It has been said, “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child” and OBI embodies that principle. OBI: Our Boys Institute is a non profit organization located in Maryland for young boys. The program instills principles of manhood, survival, respect for self as well as your community and teaches that, “You are your only real competition.” Founded by Changa Oyango OBI has given young boys memories and lessons that they will remember for a life time and take with them wherever they go. This last session theme was entitled Boys In the Wood where the youth experienced outdoor living, learned basic survival skills, shelter construction, and navigation. This interview had been long overdue and I was excited about taking a trip into the woods up in Woodstock, MD to catch the group on their last session of the season.
Eshet: So you all were in Leakin Park earlier this week?
Changa : Yeah we do two weeks at a time; the training. A lot of people want me to turn it into like all summer, but I only do two weeks at a time because it’s kind of intense actually. So most of the kids, ummm you know they like, they’re not use to a certain level of physical or mental strain than it gets to be tough. So we just keep it at two weeks at a time now. Later on at later levels as we start to really develop than it will get to be something other and something different that will be a little bit more intense for them.
Eshet: OBI: It’s Our Boys Institute. what made you come up with this type of program for young boys?
Changa: Well when I was younger I had a training that I was involved in it was very community kind of thing. It was a shule you know the community families came together and built a little school and that was called Timbuktu in Baltimore. That was in the 70’s and I still have fond memories even I was like or had to be like in second grade or something. I still had fond memories, mostly of the feeling that it is. (We had to take a pause because the young boys were making noised) mostly of the feeling that the shule created. So I always wanted to try to recreate that. The fact that I come from a big family, but my family my nuclear family was only me, my little sister and my mother and I always wanted you know to have the larger feeling because I realized what you get from that. Because my cousins it was like four or five of them at any given time plus they had foster brothers and what not and the feeling inside of that family was you know it was serious. Than I had mines so and I have five sons so and that feeling. It’s really about trying to recreate that feeling. Than GOD lead me into this training called “Respect For Life.” Respect For Life is a training that was given out of Muhammad Mosque 6 and than turned into a company. I was blessed to work for that company and be a trainer. So this is like, I got the training I realized the benefit of the training than I got to become a trainer so I am just traveling around the nation doing the training for different groups. That was my brother-in-law’s company.
Than one day Mama Kibibi say’s, “Look you’re going around doing this great training (people were sending pictures and we had a little video come out about what we were doing) and she said, “You’re doing all this great training,you need to do something for these guys around here.” I said, “Yeah Mama Kibibi I do.” So I started doing something just for my sons and nephews at Sankofa and so that was the very first iteration of it. Than you know I am a musician so as I am making music, one of the albums I was working on; Love Peace Project with Salim Ajanku and Jumoke Ajanku we wrote a song called “Living In A Bottle.” It’s just talking about how people have these different barrerias to achieving the things that they say they want to achieve. So my part in the song started just naming all of the young people, these guys, young boys that were around us and as I found out that as I am trying to name them all I ran out of space in the song before I ran out of names. I think I was like at 24 by the time I finished the song verse. Yeah so I had far more names than I had space and that really kind of started weighing on my spirit, “Man I got to do something it’s a lot of these guys and we got to do some kind of training” One summer Menes Yahudah had an idea and the Brother Taharca Kiamba who’s out here with me they had an idea to put together a summer camp/rights of passage and they involved me in the thinking and planning of it. When they brought me in, you know I am a business man so I make things go. If you have an idea boom I will put body and legs to that idea. Menes introduced me to Maurissa Stone-Bass, Maurissa had the space, I negotiated with her and it’s been on and popping since then.
Eshet: So that brings me to my next question when you mentioned the Rights of Passage because I do remember with me coming up when I was younger the Rights of Passage for the females as well as the males. So I was going to ask, is this similar to the Rights of Passage? You know some things maybe a little different from how it was back than to know.
