The Louisville Institute

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Proposal Summary

The Silent Fraternity: Minority Male Traumas and the Mystical Power of Silence

Gregory Ellison

Emory University, Candler School of Theology


How have African American men who have been socialized to suffer in silence coped
with traumas that are socially taboo? This study examines three culturally stigmatized traumas faced by African American men - pregnancy loss, prostate cancer, and men separated from their children due to incarceration. While not thematically linked, I have encountered these issues with frequency in private pastoral and counseling situations. I stress my notice of these traumas in private consultation because while public awareness or these issues is heightening. I hypothesize that many African American men will face these issues in silence, privately, or alone, if at all. However, I have also become aware of a more clandestine response to these traumatic events. Numbers of African American men. bonded together through these initiatory traumas, form "silent fraternities" as private and informal networks of support. This interdisciplinary project (pastoral care, mystical theology and public health) examines the utility of this fraternal order as a support network, raises awareness of long-stigmatized traumas, and proposes practices or care to inform Christian communities seeking to assist African American men. Key in this study is a practical theological exploration or how 20th and 21st century Christian mystics have utilized silence to promote healing.


In accordance with the First Book Grant for Minority Scholars, I completed my first book (Cut Dead But Still Alive: Caring For African American Young Men), and began a comprehensive literature review for my second book project (The Silent Fraternity: Minority Male Traumas and the Mystical Power of Silence). The former examines the ill-effects of muteness and invisibility on African American young men and proposes best practices to enliven hope in this population. The themes of marginality, trauma, and voicelessness are also central to the second project. The Silent Fraternity analyzes three culturally stigmatized traumas that African American men often face in silence and alone¡Xpregnancy loss, prostate cancer, and men separated from their children due to incarceration. Key in this study is a practical theological exploration of clandestine networks of support formed between trauma survivors and strategies employed by modern-day Christian mystics who utilize silence to bring about transformation and healing.

Entrenched for months in the literature review on modern mystics who created unique spaces for social change, yet disquieted by local and national tragedies impacting African American young men, I began crafting a communal response utilizing the best practices from Cut Dead and the transformative pedagogy of the mystics. Weeks after my book release, a few colleagues and I launched Fearless Dialogues„§,a grassroots community initiative committed to creating spaces for hard, heartfelt conversations between community thought leaders that help to see gifts in people, hear value in stories, and work toward transformation and change in self and others. In the latter six months of 2013, Fearless Dialogues„§ traveled to six cities domestically and internationally and gathered over 3,000 community leaders at churches, universities, and public schools. In these venues, the Fearless Dialogues„§ staff animated conversations about the Zimmerman verdict, the Black male achievement gap, school desegregation, community violence, and equal opportunities for the disabled. This integration of theory and practice has led me to re-evaluate my role as a practical theologian and contemplate my emerging vocation as a scholar-activist.

Related Publications

PublishersTitleYearTypeContributorContributionOther Info
Abingdon PressCut Dead But Still Alive: Caring for African American Young Men2013BookGregory EllisonAuthor