The Work of Building Boys
About the Guest
A boy is a work in progress. Dennis Rainey talks with guest Braxton Brady, a builder of boys at a Christian day school in Memphis where he is chaplain. Believing it's more dangerous to be comfortable than faithful, Braxton lives with his family in the inner city of Memphis, reaching out to the young boys in his neighborhood, many of whom who have absent fathers, and modeling what it means to be a man and a Christ follower.
A boy is a work in progress.
The Work of Building Boys
Bob: Braxton Brady works at a boys-only elementary school in Memphis, Tennessee. One of their goals is to help these elementary-aged boys understand what it means to be a man. Braxton says they have to address a lot of misconceptions.
Braxton: Well, the first one we hit on is that men don’t show emotion. You know, it’s funny being around 650 boys every single day. As you get in the Pre-K, the three, four, five, six, and seven year-olds, you see plenty of tears. That emotion comes out pretty easily. As the boys get older, they tend to bottle that emotion up.
So we want to make sure that as they grow up to be godly men that they can feel comforted in showing emotion.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today we’re going to explore what boys need to learn in order to become men.
[Airplane noises in background] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to FamilyLife Today from the cockpit. This is Bob Lepine speaking and we’re preparing for take-off on today’s program. You might want to buckle in and make sure you’re all set for today’s entourage.
I’ll turn things over to the captain here.
Dennis: Not to mix metaphors, Bob, but do you know what song I woke up thinking about and singing this morning as I was thinking about our guest on the program?
Bob: Let’s see. I bet I do. You probably woke up thinking about the old song about “up in the air, Junior Birdman.” Isn’t that what you were thinking of?
Dennis: I have never heard that song. (Laughter)
Bob: You don’t remember that?
Dennis: Who sang that song?
Bob: We used to sing it at camp all of the time! “Up in the air, Junior Birdman! Up in the air, upside down.” You don’t know that? “Up in the air, Junior Birdman. . .”
Dennis: I think I heard the melody to something else, but I don’t remember that song.
Bob: That’s not the song you woke up thinking about this morning?
Dennis: No, no. The song I was thinking about. . . .
Bob: Which you have written down on a piece of paper.
Dennis: I have it down here because I don’t have the photographic memory of all the words of these songs. “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land.”
Bob: Yes, “sitting in his nowhere land.”
Bob and Dennis: “Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.”
He’s a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his nowhere land,
Making all his nowhere plans
Bob: That’s it. Yeah! [Lyrics in background] That’s John, Paul, George, and Ringo,
Bob: The Fab Four.
Dennis: I knew that you would instantly lock onto that. Ladies and gentlemen, the reason I did that to Bob was some time earlier this year on the broadcast he completely humiliated me by calling up a song I should have known.
Dennis: But you know what? That’s enough of this nonsense. I want to introduce our guest who’s sitting over here looking, going, “What is going on here!?” (Laughter)
Bob: “What did I get into?”
Dennis: Braxton Brady joins us on FamilyLife Today. Braxton, we like to have fun here on FamilyLife Today.
Braxton: I can just sit here and listen to you guys for the rest of the time. This is pretty easy.
Dennis: Well you name the song and Bob can sing it. He’ll nail the words perfectly.
Bob: I don’t know that that’s what we want to get into today because when you’ve got a guy joining you who spends his days with 650 elementary-aged boys -- not boys and girls – boys.
Dennis: Sixth grade and under.
Bob: Yes. First of all, he’s glad to be here on FamilyLife Today because it gives him a little break.
Dennis: He’s escaped the penitentiary.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: Well, Braxton is a graduate of the University of Memphis where he lives over there with his wife Carrie and his three children. He has co-authored a book with Lee Burns called Flight Plan.
Bob: That’s why I was doing that cockpit announcement at the beginning of the program today.
Dennis: I’m glad you took us back to that.
Bob: I just wanted to be sure there was a context for that for our listeners.
