Nearly 150 men, many of whom were father’s and husbands, gathered at WVON Radio’s first Men’s Retreat at Malcolm X College this past Saturday.

The event, hosted by WVON 1690 Radio personalities Roland Martin, also editor of the Chicago Defender, and Curtis Monday.

The retreat, taking place at MXC, 1900 W. Van Buren, brought out men to network, sip coffee, share personal experiences and absorb the words of scholars and religious leaders.

Martin and Monday began planning the event in October of last year when callers to the station began clamoring for such an event – just for black men. Callers wanted, the organizer’s pointed out, an event to allow them to “bridge the gap” between older and younger men, and create a better understanding of where the modern day black male stands in the eyes of America, and what must be done to establish a foundation for the future.

“I don’t want this to be like a class setting where we talk and you listen without giving input,” said Martin. “The purpose of this retreat is to learn from each other, because we all have stories to tell and opinions on the issues that most impact our lives.”

The retreat, lasting from morning to afternoon, was divided in hour-long segments. The first allowed those in attendance to introduce themselves and gain comfort from their obvious commonality: a shared desire to postpone other obligations to speak to other men about important issues. There were also regular breaks allowing the men to speak to one another.

Speakers shared ideas about the current state of the black male. Their focus’ included religion, economics, politics and fatherhood.

“It’s a special thing when men take action,” said Monday. “When you walk with purpose, you become effective and efficient, and are able to reason more critically. You begin to ask pointed questions such as ‘why can we clone sheep but cannot rid our communities of drugs?'”

The event speakers included: Dr. Dennis Kimbro, whose renowned principles on achievement have been chronicled in three books and several keynote addresses on the subject; Dr. Carl Bell, author of several medical journal articles on violence prevention; Rev. Senator James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church; and Haki Madhubuti, founder of Third World Press, the country’s largest publisher of African-American literature.

Madhubuti, spoke about fatherhood and black pride. He reminisced of growing up fatherless in the 1960s, his own six children, all of whom are highly successful, and the way that he approached raising them and building their sense of self.

“My mother was a beautiful woman, but she had no skills, forcing her to work in grocery stores or bars, and my sister and I did not have the strong male influence we needed growing up,” he said.

Madhubuti said that being a good husband and father may be the most difficult task facing African-American men, adding that fathers are the missing links in the lives of many young African-Americans. In the increasingly dangerous world, absent fathers, Madhubuti said, add tremendously to the insecurity of children.

Madhubuti encouraged black fathers to positively impact their children’s lives.

“Be conscious of building self-esteem and self-love in your children,” he said. “Provide a cultural home where self-images are positive and warm, where African-American culture is lived and taught in a natural and non-dogmatic manner.”

Rev. Meeks began his discussion on religion, and the castration of black men by noting the four methods of “symbolically stripping men of their manhood.”

These methods are making sure they remain uneducated, making sure they cannot obtain employment, cutting off their view to God and making sure they have a lack of access to capitol. These methods, Meeks said, have been in place in one form or another for hundreds of years, except now, they have been placed far beneath the surface.

“Seventeen percent of the nations public school are black. Nearly 40 percent are in special education classes, and 80 percent of them are boys,” said Meeks. “Are you going to tell me that all of these children have learning deficiencies, or are their other issues at work? Many children who are placed in these categories are on the fast track to jail. They have already been given up on.”

Meeks also noted that the number of higher education programs available to inmates in 1990 was 385. Merely seven years later, the number had dropped to an astonishing six statewide, Meeks estimated. He added that there is a greater need for satellite feed to teach hundreds of inmates reading, math and the sciences while in prison. Meeks’ church has a feed to allow inmates to watch his services, but the prison board refuses to allow educational programming through it, Meeks said.

“By not allowing this method of educating inmates, it places them in a position of almost assured recidivism once released. They have few prospects for employment, few skills and perhaps even, no place to live,” said Meeks. “This is just a form of stripping the man of his manhood. When he is not in control of his education, economic status or spirituality, he is emasculated. This must not be the fate of our generation or the one that follows.”

“In life we all are here for a distinct purpose, not unlike the microphone I speak into,” Meeks added. “It is the responsibility of every man here to know his purpose. He must know how it can impact those in the community, and know how to become educated and spiritually-enlightened enough to use it to overcome the four methods of keeping our people down. We must make the change, and it starts by doing what we are doing right now: listening and interfacing with each other to discuss solutions.”