2021 SEL Exchange Virtual Summit
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Blog - Ashanti Branch, M.Ed.

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9/18/2019 Blog - Ashanti Branch, M.Ed.
Ashanti Branch, M.Ed., Founder/Executive Director, The Ever Forward Club; Building Beloved Community Fellow Campaign for Black Male Achievement; Presidential Fellow, Saybrook University

Why do you believe the SEL field is gaining momentum and how do you hope the upcoming SEL Exchange captures and advances that momentum?
The SEL field is gaining momentum because every day parents, educators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders are realizing that the challenges we are facing to improve our schools and communities will not get better by hope alone.

Also, as social media has democratized storytelling and we now see research data connected with faces, images, real stories, and everyday people, the impact is getting more real. We are seeing people not only going through struggles, but in some of the saddest cases, losing their lives or taking the lives of others because there is a lack of emotional well-being, emotional intelligence, and emotional support.

I also believe that having more professional, famous, wealthy people speak out about their own challenges with mental health and well-being is awakening the world to a new reality and removing some of the previous stigma about these issues.

What is the project or initiative you’re working on that you’re most excited about?
The #100kMasks challenge is a campaign created to help people around the world realize how much we have in common. When I first saw the effect of the masks activity with eight young men from Oakland, California, I realized that maybe it had the potential to serve others as well. Our goal is to collect 100,000 masks from all over the world. We invite people to participate in a reflective activity that includes doing a drawing with six words that helps us realize there's more going on with us, and more going on with others than we would ever know by just looking at them..

Our only ask is that those #100kMasks ambassadors send us photos of their ‘”mask” 4x6 postcards so we can see the impact of our work around the world. We just launched a web-based app that will allow people to anonymously make their mask online and become a part of a global movement. Check out our song, video, web gallery, and documentary trailer.

At the Exchange you’ll be participating in a conversation about the ways societal norms around masculinity are harming our adolescent boys’ social and emotional development. Can you give a sneak peak of a few insights you’ll be sharing in October?

Ever Forward believes that young men want to be connected, uplifted, and build deeper relationships. But society often tells boys and young men that males are not allowed to show feelings, that we have to shut off our empathic selves behind a mask of masculinity. Studies have shown that boys are more emotional than girls when they are younger, but often their societal, familial, and communal nurturing trains them to shut out many of those feelings. This can cause boys and young men to only show up as a small part of their whole selves.

What is one must read book or resource recommendation for educators and SEL field-builders from your library?ß
There are so many. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, by Bruce D. Perry , is an emotional read, powerful, and truly important for educators working with youth who have endured childhood trauma of any kind.

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Event Information

October 14-16*, 2020
Pre-Conference Day: October 13, 2020
Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel | Schaumburg, IL
*Programming ends at noon on October 16, 2020

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