By Tom Holmes
Growing up, Zachary Draves said he idolized traditional male, pop culture icons Michael Jordan, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and John Travolta. He realized his masculine identity through their terms.
"I first saw Grease when I was eight years old and it's my favorite movie to this day," he said. "Travolta projected an image of masculinity that was very traditional and had a lot of charm."
Now 26-years-old, Draves has had more time to focus on what it means to be a man, and how he wants to treat women. In 2012, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that teens 16 to 19 years of age are more than three times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. The CDC report also found that approximately 1 in 5 female high school students reported being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
Draves aims to decrease these statistics. He is now employed by the Pillars Community Health domestic violence shelter as a Male Ally Domestic Violence Educator, and works with Proviso East High School social workers and students to reduce those numbers by helping the boys at Proviso East redefine their masculine identities.
"I go out into the community and give presentations about domestic violence, dating violence, and family violence," said Draves, adding: "I'm especially focused on reaching out to male dominated spaces to talk about what us men can do to stop domestic violence and take a hard look at what it means to be a man in this society."
Draves is working to set up a group at Proviso East in which boys can have discussions about masculinity and gender violence. He and school collaborators have the vision of the gathering becoming something of a support group, which would meet either during or after school. Although the group would be for boys only, it would have both a male and female facilitator so "they can see that men and women can actually work and lead together."
He wants to organize the group around the philosophy of nonprofit A Call to Men, whose website states that the organization aims to "help create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe."
Draves, who is also working on a master's in social work at Aurora University, hopes to implement a weekly program at Proviso East where athletes get together and talk for 15-minutes, maybe before practice, about things like healthy relationships, respect for women and healthy masculinity. The program, titled "Coaching Boys Into Men," would span 12 weeks. It was created by an organization called "Futures Without Violence," which believes that "athletic coaches play an extremely influential and unique role in the lives of young men, often serving as a parent or mentor to the boys they coach. Because of these special relationships, coaches are uniquely poised to positively influence how young men think and behave," according to its website.
"They will listen to someone who is a former athlete and who knows what the athletic world is like," Draves said. "I don't talk down to them nor do I say that they are the problem. We just have an open conversation. It's all about becoming more aware. Pointing fingers doesn't get you anywhere."
In high school, Draves played on the varsity basketball team, even going on to play college ball for two years at Rockford University. But he was bullied. He struggled to fit the different parts of his life into a coherent identity.
"School was kind of challenging in that regard," he recalled. "I was picked on a lot, had trouble making friends and had a lot of insecurities."
It was during his time as a college student that he developed a love for social work. His difficulty with relationships in high school made him sensitive to people around him who were having a rough time, which motivated him to help organize a domestic violence awareness month on campus.
Draves in not active in Forest Park proper, but that's partly because he's only been on the job for less than a year. He said he'd love to reach to the elementary and middle schools, student organizations, youth groups and churches, and adds that he tailors his presentations so they are appropriate for whatever age group he is addressing. To contact Draves, whose services are free, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Growing up, "I never really stopped to think about what it is to be a man," said Draves. For the youth of Forest Park and surrounding areas, Draves wants to change that.