Dennis: Tell me, Braxton – you’ve worked with inner-city boys for a number of years. Take us into their world. Give us a glimpse. What do you see happening there? What do you see boys having to deal with?
Braxton: They have to deal with a lot of issues a lot earlier than they need to be dealing with them. We see them out at ten o’clock at night wandering the streets, whether they’re trying to find a meal or whether they’re just wandering because they don’t have anybody at home to watch them.
I see refugee families in my neighborhood who are packed into a small room trying to walk two to three miles to get to a school bus to go to school. I see them walking around with no shoes or with clothes that don’t fit. I see that virtually every single day. Around 7:30 every morning, I drive to a school with 650 boys who have far and beyond more than they can ever need or imagine.
Bob: I’m curious because a lot of our listeners will wonder: you’re living where you’re living purposefully, intentionally, by design. It’s not where most people go house hunting when they move to Memphis. How did you wind up living where you live?
Braxton: It is interesting that we built a house that immediately went down in value the minute that we built it. It seems kind of crazy, but seven years ago God just kind of moved on my heart through ministering to inner-city kids and the more I read Scripture and the more I thought about intentional living, God just kind of spoke to my heart and said, “This is where I feel like you need to live.”
I went home and told my lovely bride, Carrie, that I felt like God was moving us to go there and she said, “No.” She said, “I’m not doing that. I know where that neighborhood is. I’ve been there and done that and I would serve there; but I don’t want to live there.”
Once you know me very well, it’s hard for me to shut up. Instead of going into the man and trying to convince her to move there, I said, “God, I’m just going to pray about this and when You see fit that that’s where we need to go, then You’ll move in her heart.”
Almost a year to the day from that conversation, she came into the house and, through a series of circumstances said in tears, “I know that that’s where God wants us to live. I feel like we need to go right now.” So that was kind of the sign. We moved in there and we’ve been there six years.
Bob: This was without your sales pitch; without your trying to cajole her for a year? You just backed off and let God work on her heart?
Braxton: I did not say onemore word about it, which is unheard of if you ask anybody in my world. (Laughter)
Dennis: At the time, did you have any children?
Braxton: We had Preston and Bennett was on the way. So that was part of the issue with Carrie was “Is that going to be safe?” Really, what God was showing us was I think it’s more dangerous to be comfortable.
Braxton: And so, it’s . . .
Dennis: Unpack that statement a bit. What do you mean by that?
Braxton: Well, I just feel like a life lived out for the Gospel is not going to be safe. I think – when I teach Bible at PDS -- I teach six Bible classes per day – I feel like if I’m preaching the Gospel right, it’s going to be offensive to somebody whether it be a parent or whether it be a child.
My oldest son is in seventh grade now. Every sixth grader at PDS has to write a speech and give it to the entire school. My sixth grader gave it on living in the neighborhood and how much the neighborhood had affected him and his life.
As I was sitting in tears in the back, watching him do that, I just felt like God has just affirmed over and over and over again that life is not meant to be comfortable – to have this and to have that and to make enough money to retire early. Life is to be lived for His glory and not our own.
So He has just really shown Himself so clearly in our lives and we’re so thankful for that.
Bob: What was your design in moving in there in the first place? You said, “I’m going to move in here so that we can do this?
Braxton: Well, you know, people ask us every single day when they come over to the house, “What do you do?” We say, “We just live out the Gospel like we would in any other neighborhood. This is just where God has led us to live.”
So we’re ministering to families next door and we’re ministering to kids. Kids are at our house all of the time. This is actually our second house in the neighborhood. The first house that we had, through some families at PDS, we had a full-court basketball court in our backyard. 50x50; glass backboards; three point line – the whole deal.
Dennis: Oh, really? Wow.
Braxton: We were the house in the neighborhood for the first three years of us living in Binghampton. It was a great opportunity – one, for my boys to interact with boys from the neighborhood, but it’s a tremendous opportunity for me to share with them, to love on them, to feed them, to encourage them, to teach them Scripture. So the court was a huge vehicle for that.
