Can the seed for a men’s empowerment movement be found in something as simple as watching television? For Dr. Kevin Harrison, community engagement coordinator at Wichita State University, the answer is “yes.”

“It started just like the song says. ‘The other day I was looking for something on TV,” he said. “Turned to the news, saw somebody who looked like me.’”

It was coverage of George Floyd’s murder. From that opening line, Harrison says it took him about 20 minutes to complete the lyrics and just weeks, to launch “The Breathe Project,” which he says “is an attempt to use art as a means of addressing social injustice and racial stereotypes.”

The cornerstone of “The Breathe Project” is a music video that features the words written by Harrison, which were put to music by his collaborator Sam Hines, performed by more than 50 Black men from the Wichita, then recorded and shared in the hopes of being a catalyst for change.

“Too many times we see these types of images [Black men being murdered by police] on television. Too many times we hear the words ‘I can’t breathe.’ We need to counter that thinking,” he said. Harrison says while he “can” breathe, he wants to change the narrative for “people who look like me.”

Let’s be the change we want the world to see,

The change in our community.

Change we want the world to see.

Let’s be the air that all men are free to breathe.

It’s a simple but powerful message that’s amplified by the video featuring nearly 50 Black men of all ages who’ve come together to deliver it to others.

Let’s be the change we want the world to see.

Harrison says the video came together with just a few flyers passed out at area churches. When you watch the video, you can’t help but notice the sheer number of quality voices. You find yourself pointing out people you know.

However, it’s the power of this unique mix of concerned and strong Black men that strengthens the message, even though the brief appearance by area musical legend Rudy Love is like “icing on the cake.”

While the project began with the song and video, it’s evolved to include three major goals: to inspire young Black boys, to take control of the narrative around young Black men, and to start some conversations about fair treatment, and encourage law enforcement to join in the dialogue.

Even before the video’s release, there was a market for the t-shirts worn by the men in the video. The Black t-shirt, featuring a clenched fist and the word “breathe,” is for sale on the project website.

The project has also produced a calendar featuring professional men in the community. The goal is to help young Black boys see themselves in various professions because by seeing others in a field, their belief that they can do the same is enhanced.

“There’s nothing wrong with being an athlete or entertainer, but there are many other worthy occupations,” says Harrison.

Proceeds from the sale of the calendar will be used to purchase gift cards to help families who suffer because of COVID-19.

Harrison says, “There will be other videos, other calendars, other opportunities to participate. There’s always room for new ideas.”

“The Breathe Project” video can be viewed on YouTube HERE or on Facebook, “The Breathe Project.” Visit the project shop to purchase t-shirts or masks or simply to donate. A calendar will be available in October.

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