You Good Bro? A Moment with Jasmin Spain


You Good Bro? A Moment with Jasmin Spain

Report from Substantial magazine, original post date 04/01/2020

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis Jasmin Spain took a special interest in reaching out and asking a simple question “U Good, Bro?!” Right now we should be reaching out and finding ways to connect in a time of recommended distancing. Substantial Magazine believes now more than any other time the question Jasmin Spain has used to open up countless conversations is needed. We had the chance to sit down with Jasmin and learn more about who he is, what drives him and why speaking your truth is so important.

Who is Jasmin Spain?
Jasmin Lenel Spain is the God-fearing son of Helen Reed and Kirby Spain, brother to Ayona Cooper and Jacoby Spain, and uncle to Snoop, Sissy and Toni. Jasmin is S.O.G., “Straight Outta Gaston!” I am a native of Gaston, USA, located in eastern North Carolina, Northampton County to be exact. An environment which is recognized by the NC Policy Watch as a county for over numerous decades as being “persistently poor”, where only a third of the population are employed, and out of 100 counties is ranked in the top 20 of those who with the highest poverty rate the state. Unemployment, drugs, prostitution, alcohol, along with other challenges, Gaston, just like other places with limited resources and challenges outside of our control, is strong in knowing how to “make-do”, doing a lot with a little, and believing in God to continue to provide all of our needs. It’s the crib, you know!

I have a Bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Wesleyan College in Exercise Science and a Master’s degree from North Carolina State University in Counselor Education with a concentration in Student Personnel in Higher Education.

During my first few years as a post bachelorette, I served in the area of public health working with faith-based communities, healthy sexual behaviors amongst youth, as well as tobacco prevention and cessation.

Since then, I have been student affairs practitioner and administrator in higher education for almost 15 years. I have served at two institutions thus far, one being a small private liberal arts four year institution, and currently serving at the sixth largest community college in North Carolina. I love “The Machine”, which is what I like to call higher education. I’m your favorite Student Advocate’s favorite Student Advocate! Anyone will tell you, I will fight for students to receive all of the necessary resources that they need to achieve their academic goals by removing barriers that normally students navigating around. But nothing blesses me more than to focus on the success of Black Males. It’s what drives me. It’s what makes going to work everyday worth it.

Outside of PCC, I am also the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer (CVO) of The M.A.I.N. Initiative, LLC. M.A.I.N. stands for Males Addressing Issues & Needs. The purpose of The M.A.I.N. Initiative is to assist in the healthy development of the male population, with a special emphasis on Black men and boys. M.A.I.N. has two primary focus areas: holistic education and holistic development. With M.A.I.N. we provide service and consultation in all platforms of education, Black male leadership programs, mentoring, cultural competency, civil rights & Title IX (sex discrimination and sexual misconduct), and probably my strongest skillset which is conference, symposium, and/or summit creation and production. Our motto at M.A.I.N. is “YOUR Success is YOUR Responsibility!”

Through my work with MAIN, I was selected as a 2019 cohort fellow with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement’s American Express Leadership Fellowship. CBMA is a big deal too, so I was definitely honored to be selected. CBMA is the leading national membership network, of which The M.A.I.N. Initiative has been a member since 2017, that seeks to ensure the growth, sustainability and impact of leaders and organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys.

How has your background prepared you for a career focused on community advancement?
Growing up you don’t think about “community” in the larger sense of the word. All you know is what you experienced. But as you get older, and you are able to actually view things from a broader perspective, seeing things from a thousand foot view, you start to pay closer attention to those factors that play major roles in the quality of life that you have or desire to have. This includes the community of which you live. So at this stage of reflection, and looking back on where I came from, the things that I saw, the challenges we faced, I felt that I had a duty to do my part to contribute in some way. The harvest is plenty but the workers are few, and the culture of Black men and boys is where my community efforts are rooted. Just like other Black males who grew up in a single-parent home, raised by my mother, we had (and some still have) holes in our souls the size of our father. So to be able to provide opportunities for Black men and boys to grow, heal, and succeed, is what my community advance is all about. To leave my community in a better place than the way I found it, if at any point God tells me my time is up.

What prompted you to create the M.A.I.N. Initiative?
A number of experiences. Traumatic experiences to be transparent. Actually some very real, unfortunate, yet liberating experiences from the time I was five years old up until a few years ago. New school PTSD you know.

I am a 38 year old man, who by the age of five was molested by his babysitter. As a result of divorce, I am a product of at one point I grew up in a house with 10 women, being the only boy, except for the male roaches and mice that lived there. I am a man who at an early age began living with suicidal thoughts as if they were my siblings. I am a survivor of bullying, who after surviving that horrible stage of my life, acted as a bully at times. I am a transfer college graduate, who was suspended from the first college I attended. There I was involved in student clubs and organizations, as well as drugs, drug dealing, and heavy misogyny.

