The Abandonment T-shirts Project is currently on display at Bethel Center, located at 1140 N. Lamon. The project was a medium for young men to express their inner thoughts about feeling lost, forgotten, overlooked or alienated.

Just Us Fellas Male Mentoring Group spearheaded the effort under the leadership of Steven Evans, the organization’s founder and executive director. Evans was motivated to pursue organizing the project when several male students of the AASTA School (Applied Arts and Sciences Technical Academy), located at 730 N. Pulaski, suggested doing a self-expression T-shirt exhibit as a counterpoint to the exhibit several female students had displayed throughout the school about how they felt after emotionally traumatic experiences such as molestation.

Evans organized a cohort group of 25 young men to participate in the project. Several teachers at the high school, including Wanda Evans, Steven’s wife, who teaches Spanish at the school, hand-selected each participant for the project.

“I came up with the idea of doing T-shirts with the theme of abandonment because I felt it was universal among men, old and young alike,” said Evans. “Whether they come from a home where their father was not around or they feel isolated from their peers, every man has some experience with feeling unwanted in some capacity.”

During the workshop to prepare the shirts, Evans used himself as a guiding force for the young men. He told them of his own feelings of abandonment from his father who had a problem with alcoholism and was generally unable to be there for him during the pivotal moments of his life, such as when he and Wanda exchanged vows.

Although the T-Shirts Project focuses primarily on fathers, some boys shared feelings about their mothers or a significant other as well.

“I encouraged them not to hold back,” said Evans. “I wanted them to just let it flow naturally. The workshop was all about letting those feelings out and putting them in a communicative form, whether it was written or pictured, scarcely mattered. I wanted them to know that their inner feelings are worth sharing.”

LeBrandon Hickey, AASTA student and assistant director of the JUF, based his T-shirt on his strained relationship with his father. Entitled: “MJ Son LV Curse, A Gift That Came From the Worst,” the shirt is a collection of clipped quotes and recollections about how he feels about his estrangement from his father, as well as his rapid growth to manhood, motivating him to persevere despite his father’s neglect.

LeBrandon even ripped the sleeves to symbolically imply his growth from abandoned child to strong, resolute man.

“One thing that I felt was interesting about the project was the fact that the older guys wrote in a tone of a young child, while the younger guys wrote in a tone of a young man much older,” said Hickey. “It showed me how much these older men have learned to suppress their inner feelings under a shield of masculine indifference and by doing so, set the stage for self-destructive activities that will negatively affect their lives in the future. It was a great way to allow young men to deal with their inner turmoil in a productive way.”

The exhibit will be on display at the Bethel Center until August 11.