We typically don’t discuss privilege when we’re talking about historically marginalized groups. But that’s precisely the conversation B. Cole, founder of the Brown Boi Project (BBP), a leadership development and organizing project for young leaders, is aiming to have. “People ask why focus on that little place where they have privilege,” she says. “My argument is that little place where you have privilege is incredibly powerful.”
One of the guiding principles of the Brown Boi Project is that individuals can bring more social change in areas where they have power than in areas they don’t. Sounds logical, but what does that mean for “brown bois” (men and masculine-presenting women of color)? “It means that I can actually do a lot to shift misogyny and sexism because I have access to masculine privilege,” Cole, who identifies as “masculine of center,” explains.
In 2008, Cole coined “masculine of center” (MOC), a term that “recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, macha, dom, etc.” Masculine of center womyn, along with trans men, queer men and straight men of color are the four groups BBP targets.
These populations all have similar statistics in terms of high unemployment, incarceration and high school drop out rates. Cole saw a need for capacity-building in each of those communities. The similar “life path” and limited opportunities are what led the BBP director to create a space for conversation—a conversation that delves into constructs of gender identity and race in everyday terms.
The Brown Boi Project recruits fourteen to sixteen leaders (age 35 and under) from around the country for a five-day training retreat where they learn communications, personal finance, community organizing, conflict resolution, fundraising, relationship building, gender justice, and personal life planning. Each member also receives a life coach. In the past they’ve had everyone from aspiring clothing designers to executive directors of organizations to butchers join the cohorts.
“Most of us walk through life without having any real manual on how to be healthy, whole people,” Cole explains. “Depending on your class, community and background these things do or don’t get taught.” The Brown Boi Project dismantles these boundaries by equipping its members with the tools necessary to become their best selves and advocates for social change.