Now my wife continues to hear basketballs in her head, so we had to move to a little bit bigger house a couple of blocks over. [Laughter]
Dennis: You’ve written this book Flight Plan and Bob began the broadcast as what, an air traffic controller?
Bob: I was a co-pilot. I was next to you in the cockpit seat handing things over to you so we could take off.
Dennis: You have a motif in your book. The way it begins is that a boy who is off course can lose his life. You tell the story of five Avenger bombers back in 1945 who took off. Share that story because it really sets up what’s happening not only in your neighborhood. I don’t think this is really a class issue. I think this is happening all over the country with young men today.
Braxton: Yes, I definitely agree with you. I don’t think class is an issue. One of the stories we introduce in the book is “Flight 19” on December 5, 1945. It’s about Lieutenant Charles Taylor and his five Avenger pilots who set off on a mission.
Eventually, Lieutenant Taylor gets separated from the group and loses communication so he is on his own. He drifts farther and farther away from where he was on the target. Eventually he gets lost because communication was lost. He didn’t have the right guidance or the right way to go and he wasn’t being led in the right way. We eventually lose him into the ocean.
It’s a telling story because our boys are not being led in the right way. I tell people every time I go speak that I live in two completely different neighborhoods with the exact same problem: absent fathers. I think that’s a big, big issue, but we start out with that story of these guys losing track of where they are because if a boy does not have a proper vision of what it means to be a godly man early on in his life, it’s going to set the course for the rest of his life.
Really, the reason we wrote the book is so a father could have the opportunity to do this with his son. That’s really the reason we wrote the book. We see over and over and over again in every single sixth grade class that dads are not being strategic and intentional with their boys. So we wanted to start off with the story to show them that if you get off course, it’s awfully hard to get back on.
Bob: And this story is not a made-up story; this is an actual story about a guy who got off-course and they lost contact with him.
Braxton: They did. They lost contact for a long period of time and he tried to figure things out on his own. We see where that got him.
Bob: If you don’t have a compass and you don’t have a map – he wound up disappearing.
Braxton: He did. He was not found.
Dennis: There are some myths in our culture that you speak about that really lead boys astray. Share with our listeners just a few of those myths just real quickly.
Braxton: Well, the first one we hit on is that men don’t show emotion. You know, it’s funny being around 650 boys every single day. As you get in the Pre-K, the three, four, five, six, and seven year-olds, that emotion comes out pretty easily. As the boys get older, they tend to bottle that emotion up. So we want to make sure that as they grow up to be Godly men that they can feel comforted in showing emotion.
I think the one that we have to war against the most is that men are judged only by their achievements and successes. I think that’s the one that is the most important, at least in my world. It’s that these fathers and our society – at least in an east Memphis culture – has pushed that you’ve got to be defined by success academically and, especially, you’ve got to be defining your success athletically.
That’s the one that boggles my mind: that these fathers have put their sons up on a pedestal at ten, 11, and 12 years old thinking that they’re going to be the greatest athlete and that’s going to be their ticket. If you look at any kind of stat at all, you’ll see it’s a very minute chance that you’re even going to get to college playing sports. So as they get older, it’s an identity issue with them. They’re identified by what they do and not who they are.
Dennis: I really agree with you. I just appreciate your model that you’re setting here for families. You know, we don’t think of where we live as being a statement of our values, but it really is. I mean, it’s a statement of what’s important to us, what we’re about, and what we’re going to use our lives for.
What you’re demonstrating to your children and your peers over there in Memphis and now here on the radio is that you really felt like God was calling to you to something that, yes, might be dangerous. But you had a core conviction that someone had to do something about what was happening in these neighborhoods.
Braxton: We did. We felt like our city of Memphis, as you know, is very racially divided. It’s a difficult city to live in. We wanted to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. We wanted to stake our claim that we want to be part of the Gospel moving in our city, but also just of living and loving neighbors that seem to be unloved in our neighborhood. That’s a big, big deal.