I am a survivor of a fatal car crash where the SUV I was driving flipped four times, landing less than three feet from a propane gas tank, with my line brother riding shotgun. Fast forward, I became responsible for mentoring programs, leading young black males towards success. But at the same time, I was dealing with the reality that I did not trust Black men myself because of my father. I moved up the ranks in higher education, with promotions and recognitions, and was named an Assistant Vice President. At the same time, I was suffering from Imposter Syndrome, which is feeling like a fraud, or failure, despite the skill, talent, and success that proved otherwise. So to kill those feelings, I medicated myself by trying to achieve more and more. And let me tell you this, Will Smith wasn’t lying when he said you can’t achieve your way out of trauma.

So you take all of those experiences, all bottled up inside of me, add baking soda and vinegar and we arrive three years ago on the couch in my living room… about to blow my brains out.
So what do you do when you’ve reached your breaking point, you’re out of control, and you just want to throw in the towel? When the alcohol isn’t enough, the working out doesn’t relieve the pressure, or whatever medicine of choice doesn’t take the pain away? You go against exactly what society and your pride tells you not to do as a man… and you scream for help! I knew that from the time I was young, even up until the point of attempting suicide, that something was wrong. There was always this pattern of feeling extremely low for long periods of time, and other moments extremely high. My low days dominated my high days, just like Jesse Owen’s dominated the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. And I didn’t know why, and what hurt worse was I couldn’t control it.

So I did what my Black church told me only Jesus could do, what my Black community told me I shouldn’t do, and what other Black men literally said I was “crazy” for doing. I went and sat on the couch, and not the one in my living room. After a few visits with a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with the incurable disease of bipolar. And the shocking thing about it… it was liberation for me. The fact of the matter is, I was NOT Good Bro! But finally, I actually knew what was wrong. I could now understand why some of my friends would say that I was tripping. I could now understand the excruciating pain of indecisiveness. I could now understand why I became obsessed with isolation and at the same time hate being alone. I could put a name to it. I knew that I needed to go from suffering from bipolar to succeeding with bipolar.

A new journey began to fulfill my Kingdom Assignment with the God-idea, What I didn’t share is that The M.A.I.N. Initiative has been in motion since 2006, but behind the scenes. To go along with my personal experiences, it also has a role in how my professional career was being shaped, especially regarding Black males in college. I believe the speed bump in my academic career helped me understand the internal and external factors that were influencing the type of individual I was becoming. And what I faced compared to what I am seeing years later isn’t unique regarding Black Male Achievement. I came into academia seeing young men facing the same obstacles I did preventing them from being able to build healthy habits and grow into productive contributors for their campus community which would translate over to society. So I started with focus groups, workshops, that led to educational and cultural trips to be included. Through these experiences, I was able to encourage these Young Kings to explore their own identities and purpose in life through connections to the community and humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. It also provided them the space for mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual growth. They also formed another sense of brotherhood that came from a foundation of academic success through means of character, grit and perseverance as well.

More than a decade later, M.A.I.N. has expanded to becoming more than what I visioned it would be. But Man plans and God laughs, and we could never fathom the mind of God, so I won’t even trip on the path He is taking me on with M.A.I.N. I know there is more to come, so stay tuned.

Tell us more about the “U Good, Bro?!” Series
So I knew I needed to create a space where Brothers could connect, in a no-judgment zone, and just share. From that, The M.A.I.N. Initiative birthed another God-idea with “U Good, Bro?!” U Good, Bro?! is the nation’s number one gathering for Black men to become the best versions of themselves in what I would like to call the #MENtalHEALthMoveMENt. Essentially, I believe that MEN HEAL MEN! UGB is our monthly convening of like-minded Brothers who fellowship in a private, “safe space” for transparency, vulnerability, and liberation. Here, we embrace the realities of being Black Men, while strategizing on how to be better examples of what healthy manhood is. Each convening takes place over breakfast and fellowship over a range of topics, from finances to fatherhood, Kingdom building to creating vision boards. The goal is to be as engaging as possible. UGB is built on three pillars: Partnership, Protection & Prayer. We have three rules:

1. Enjoy yourself. 2. Be respectful. 3. When, or if you choose to speak, speak your truth.

“U Good Bro?!” has become a household name, liberating Brothers from across the state who make the trip to Greenville monthly to convene with us. We are also in talks with a couple of cities on the East Coast to host a convening in their area. We have also begun discussions to hold a retreat later this year. Although the focus is on Black men, all men are invited to attend. How important is it that black men create a space to talk and share?

Frederick Douglass once said that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” It’s critical. It’s life changing. F’ that! It’s life-saving! I had a chance to meet best-selling author Jason Wilson in at the Annual Rumble Young Man, Rumble in Louisville, KY at the Muhammad Ali Center, and in his book “Cry Like A Man: Emancipation from Emotional Incarceration”, he says “When we vent, we’re complainers, when we’re tired, we’re being lazy and when we cry, we’re soft. With all these predetermined judgements about us, it’s no wonder why so many of us “fake it to make it.” And as true as it is, it is so dangerous. Now understand this. For those that say that it is uncommon for men to communicate, that’s a lie.

