By RON FANFAIR
Growing up in Orangeville was challenging and sometimes painful for Jalen Velinor.
“It was so very different from Toronto where I was born,” said the second-year York University psychology student. “I was subjected to racial slurs and I was constantly harassed. I never felt at home there.”
Fuelled by his father’s sage advice, Velinor – who aspires to attend law school – didn’t allow the adversity to overwhelm him.
“As a young Black man, you can’t expect anything to be given to you,” his dad told him. “Jalen, you have to work five times harder than your peers to be successful. You have to take what’s yours not by force, but with hard work and perseverance.”
A snapshot of the 16 years Velinor spent in the south central Ontario town is captured in a recently released book.
Manhood: Chronicles of Sex, Strength & Identity, is the third in a series of books featuring words and experiences surrounding loss, death, trauma and restoration.
Velinor is among 45 males from Canada and the United States who shared their stories of resiliency, forgiveness and life in the book.
“Sex, strength and identity, unlike fatherhood, are not uniquely male issues, yet they are quintessential to the male identity,” Zamani Thomas, the book’s curator, wrote in the introduction. “In this book, we attempt to tap into manhood and what it is through the most personal ways possible in the form of stories, tales and essays. The definition of a man is not lucid. We currently reside in a world where kids are raised by two mothers or fathers, female bread winners and/or protectors. Simultaneously, the notion of being overly emotional no longer discounts a man from being a man.”
David McCallum, who spent 29 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, is one of two Americans featured in the book.
In 1985, McCallum and his friend, William Stuckey – both 16 years old at the time and from Brooklyn – were arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of Nathan Blenner, a 20-year-old White male from Queens, New York.
Opting to go to trial instead of accepting a plea deal because they knew they were innocent, McCallum and Stuckey – who had made false confessions that they later retracted – were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
With help from the late Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, McCallum – who had exhausted his federal appeals by 1993 and had written almost 600 letters pleading for assistance – was set free in October 2014 after the district attorney determined there was not a single piece of evidence that linked him or Stuckey – who died in prison of a heart attack in 2001 – to Blenner’s abduction or death.
“During my incarceration, I had the opportunity to talk to several fathers who had not seen their children for years, sometimes decades, but managed to do their best attempting to raise them from behind bars as much as possible,” McCallum wrote in the book. “Witnessing this up close dispelled some of the myths and misconceptions associated with incarcerated fathers. Although I have no children of my own at this point in my life, I have a new respect and view of incarcerated fathers because I know there are some inside doing the right thing by their children.”
The book series emanated from workshops sex assault survivor, Tara Muldoon, held across Toronto beginning six years ago in which guest speakers spoke of their transition from victims to survivors. When she came around to the point where she could forgive her attacker, Muldoon started the “F-You: The Forgiveness Project”.
“This project has assembled a collection of male voices representing a broad range of ages, races, cultures and ethnicities with the goal of bringing the reader as full an understanding of the male identity,” said Boston-born Thomas who was raised in Canada and has an entertainment law practice in Miami. “F-You is always looking for new avenues to share contributions submitted by regular people inspired to spread their honest thoughts.”
Two-time Juno Award nominee, Solitair, was part of a team that reviewed the submitted stories, quotes and poems.
“The quality of the submissions was high,” said the artist, producer, songwriter and studio engineer. “I was blown away by the material…it’s a matter of leading by example. The onus is on us who are comfortable and confident in speaking out about issues that affect men in general and Black men specifically to start a conversation.”
The book is available at www.thefyouproject.ca.