More importantly, if I brought my two boys in here - my little girl is three so she would probably talk your ear off – but my two boys, if you brought them in here, they feel like there is no difference racially with them. You put them in a group of African-American kids and they’re going to go play. They don’t think twice about it. You put them at PDS with a majority of white students and they feel very, very comfortable in both environments.
It’s so comforting to me for my boys to see no color at all. They just live and love. It’s just one of the things that God has shown me so clearly.
Dennis: One of the things that Truett Cathy says --the founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A-- is that “It’s better to build boys than to mend men.” That’s really what you’re doing, beginning with your own boys. You’re trying to build boys over there in Memphis as a chaplain, but also in the neighborhood where you live, and also at PDS.
Bob: Well, our listeners have heard you mention PDS, but I’m not sure they understand what PDS is or where you work. This is Presbyterian Day School – preK through sixth grade; 650 boys all day long. I think you said it’s the largest private, all-boys elementary school in the nation, right?
Braxton: It is. From what we see and what people tell us, we are the largest all-boys private elementary school in the country.
Bob: And why an all-boys school K through six? Why not do what most schools do and lump them all together?
Braxton: Well, we think the most formative years for us to teach and shape boys are obviously the preK through 6th grade. We wanted to give with these virtues of manhood - we wanted to give our boys -- our program called Building Boys, Making Men gives our boys a clear definition of manhood, which we do in the book.
We give them a lens to kind of view life through with these virtues, like being a true friend. We have a tagline called “Leave No Man Behind.” We make the very specific rule that nobody sits alone – “leave no man behind.” Probably servant leadership is the one we talk about the most, that our boys need to be servant leaders because they’ve got the gifts and abilities and the means to really impact our city.
We want them to understand that a life lived out for the glory of God is not living for their glory, but living for God’s and serving others, and using the gifts and the talents they have to serve others.
Bob: So right alongside reading, writing, arithmetic, and all of the normal studies, you’re very intentionally working with these young boys to try to instill in them some of these characteristics of godly manhood?
Braxton: We take each of the virtues and use them one month of the year through school, so by the time that they’ve left, they’ve heard them ten or 15 times in a cycle. So in sixth grade, I teach the book Flight Plan as a specific class to our sixth graders. It meets once a month; they dress in coat and tie. It’s a big, big deal for them. I teach on each chapter of the book, and then we do some fun, memory-making stuff with them as well.
Dennis: How many are in that class?
Braxton: It would be 75 at a time. (Laughter)
Dennis: Do you have soldiers that surround them so you can accomplish the educational objectives?
Braxton: We have it pretty easy at PDS. We’ve got some really, really good boys and some good parents to go alongside. My voice is loud enough now that I can pretty much control them.
Bob: Well, and you’re calling them up. They’ll respond.
Bob: If somebody’s coming along and calling them to maturity, they’re ready to respond to that, aren’t they?
Braxton: Absolutely and you know, I’ve gotten the parents on my side. One creative thing that we’ve done at the school which was my idea is that they have to have twenty life-ready skills completed before they graduate.
I was thinking, “Alright. I’m going to get the parents on my side.” So one of those is they have to wash, dry, and fold a load of laundry before they can graduate.
Dennis: Alright! I’m hearing some cheers from some moms now.
Braxton: Their parents have to sign off on it. Now, the first year I got a little flack but now every time I stand up in a meeting and talk about these things, I mean I’m getting cheers. I just looked through 70 videos that they take on their computer of them ironing their own clothes. They had to make a video of them ironing their own clothes – shirts and pants.
Dennis: You have to bring proof.
Braxton: They have to bring proof. Not that I don’t trust them, but I’m actually going to put on my blog the winner of the competition. I made it a little competition. We had twin boys who went back and forth teaching each other how to iron their own shirts which was pretty comical.
