An Ordinary Disaster
Brothers and Teachers
E15 / Behind the Mask with Ashanti Branch

E15 / Behind the Mask with Ashanti Branch

Discipline, adulthood, intimacy and the range of deep connection, giving room to explore someone’s thinking, the power of positive confrontation, and the Million Mask Movement

This conversation is part of a series of interviews with various brothers and teachers, including many fellow writers, all of which are part of the body of work surrounding my book-length memoir An Ordinary Disaster—one man's proof that we can all learn to listen to ourselves, and to act upon the inner voice of our self, our sanity and our soul.

Today, I'm speaking with Ashanti Branch, who is a pioneer in education reform and in youth mental health. Ashanti is the founder and executive director of The Ever Forward Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting marginalized students in their journey towards graduation from high school by providing them emotional tools and mental health support. Ashanti is a keynote speaker and advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General, a Fulbright fellow, and a four-time TEDx speaker.

Raised in Oakland by a single mom on welfare, Ashanti found his passion while tutoring struggling students in a school with a majority of African-American and Latino students. It broke his heart to see 40% of these students want to drop out at such a young age. By helping to fulfill their deeper emotional needs to feel safe, be seen and heard, The Ever Forward Club has helped 100% of its student members graduate from high school, 90% of them enroll in higher education, and has also achieved a 0% incarceration rate compared to the national incarceration rate, which is 8% for black males, age 20 to 24.

Most recently, Ashanti and The Ever Forward Club have formed The Million Mask Movement, dedicated to helping young people reveal their true selves and find out how much they have in common with their peers.

Ashanti and I met through EVRYMAN, one of the leading organizations for men's work and men's groups, and reconnected at the suggestion of one of my previous guests, Michael McDowell. Ashanti and I are both natives of the San Francisco Bay Area, and we are both passionate about helping young men to grow and become more whole.

As you listen, you might scan the questions at the bottom of the show notes, or just consider this: what is the mask that you're wearing, and what part of yourself would you reveal if you took it off?

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Show Notes

Some of the topics that we cover in our talk:

Choosing to prioritize health, and healthier eating. Wanting to show up as his best self.

The meaning of discipline.

What it means to be an adult.

Intimacy, sex and the range of deep connection.

Thinking “wrong” and giving room to explore someone’s thinking.

The power of positive confrontation.

The Million Mask Movement.

You can find Ashanti at, The Ever Forward Club and Million Mask Movement, as well as @branchspeaks on Instagram.

The music is The Mask by the Fugees.

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I’ve got some questions for you… please join the conversation.

  1. What have you learned lately that has changed the way that you live?

  2. What values do you embody, in your own life?

  3. What does discipline mean to you, and what’s your own relationship with discipline? (I wrote about my own in Someone Else’s Discipline…)

  4. What does intimacy mean to you, especially in a non-sexual context?

  5. What is the mask that you're wearing, and what part of yourself would you reveal if you took it off?

  6. How do you confront someone in a positive way, with love and respect?

Please join the conversation by answering any or all of these in the comments below.

And finally, please don’t forget to let me know that you enjoyed this episode by clicking that cute little red heart ❤️down below ↓

An Ordinary Disaster
Brothers and Teachers
This show is a series of conversations with and about people who embody positive presence, talking about identity, addiction, depression, adventure, intuition, love, relationships, gender, sexuality—and becoming ourselves as much as possible. It's also an effort to honor people who who have been teachers, who I love and respect, and who I want to get to know more deeply. In short, a way to highlight people doing and being good in the world.