What gets misunderstood is how we communicate. While it is uncommon for us to verbally share that we are sad or our feelings are hurt, IT IS common for us to communicate through aggression, drug and alcohol use, sex and other forms of hyper-masculinity. So finding different opportunities for fellowship, and sharing are critical. Unlike women, very rarely do you hear about men willing to intentionally sit down and talk and share. We tend to do this through engaging in some sort of activity or event, like watching the game or attending a sporting event, playing cards, having a cigar, working out, etc. Whatever healthy way we can communicate, I advocate for because I truly believe that in these spaces that men share, you will see that MEN HEAL MEN!

How has working in the Community College sector prepared you for additional roles in your community?
The community college is something that I never thought would play such a critical role, not just in my goals in higher education, but my goals with my work in the community. Career wise, it gave me a different view of higher education, especially from the workforce development perspective. The community college drives a lot of the business and industry employment chain because we provide these individuals with the necessary credentials to employ the best of the best to keep these business and industries operating successfully.

The same can be said about my other roles in the community. With M.A.I.N. providing efforts for Black men and boys, being a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and a board member for a number of organizations, it allows me to have a voice that’s two fold: I can share with community stakeholders and individuals of the great opportunities provided by the community college, but I also can be a voice at the table to share with my institution about the needs of the community. The voice that rarely ever gets heard, or never gets a seat at the table. So the community college has been good to me, and has allowed me to be an asset to my community in a great way.

What are some things that the public can do to educate themselves on the needs within their community?
Find out who the movers and shakers are in your community, you know the ones with the biggest influence in your community. This would mean doing the small things like reading the newspaper, watching the news, etc. But then you actively get involved by going to your local city council meetings, attending community events, reading your church bulletins. If you want to go even further, join a community organization that shares the same values as yourself, become an active participant in your child’s PTO, or volunteer. Most people use the excuse that they don’t know what’s going on in the community. And for the lazy folks, ask Google. Google will tell you everything you need to know, even the things you don’t want to know that’s going on in your community! LOL!

What’s one thing your older self would tell your younger self?
Take heed to wise counsel. Instinctively pay attention and learn what to do, but intentionally learn what not to do. Simply put, learn from other people’s mistakes. I remember hearing from the old heads, the O.G.’s, the seasoned folks, and those with more life experience tell me to do as they say, and not as they did. They told me, depending on the scenario or actually things that they observed about me, what would be best and what wouldn’t. And they genuinely came from a good place. But because I wanted to experience life for myself, I would touch the iron even though I saw the steam and heat coming from it. And you know where there is smoke, there’s fire. So I had to endure my share of teachable moments. To be totally transparent, some of those decisions still affect me to this day.

Tell us what the future holds for Jasmin Spain and the M.A.I.N. Initiative?
Ah man, I have a lot cooked up for 2020. I feel like a mad scientist. All God-ideas too. As you know, UGB operates monthly. You can contact me directly for all of the dates for the remainder of the year. We will also be dropping our UGB podcast later in 2020. We will host our 4th Annual Back-to-School Backpack Giveaway, designed for K-8 youth, which consists of school supplies, backpacks, haircuts, food, and clothes…all of which are FREE! The date has yet to be determined but it will definitely be within days before students return to school. M.A.I.N. partners with MasterMinds At Work, Inc and DEFINE Barbershop for this community effort. And last, but definitely not least, the nation’s number one conference for Black males in high school and college, the highly anticipated 4th Annual M.A.I.N. Summit, which will be held at the Greenville Convention Center on Friday, October 9, 2020. Our theme this year is “Breaducation: Dollars Making Sense”. This year we will highlight financial literacy, entrepreneurship, business etiquette, and the role that emotional intelligence plays in it all. We welcome any potential partners to sit at the table with us, as well as any potential sponsors or donors. The call for proposals, as well as the event, vendor, and volunteer registrations will be released soon.

Beyond the events, I have been conducting workshops and trainings on cultural competency for colleges and universities. As much as I enjoy leading this effort with faculty and staff, the most rewarding experiences have been with student leaders. Challenging their views about the impact of appreciating differences and understanding what culture means outside of their own can make them better human beings overall. If anyone needs this type of training for their student leaders, as well as faculty or staff, please let me know.

How can we learn more and get in contact with you? 
You can connect with me from both arenas. For my work with The M.A.I.N. Initiative, you can reach me via email at [email protected], as well as on social media. On Facebook, connect with me at Main Initiative and on Twitter & Instagram, you can connect with me at @maininitiative. As for Pitt Community College, I can be reached via email at [email protected] or via LinkedIn at Jasmin Spain.

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