Milton Jones is looking for a few good men.
As he has done many times since first volunteering at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute six years ago, Jones is reaching out to other men who are survivors of homicide, inviting them to get together in a casual setting.
Jones does not envision a formal support group where men sit and discuss their feelings. Instead, he hopes to share a meal with one or two men, talk sports, and be open to anything else that comes up.
“Grief exposes men to a lot of risks,” said Jones, who lost his stepson to gun violence in 1993. That was more than 20 years ago, but time has only deepened his concern for men dealing with that kind of loss.
“Unfortunately men tend to grieve in very unhealthy ways,” he said. Alcohol and drugs are likely to come into play when men don’t know how to express feelings, or don’t have coping skills to manage feelings in better ways, he says. Jones believes a big part of the problem lies in the way men are socialized to be logical and in control.
“We’re not outspoken in terms of feelings and emotions – particularly not when it comes to sadness, to issues that might motivate one to cry,” he said.
For men, the dominant emotion is anger. Men want revenge. And pride is a huge issue.
“To quote the Bible, pride goeth before a fall,” said Jones. “When a man is supposed to be a tower of strength, how does it feel when he can’t even protect his own family?”
Thus men may try to regain a sense of personal power through violence. “It’s a way of declaring: I am not going to stand for this,” said Jones. He has warned many men against retaliation. “That only further traumatizes and damages their family,” he said.
But any survivor of homicide, man or woman, can be overwhelmed by feelings of rage. Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts are common. Many fear for their own safety. Jones wants survivors to know that these are normal reactions to a very abnormal event.
He also wants survivors to know that there is a place of refuge from these feelings. Currently he is director of operations at the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Whenever he attends a community event, he seeks out men who identify themselves as survivors of homicide. He lets them know they are welcome at the safe, peaceful space the institute has created on Dorchester Avenue near Fields Corner.
“And any time we have families here, I try to get with the males in that family, pull them aside, and offer to help,” Jones said. He invites them to an ongoing dialogue. “What’s going on with us as men? How can we make a difference? How can we get in touch with our feelings, sort them out and do so for the greater good?
“We need to be able to function well enough to work with our young men and turn this thing around,” he said.