Changa: For me who didn’t really go through an official rights of passage program ummm it becomes a bit of a challenge for me to call anything I am doing a Rights of Passage. Because the word rights meaning ritual you know what I mean and all of that and so it’s not any particular ritual that I know of to do or feel qualified to do. I really hesitate to call it rights of passage you know; yeah I really hesitate to call anything I am doing rights of passage . To me that symbolizes something more formal and has a really strong spiritual piece to it. Not to say what we are doing doesn’t but it’s inherent it’s not like overt; not intentional. A lot of things I do, I approach every thing I do from a scientific stand point. That’s mainly because I am a builder that is my personality. Do you end up getting the same lessons? Absolutely! Do you end up getting the same effect? Probably so! You know I really couldn’t tell you if someone said what is the difference between your program and the rights of passage, I would have to say I don’t know. So that’s why I don’t call it that.
Eshet: I was on the website and I always stress “Look In The Mirror That’s Your Competition.” So on the website I came across a quote and it says, “You Are Your Only Real Competitor.” That’s what you stress with these young boys. See to me like a lot of things that’s happening on the streets with some of the young guys as well young ladies. It’s like they compete or get into competition with each other. They want to show that they are macho or this person may have this and they don’t. So what type of skills or what do you do to teach that or instill that in them?
Changa: We do a lot of physical training. I tell them that exercise to the body; what prayer is for the soul. What study is for the mind. So looking at each one as an individual which is a big piece of my thing and the reason why you won’t see this blow up like the Red Cross or anything like that because I believe in treating each individual child as an individual because they are. So I look at each individual child and say, “This is your physical care. So you want to be the best, you want to be the boss or whatever, run this.. okay now run it faster. You can’t be the boss until you can beat yourself and when you beat yourself guess what somebody just beat you, beat yourself again. So by turning most of the focus inward, by focusing inward you take away that outward seeking behavior. That’s how we try to curb that because we follow what we want to be and so I say okay you can’t be this guy over here until you know who he is. Who is he? Do some research. Oh yeah he got all these gold fronts but guess what he got a masters degree. Oh he running around looking like this or that but clothes don’t make a man, right. So what does he have though. Here’s a guy this guy he is a criminal. He has been hurting people for 20 years. You want to run around looking like him! Treat everyone as an individual and make sure that the young people are treating themselves with respect not like they are lumping themselves in with everybody. That’s how I combat that, but it’s something that needs to be definitely fought against.
Eshet: The road to manhood was a topic on the flyer. That stood out to me. So I was thinking what is the road or how do you see it?
Changa: Well umm the road to manhood is different for a lot of different men in the details but in the overall scheme of things it’s the same. Struggle, struggle, struggle, ease, struggle, struggle, ease, struggle, struggle, struggle, struggle, ease, struggle ease…. The thing that differentiates from my perspective and what I was taught the thing that differentiates a good man from a not so good man is that the good man meets every struggle with a good attitude and with a reasonable expectation that he will succeed against the struggle. That is how he shows his faith in something bigger than him. A man that has no faith in anything bigger than him will meet the struggles strictly from what his narrow view can see. Therefore he will turn away from many struggles which mean he will short cut and we know the people who short cut are the people who end up not living up to the full potential of a human. Which is to add and to build all the way to the heaven for real. So you have the difference between a good man and not so good man. But than a great man, a great man has not only met the requirements for being a good man which is to meet his struggles head on with reasonable faith and expectation that he will succeed past his struggles. So that’s the first and the basis of a good man. But than a great man will go into that struggle already knowing himself fully which means that he knows where his weak spots are so that during the struggle he will stay away from that. He knows also where his gifts, talents, and abilities lie so he will tend to lean towards that. So struggles that tend to exploit his weaknesses he will go away from those but struggles that he knows he has more than a reasonable chance he will go towards those. So for me that is the basic… basic blue print for all men every where and not only for men that’s for all humans. Now the only thing I see or the differences I see between men and women because every lesson I am teaching here can easily be applied to the life of a woman. Cause humans are humans and human development is human development that’s why the business and the industry I am in is called human transformation so it means that we all have that potential. The only difference is I specialize in men or even better boys because my particular skill set, my approach, my allegories, my everything is geard towards that particular age group that particular set of people and my experience. Even today if you look at my lifestyle, how I live, what I like, what I do umm I am a very carefree kind of person; almost boyish in some ways and I relish that. You know that’s what gives me life and hope as I go forward so these are the guys I relate to. So when it comes to older people I don’t have as much patience I don’t have as empathy as I probably should because somebody had empathy and patience with me. But it’s a force it’s something I have to force myself to do. so once you start getting into our 20’s and you still haven’t had a certain level of training and I still have to deal with you it’s going to be hard for me it’s going to be a whole different vibe that you get from me. And it is you know when I am dealing with my 16-24 group, it’s a whole different environment.
