PHOTO: Craig Hughes, DPR recreation specialist at Emery Heights Recreation Center (light blue shirt in the center), poses with members of the Man Cave planning committee after one of their meetings./ Photo courtesy of Krystal Branton
On the weekend of Father’s Day, a gathering space will affirm its reputation as a prominent community fixture by morphing into a “Man Cave,” created specifically for boys and men in the neighborhood seeking fun and genuine intergenerational connections.
For Maureen Brown, mother of six sons and longtime resident of Brightwood community in Northwest, the timing of the Man Cave event at Emery Heights Community Center couldn’t have been better. Brown, whose children have played team sports there, said the young men in her neighborhood, now more than ever, need a safe place where they can meet older, positive male figures.
“I feel like a lot of the guys in their 20s don’t frequent Emery. The Man Cave event could give them a good perspective of what it’s about,” Brown told AllEyesOnDC, adding that older men, too could build relationships with their sons this during the event this upcoming Saturday. “I hope things like this could get the fathers involved. A lot of dads are absent because of neglect, incarceration, or just being killed on the street. It’s much different now.” Brown said.
Two out of five young men in the Brightwood and Manor Park communities live without their father in the home, according to data collected by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, based in Baltimore. While the lack of a male presence in the home has led to catastrophic outcomes in some cases, many young people have found mentors and father figures in the coaches at Emery who often impart life lessons on the field or court.
The Man Cave event builds upon the range of the offerings available to young visitors of Emery Heights, including a football and baseball program. When community members enter Emery Heights on Saturday morning, they will get to indulge in a variety of foods, courtesy of neighborhood restaurants, watch step shows and drill demonstrations, play in sports tournaments, and hear short remarks from male community leaders. WHUR 96.3’s Tony Richards will give a keynote address. The June 17th event will kick off a series of follow-up gatherings and workshops, each one focused on an aspect of the adolescent male experience.
“This is an opportunity for fathers and sons to come together and give the fathers a place in the family. I want whatever male figures in those young people lives to be recognized,” Craig Hughes, a recreation specialist at the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation of 30 years and a lead coordinator of Man Cave at Emery Heights, told AllEyesOnDC. Hughes, juggling responsibilities as a baseball coach, with other coaches, community leaders, and men of various ages, held weekly planning meetings since the beginning of the year.
“The sports program [at Emery] has been phenomenal but sports are only one piece,” Hughes added. “We’re talking about mentoring and tutoring our youth. What kind of impact are we collectively making in our young men’s lives? Let’s help them navigate through life and see what’s coming as they get older.”
In addition to the D.C. Department of Parks & Recreation, community partners include Nation of Islam Mosque #4, Metropolitan Police Department, D.C. Commission of Fathers, Men, and Boys, Ward 4 D.C. Council member Brandon Todd’s office, and ANC Commissioner Krystal Branton (Single Member District 4D05), the mind behind Man Cave. At the beginning of the year, Branton reached out to Emery Heights about housing the Man Cave program.
“Each year, we have Father’s Day, but it’s not as celebrated or popular. This would be a great time to have Man Cave. Men gather and have their spaces in the basement or shed. It’s relatable and men take pride in it,” Branton told AllEyesOnDC. Branton announced her plans for Man Cave during the ANC 4D’s last monthly meeting of 2016 amid spirited discussion about youth overlooked in the pockets of development taking place across Ward 4.
“Their space is to be open and honest like a barbershop. It’s symbolic and gives us a chance to gather those who don’t have anyone to spend Father’s Day with. It’s a way to start a great community tradition. We don’t have anything like this in Ward 4 that I know of and the reception from the community is enormous. Folks are willing to donate their time and resources and that’s greatly needed,” Branton added.