Dennis: You know, I’m picturing you leading 75 boys. I used to have a sixth grade Sunday school class that had 75 in there, but it was half boys and half girls. I had a discipline tool that I used that you don’t have. When the boys would act up, I would have a girl move aside one seat and I would set the boy between two girls. I mean, at that age, it was worse than putting them in a room full of mosquitoes. They were trying to get away from those girls side-by-side.
My hat goes off to you because you have to have some pretty good rules of discipline to keep that class in shape.
Braxton: Well there’s one creative thing that we do and I think it’s the best thing. In our December meeting, I bring in five high school girls that are juniors and seniors in high school. I let our sixth grade boys interview them. (Laughter)
The questions obviously filter through me, but I bring in five really solid Gospel-centered girls and we let the boys ask questions: “What’s your ideal date look like?” “How do you want to be treated?”
You would have thought we were teaching college calculus with the amount of notes these boys are taking! (Laughter) I mean they are writing, writing, writing. I don’t even have to ever tell them to be quiet or anything. They are just enamored with these girls and so it’s been fun. That kind of works to your point of an easy way to discipline some guys is to just throw some girls in there.
Dennis: No doubt about it. Well, I think what you’re about is really important. Number one, you’re intentional. Secondly, you’re giving them a flight plan to know where to go. Third, you’re training and equipping them not to be passive.
Dennis: But to be servant leaders, to go sit by a friend. I think this culture is really doing our sons, our young boys, our young men a disservice because they allow them to unplug and just become passive. That’s not the route to manhood.
Bob: Well, you know, as I was looking through all that you have here in the book, I was thinking about how you are addressing many of the same themes that are addressed in the Passport2Purity® weekend that we have put together for a dad to take his son through or a mom to take her daughter through. Of course, we just recently updated all of the Passport2Purity material. It’s in brand-new packaging.
If folks are interested in how you can have a weekend with your son or your daughter to help prepare them for what they’re going to face in adolescence and beyond, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the brand new, freshly updated Passport2Purity material.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information. That’s FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY and ask about Passport2Purity. We also have copies of Braxton’s book Flight Plan available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well. So go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY and ask about the book Flight Plan by Braxton Brady and Lee Burns.
I also want to mention, Dennis, your book Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood® because there are a lot of dads who are going through this book with their teenage sons. Our team has recently been working on a brand new resource. We’ve taken the key themes from the Stepping Up book and we’re putting together a video series called Stepping Up.
It’s going to be out in August and to help launch the new video series, we are hosting a one day live event. It’s the Stepping Up National Men’s Conference. It’s happening in Chicago, Illinois but it’s going to be webcast to churches all around the country. There are going to be hundreds of churches joining with us that day hosting a Stepping Up men’s event.
Dennis is speaking, Crawford Loritts is speaking, James McDonald is going to be speaking. Robert Lewis is going to be joining us as well. If you’d like more information about the Stepping Up National Men’s event and how your church can be a host church for that event, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the Stepping Up link. There’s information about the video series there and about the National Men’s Conference coming on Saturday, August 4th.
Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com or you can call us toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY.
Finally, I want to remind our regular listeners about the Stepping Up matching gift fund that has been made available to FamilyLife during the month of May. We have been asking listeners this month to consider making a donation to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. When you make a donation this month, that donation is going to be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $650,000.
We are hoping to take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity, but obviously we need to hear from listeners very soon because this opportunity expires at the end of the month. So would you consider going online at FamilyLifeToday.com? Click the button that says “I CARE” and make an online matching gift contribution.
Or call 1-800-FLTODAY. You can make a donation over the phone. Again, when you do, your donation is going to be matched dollar for dollar up to a total of $650,000.
We want to say thanks in advance for whatever you’re able to do. Maybe you’ve already made a donation this month – thank you for that. You might consider making a second gift if you’re able to do that. We appreciate your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today and of all that we’re trying to do to help strengthen and equip families.
We want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to continue to talk about how we help boys step up to become men and to embrace God’s design for their lives. We’ll talk about some of the myths of manhood that have to be dispelled in the minds of these young men. Hope you can be back with us for that tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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