When influential anti-violence educator Jackson Katz, Ph.D., took the stage as keynote speaker at a men-only dinner sponsored by YWCA Evanston/North Shore  in late April, YWCA’s men’s engagement coordinator and violence prevention educator Antonio Rice had only an inkling of the impact and movement Katz’s talk would spark.
Katz, a filmmaker and author whose work is focused on combatting sexism, argues that violence against women is really a men’s issue. He believes the problem is rooted in outmoded ideals of manhood, and is reinforced in every corner of our culture, from advertising, to sports, to politics. His powerful TED Talk  on the topic has struck a chord with male and female audiences alike.
Katz wants to flip the script on domestic violence and turn men into “empowered bystanders” who speak up and create a peer culture where abuse is not only illegal but unacceptable.
At the YWCA dinner, Katz delivered this message to nearly 200 men in leadership roles throughout northern Cook County, such as Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty, Glencoe Public Safety Director Cary Lewandowski, Niles Village Manager Steven Vinezeano, Northbrook Bank /Wintrust ’s Jasen Toussaint, and members of the Northwestern University  football team.
Katz’s presentation made a definite impact. “I came away thinking we need to incorporate this into our athletic department,” says Chris Livatino, who attended the men’s dinner and serves as athletic director at Evanston Township High School  (ETHS). “With our young athletes, we talk about race, inclusivity and micro-aggressions, and it makes sense that we need to include education and training about gender violence, too.”
Livatino was just one of many men who left the dinner wanting to take action. This makes Rice’s eyes light up. “I get excited because what could happen is wonderful,” says Rice, who leads YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s work to get men involved in addressing domestic violence. “We know from work done in other communities and from research that once men are educated and can talk to each other, violence really decreases.”
This hunger for action has led to the creation of a Men’s Leadership Project, which YWCA is launching later this fall.
“We’ve had several meetings with other leaders, like men from the City of Evanston  and Northwestern University, who are interested in what we can achieve together,” says Rice. “The feedback has been unbelievable. They all say ‘I’m on board’ or ‘We want to be part of this.’”
This enthusiastic support has encouraged and facilitated the quick turnaround of the Men’s Leadership Project, which draws heavily on the work of Jackson Katz and builds on YWCA’s anti-violence education programs for young men, such as Allied Against Violence .
“The goal of the Men’s Leadership Project is to prepare men to work as allies with women and girls to prevent domestic violence and create healthy relationships,” says Rice. “Men who participate will get the skills they need to serve as leaders and mentors.”
The pilot training program this fall will focus on topics such as defining healthy masculinity, identifying the impact of media stereotypes, understanding domestic violence, learning how to intervene as a bystander, and increasing knowledge about sexual assault and human trafficking. It will be conducted in four to five sessions led by Rice and his colleague, Brian McHugh.
Rice says that simply having conversations on these topics can lead to new ways of thinking. As an example, he talks about his work with teenage boys and the initial answers they give when he asks what it means to be a strong man. “They typically say men with a lot of money and power, or celebrities, or men with a lot of girlfriends” he says. “But then when I ask them to talk about the strongest men in their own lives, they say, ‘My granddad because he’s always been there for me,’ or something similar. I help them see the disconnect.”
Rice adds, “I tell the men I’ve been meeting with how much these young guys need us — that this is one reason we need to engage older men.”
Participants in the first Men’s Leadership training will include representatives from local schools, the City of Evanston, Northwestern University and other organizations.
The organizers and participants also hope that the program and training will create new opportunities for conversation and mobilization. “We’re not sure who will participate in the training this fall,” says Livatino. “But we’re working with the YWCA on creating an educational model specifically for our coaches — so they can get the knowledge and skills they need. Our goal at ETHS isn’t just to win games and develop athletes, but also to develop the best citizens.”
Rice is quick to emphasize that the program would be valuable for anyone, not just institutions. “Any male in any group can benefit from this training program,” he says.
And society will benefit too as men and women forge new alliances. “We are breaking the cycle of violence and letting women know that we’re on the front lines with them,” Rice says.
YWCA Evanston/North Shore invites you to raise a glass to the collective power of women to change the world at a special YWomen 10th anniversary celebration on Friday, Nov. 10, at Venue One North Shore (the former Berto Center) in Deerfield. The event will recognize YWomen Leadership honorees from the past decade and reflect on YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s transformative work over the past 80 years. Make It Better is proud to be a longtime supporter of YWCA’s work and a sponsor of the YWomen 10th anniversary event. To learn more and purchase tickets, go to ywomen17.gesture.com .