Troy Kemp poses for a picture during an event called My Brother’s Keeper at the University Center on Thursday, November 1, 2018. (Photo by Elian Richter)

By Dewayne Bingham, Staff Writer—

Local poet Dee Hall and Executive Director of the National Center for the Development of Boys, Troy Kemp, spoke at an expo to kick off Men’s Health Awareness Month on campus.

The expo, titled “My Brother’s Keeper,” was hosted by Sigma Chi and the Student Government Association, among numerous other student organizations.

Spoken word poet Dee Hall opened by drawing connections between mental illness and the concept of masculinity with verses as smooth as they were meaningful.

A central theme in Hall’s spoken word was emotion, and how societal dynamics have shaped the expectation for men to express themselves in terms of success and power rather than with their thoughts or feelings.

Kemp, who has built a career around teaching, coaching, and mentoring boys, echoed this cry for a change in the way young men define themselves.

Before stepping into his role as Executive Director of the National Center for the Development of Boys, Kemp spent years channeling his supportive energy into students at The McCallie School in math class and on the lacrosse field. He also served as Dean of Admission and Associate Headmaster at McCallie.

Kemp stressed that mental illness is affecting male high school and college students in the forms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders at unprecedented rates.

To illustrate this grave reality, Kemp referenced a study conducted on Center for Disease Control data by Tom Mortenson, titled For Every 100 Girls.

Mortenson, who serves on the Advisory Board of the National Center for the Development of Boys, points out in this study that for every one hundred females aged 15-19 who commit suicide, so do 549 males, and for every hundred females aged 20-24 who commit suicide, so do 624 males.

According to Kemp, suicide rates are higher in young men because, influenced by the social pressures referenced by Dee Hall, they feel a greater need for control and lack the capacity to be vulnerable.

“Part of the challenge we have is like trying to paint the outside of a building,” Kemp said about changing the way young men understand and express their feelings.

“You can’t put a fresh coat of paint on, just like you can’t teach somebody something new until you get the old paint off … The old paint is what a lot of young men think it means to be a man, why they won’t get help, why they won’t try, why they won’t communicate.”

One piece of advice Kemp offered to listeners was to use social media more intentionally, and to simply be present in moments spent with friends and family.

“Boys need a place where personal sacrifice contributes to a collective experience,” Kemp said. Unsubscribing from the “on-demand relationships,” social media offers and investing in others, finding a “crew with a cause,” are ways young men can begin to repaint their masculinity and better understand how to live with mental illness.

Expressing gratitude, committing acts of kindness, and simply asking for help may all seem like steep tasks in times of hardship, but Kemp encouraged listeners to take those risky steps in defying the standard for male sensitivity and taking control of their mental health.

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