Growing up without his biological father left Ryan King with a void that he desperately tried to fill.
King, who found inspiration from his namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., says he wants others without a father in their life to see their gifts, talents, passions, separate from that bond.
“I used to say he was my father … His last name was King … and not only that, we had the same background. He was dedicated to community, and I was. He was dedicated to the church, I was – as a deacon, as an usher,” said King.
King is one of six men, whose stories of failed exams, teenage fatherhood and struggles with identity are chronicled in a new book, Emerging Men: Transformational Stories of Hope, Inspiration and Purpose,
Tara Hall, who owns Inspired Solutions, a company based in Norwich that offers success training to individuals and businesses, brought the stories of the six men together.
She had previously helped publish a collection about leadership and women, and Hall said she wanted to publish a similar book for men, based on the stories she’d heard in her 20 years working in social services.
“I just remembered a lot of the different narratives that I was l taking in over the years, working with men. Working with fathers who were displaced out of the home, maybe some of them were in jail, some of them were battling with issues with mental health and addiction … being in the family court, being in child protective services and having to deal with custody matters,” said Hall.
At the heart of their experiences is the effort to carve out their own identities and become active participants in their communities.
Kevin Booker Jr., who until recently sat on the New London City Council, contributed a chapter about living as a part of a historically disenfranchised community. As a Black male, he said, he often felt he was stereotyped — “boxed in,” as he put it — by other people’s expectations, biases and racism.
“As a person who has been historically disenfranchised, I have to navigate through those white spaces on a daily basis,” said Booker.
New London is one of sixteen towns in the state, Booker said, that is home to a majority population of people who have been historically disenfranchised.
Booker wrote about the feeling that less was expected of him – from being placed in a special academy for low-performing students, to being told he wasn’t college material. He was given tasks that didn’t help him develop skills and was denied the mentorship he saw others receiving during his internship with a Fortune 500 company.
Today, Booker owns a company, Booker Empowerment, which offers training in leadership and diversity, equity and inclusion. He also teaches at Connecticut College.
“I tell my students, tap into your greatness, don’t worry about what other people think of you and the labels they put on you. You continue striving for excellence. Continue excelling, being your authentic self and being that person who God has ordained you to be,” he said.
Faith, yoga and meditation
Mintu Nath, who is originally from Bangladesh, wrote about failing his accounting exam after his rickshaw fell into a hole on the way to the testing center during monsoon season. Nath said he wanted his story to inspire young men to keep going even when things don’t work out.
Nath said that practicing his Hindu faith through yoga and meditation shaped who he was and helped him confront difficult periods.
“Without those specific practice rituals and activities, I wouldn’t be able to overcome those challenges and obstacles that I have faced over my entire career,” he said. “I traveled to more than 12 countries and then settled down in this beautiful country Mongolia. And it wouldn’t have been possible without faith, because sometimes I’m just alone in a city and I don’t have money. I just have this vast knowledge of serving people and all that.”
Nath, who today teaches at the University of Finance and Economics in Mongolia and acts as a success trainer and inspirational speaker, said it’s important to give young people the opportunity to make choices about their futures and to help them develop what he called “soft skills.”
“In our society, we are not giving freedom of choices to our children,” said Nath. “We always give them everything they need, but we are not teaching them how to form certain decisions for their life.”
King and Booker told CT Examiner that they had to cast aside certain expectations about manhood that were pushed upon them during childhood.
King said he was interested in entertainment and in the church — not sports.
He was told not to cry.
“I’m a very emotional person, even when it comes to crying. And a lot of times I would keep that behind closed doors,” said King.
King said he also spent a lot of time coming to terms with who he was, trying to get beyond “labels” like “Black,” “gay” and “special education.” He said he felt it was important for young people to identify themselves by their gifts and talents rather than seeking status through position, money or relationships.
“Sometimes we, as men, or even as humans, we get caught up in the titles. And [when] we no longer have that title, we fall into depression. We fall into anger,” he said.
Booker said he wanted to show young men that expressing emotions is a positive thing.
“Wipe your tears. Man up. Those are comments that I heard when I was a kid. So, to this day as a grown man, I still don’t cry — even at funerals. So that’s the impact that that has had on my life,” said Booker. “Now that I’m an adult, I always encourage my students, men, or women, male or female, to tap into your emotions, because that is extremely important.
Hall said the point of the book was to teach young boys early on that they could choose, and follow, a path to success, and move beyond their current circumstances.
Each of the authors said they expect their future work to revolve around bringing people together — whether bridging divides of race, religion, and gender identity, confronting systems of racism and oppression or creating a world of global citizens.
King said he wanted to see the end to violence and hatred between groups in society, and Booker said he wanted to work alongside younger generations for a better planet. Nath said his hope was for a world in which countries would no longer have boundaries and travel would be much easier.
“I want to make the entire world like a village so that we can reach anybody for help and create the network to make our life better,” said Nath.