Eshet: I was about to ask you about the age groups. So it’s different age groups?
Changa: It is different age groups but for me OBI is that young age group and than I have my company Group Harvest which is a for profit entity and that is for the older age group. From the teenagers on up to the young 20’s. It requires a significately higher level of emotional input into that age group and you get significately lower response or reciprocity from that age group. So because it cost me more in my person to do that work than it does this. Sometimes I get immediate from these guys you know so that’s why the age groups and why one is for profit and one is not. I feel like that drains me and this charges me. (laughing out loud).
Eshet: I have one more question and it’s about the importance of having male in the home. I don’t take anything from single mothers. The impact that on how they are raised and the environment. Do you think that is some of the reasons why we have some of the problems today in society with some of the guys on the corners and things?
Changa: Well here is the thing, if you look a the numbers. the numbers say that the young men; black, white, latino or whoever that are raised by single mothers have much more of a problem adapting to society and becoming who they’re supposed to be. Number one reason for that is they don’t have anybody to emulate, right! Humans learn by mimicking, period. It’s been that way, that’s just how we were built. If you don’t have anybody to mimic you’re going to pick somebody, right? Simple! Many young men will pick their mother and emulate her which is a direct contradiction because now you have a grown man who responds to the world like a woman. Than you have some of those who will pick a pop icon and if that pop icon is Bill Cosby but you don’t live like Bill Cosby you live like these other people over here. Now you have somebody who is at odds with his own surroundings, you have a problem there; you have a conflict. A father would be ideal but every single mother doesn’t have to… it would be ideal but what I am saying is the next thing we can do to fix that is to have people inside of your communities that will step in. That are right next to you that are neck and neck with were or if there was a man in your house. This is pretty much were he would be stationed in life what have you. This is the guy. This is who you should be emulating. Here’s a guy he is in your life you see him a certain amount of hours a week and it really is a numbers game. If you don’t have enough hours a week with the person, one or two hours a week is not a mentor it’s just not or maybe it is a mentor but mentoring is not what we need. Umm so, yeah you’re in trouble if you don’t have that. So than that question always come, “Can a woman raise a man?” No! If emulation is the way that humans do there thing than it’s not even a question can a woman raise a man to be you know… that’s not even a valid question because now what you’re asking is a question that invalidates one of the main human principles that we know for a fact. So that’s not even a question. The question is, how can a woman who doesn’t have a choice raise a decent man? That is the only question I ever want to address. This is how you can do it. Find some dude that’s in your area.
You know first of all as a general rule any society and I am not going to single out black or poor or anything. You need plutonic relationships the existence of plutonic relationships is key to a community being able to sustain itself and protect itself. So which means the purest form of a relationship between man and woman is going to be father/daughter, next you have brother/sister than you have those community relationships. The problem with community relationships is that we have not been taught that the plutonic relationship; the non-sexual heading relationship is just as important as the marital or courtship relationship. It’s just on par with marriage, we haven’t been taught that, that relationship is almost non existent because you look at many communities and you will see what is either some type of romantic thing bubbling beneath the surface or it’s this or that you know. So but if we had these relationships right than there would be this pool around every woman she would have a pool of guys and she can say look you know it didn’t work out with his father whatever that situation is that’s where you come in. So look pick him up for school that gives him a hour a day. Take him on Saturdays for the second half of the day. And men who have space has to be willing to do that. And so once we have these relationships reestablished than we can begin to talk about healing.. you know actually healing our entire community. I said all that to say, I built OBI so that young… first I built it for my own people but now that I have turned it into an actual organization my goal is.. my one goal is to continue providing high quality for these one’s who are here with me and secondly to provide some training for brothers who can do the work to reach out to the young people around them. You know give them kind of a frame work because I have done a lot of writing a lot of talking.