these men alternatives to violence and abuse, offering them a chance to rethink harmful beliefs about exerting power and control over another and how to adopt new, nonviolent ways of being. And, we offer the women whose partners or ex-partners are in those groups a range of services—all for free.

At the same time, we also work with men who aren’t acting abusively. Thanks to a team of dedicated volunteers, we offer five groups every week in Amherst, Northampton and Greenfield where men can sit together sharing the ups and downs of their lives in a safe and confidential environment. And, our Young Men of Color leadership group, is another safe place—this one for high school age young men to talk, to begin the journey to healthy manhood together.

There is a simultaneous truth I’d like you to consider: while men perpetrate the majority of violence in the world, the majority of men are not violent. It is within this simultaneous truth that the Men’s Resource Center for Change works to fulfill our mission of “supporting men, challenging men’s violence, and developing men’s leadership to end oppression in our lives, our families and communities and our world.” It remains an ambitious mission more than a quarter of a century after our organization first began to grow.

From my earliest association with the MRC, what has captivated me about our organization is that it invites men to ask ourselves, “What does it mean to be a man?  What does it means to show up in this world? To be accountable. To find our truest voice—and then to speak it. To champion safety for women, for children, for ourselves, for other men, for everyone. To develop our capacity as peacemakers. To exchange the privilege that invites men’s isolation for the liberation that comes with sharing power and paves the way for connection.

We are fortunate to live in this amazing corner of the world where hope, support and great love exist in such abundance. These are among the riches awaiting us as men if we are willing to risk confronting our own fears. An evening such as our Challenge & Change annual awards dinner allows us to be nourished, to have our thirst for hope and possibility—if not fully satisfied—at least quenched for a while as we step more fully into the world to share our message of challenge and change.

In just the last few years I’ve had opportunities to represent the MRC around the country, speaking at conferences, colleges, and schools in a number of places including Los Angeles, Charlotte, Portland. In the past several months, I’ve brought our message to students at Boston College and Tufts; at MIT and Duke. In April, I spoke at Tulane University in New Orleans, where I was part of the tribe gathering to celebrate the 10th anniversary of V-Day, the marriage of art and activism that grew out of playwright Eve Ensler’s life-altering play, The Vagina Monologues. We gathered at the Superdome, site of such misery in the aftermath of Katrina. It was so moving—transforming that container of despair into a vessel of hope. I wrote about my experience for the progressive online news source, Alternet. The other day Eve Ensler’s office contacted me saying Eve wanted to post the piece, “V Day: Victory over Violence for Women and Men”, on their website. It encapsulates much of how I feel when I see the possibility of women and men working together.

Over these past 16 years, the MRC has been my home, a sanctuary, a place of growth, of struggle, of healing, of change. Although I am leaving the MRC, I am taking much with me—especially the powerful, creative energy we invite those involved with the MRC to maintain, a place to explore both social service and social change.

Let me share a story.

In a village, in early spring, not long after the snow has melted, is a river where something terrible is happening—babies were being thrown in the water and were floating downstream. Some villagers began lining the banks, working hard, day in and day out, pulling the children to safety.

Meanwhile, another group of villagers banded together and began making their way upstream to find out who was throwing the babies in the water and to devise a strategy for stopping them. What the first group of people were doing is social service; what the second group were doing is social change.

What makes the MRC unique is that it incorporates both approaches—providing real services to real people with real needs (pulling the babies out of the water, if you will) and agitating, advocating and educating about another way for men to be (going upstream to stop the perpetrators).

What I love so deeply about the MRC is that our mission, “supporting men, challenging men’s violence and developing men’s leadership to end oppression”, incorporates so much of what I believe. It has been a guide for me all these years, offering, in the balance between social service and social change, great hope and great possibility.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

That we have a responsibility as men not just to work on our own healing and individual growth, but to do so with other men. That we have a responsibility to do more than just grow and heal. That we have a responsibility to try and repair the world. That we mustn’t just take a stand privately against men’s violence; that we have to speak up about it. That we need to exchange our place on the sidelines of complacency for a place on the front lines of social change.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

Believe in men. Believe in our capacity to grow, to heal, to change.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

Talk to men about being men. Talk to young men, especially. Mentor them, challenge them. Invite them to think about and talk about the ways we’ve been socialized to be as men.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

To take a chance on ourselves and our brothers. As men we have a great opportunity to express ourselves about what isn’t working in our inner lives and in how we’ve behaving out in the world. Too many of us seem reticent to challenge our brothers—and ourselves—when we say or do things that are harmful and hurtful.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

To break the silence. It is not being a gender traitor to tell another man that his behavior is not okay with you. That part of redefining what it means to be a man means enlarging our definition of traditionally manly words—like courage. Sure, it’s courageous for a firefighter to rush into a burning building and save the children trapped inside. But it is also courageous to tell another that his anti-Arab or homophobic or sexist remark offends you and you want him to stop.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

To listen deeply to women. Women pushed open a portal for their own liberation four decades ago having reached a moment where they said, “Enough is enough!” They began expanding the definition of what it means to be a woman that has been growing ever since. There was, however, no sign on that door to their empowerment that said, “Women only!” As men, those of as who began to recognize the limitations of our restricted lives, as we tentatively began to explore our own liberation, we had to push past our resistance to confront our feelings of vulnerability. When we did we found a new world awaited us—of personal growth, of expanded emotional expression, of opening our hearts… of love… of self-care.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

I haven’t always applied those lessons as well as I might have. I have my moments of getting off track and have felt my conventional male socialization—my roots as a man—trying to regain a hold. You know the signs: not talking about what’s going on… isolating from those who love and care about you… oh, yeah—and denying that there’s anything wrong. Ask my family. They’ll tell you. Happily, over the years, I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms and am able to get back on track pretty quickly. (It sure helps to have a loving family.)

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

That the Men’s Resource Center offers a course correction for men: all we have to do is get out of our own way—to not be too stubborn to put on our seat belts and head out on the open road, ready to explore our own truths.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

To keep speaking up and speaking out. In the days ahead I intend to do just that—writing op-eds and commentaries, speaking to audiences of young people—agitating, advocating and educating for men’s hopes, men’s healing, men’s hearts.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

To keep collaborating with women and men. Women and men in organizations here, around the country, and around the world. I will take with me the inspiration I’ve gotten from the men and women I work with, keeping especially keeping close to my heart—the staff of the MRC. This extraordinary group of people—you have been like family to me—bring to life an extraordinary vision: men and women collaborating, working together for peace and wholeness, heart by heart, family by family, community by community. Thank you, Staff!

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

That I may be leaving the MRC but the highest values and aspirations that the MRC represents will always be a part of me.

I may be leaving the MRC, but I am not leaving this work. The work goes on.

I may be leaving the MRC, but I am not leaving the struggle. The struggle goes on.

I may be leaving the MRC, but I am not leaving the world of possibility. The world of possibility, of so much possibility, goes on.

At the core of all this possibility is joy. The joy of connection, the joy of putting your shoulder to the wheel of change, of feeling your muscles, taut and ready… leaning in, pushing off.

What have I learned in my years at the MRC?

That I have been fortunate to have had the MRC as a place to put my shoulder to the wheel of change. Its imprint will be with me always.