Generation of Gentlemen

JuVan Langford mentors men on how to be unapologetically masculine.

My journey of stepping more completely into my own masculinity left me asking “what does healthy masculinity look like” and “how can we turn society towards positive change?” As I explored the answers to those questions, I had the opportunity to meet a man whose goal in life is to help other men find the answers to those questions. It seemed fitting for our Top Doctors issue to feature someone who works to improve the mental, physical, and spiritual health and wellness of men worldwide. We are honored to present to you the story of JuVan Langford, men’s empowerment coach.

JuVan grew up in Worchester, Massachusetts. Born to a 16-year-old mother, he was a child being raised by a child. At the tender age of three, he lost his father to Leukemia. Although we might be able to empathize with his circumstance, it would be nearly impossible to fathom the pain from such a loss. For JuVan’s mother, it was more than she could handle. She turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the grief. It wasn’t long—about the age of 4 or 4 ½–that JuVan found himself in foster care. He would end up with 4 younger sisters, and as any young man would, he felt compelled to assume the role of father to keep his sisters safe.

Sometimes, it seems that life just has it out to make some journeys more challenging than others, and JuVan’s foster care experience wasn’t ideal. His life was filled with physical and sexual abuse early on and profuse bullying in middle and high school.

I wondered, what was it that gave him the strength to overcome these odds like he has? The man sitting in front of me during this interview, exhibited none of these qualities. According to JuVan, “That was sports. I found a lot of solace, and, I found what most men spend their lives in search of, an identity, something I could really hold on to. Having that jersey on my back gave me a sense of purpose. I played all the sports, basketball, football, and ran track. I found safety and protection in sports and it gave me a platform to find myself.” I could definitely relate to how sports helps to build confidence, since that had been my safe place as well.

JuVan’s challenge didn’t end there. He had a deep and underlying challenge—one of finding himself. How exactly does that make one feel, again in his own words, “I think a question that followed me through all of that was, who am I, now that I am adopted, who am I now that I don’t have a dad to call father? Who am I now that my mother cares so little about me not to be there for me? Who am I now that…and it just continued to go on and on. I think most significantly, by asking these questions, it built this curiosity within me and it gave me this capacity to explore self-inquiry and ultimately build a relationship with myself.”

By getting to know himself, he was able to work through some really tough situations to which many of us could relate: feeling ashamed to tell our story for fear of what others will think, searching for a turning point when we don’t have a mentor to rely on and feeling intimidated. JuVan shared one of his life changing moments. “I lived in a small apartment complex and between the living room and the bedrooms, there was a small hallway and I would walk up and down the hallway. One day I was walking down and I stopped, closed my eyes and I put my hands to my sides. I felt this energy passing through me and I felt like, Whoa. It was like my first time I believed in energetics or God. And it really, it landed for me, it was a really special moment.

I felt like something was guiding me through, like something was protecting me and I identified that as God. And I think that gave me a bit of strength to carry through some of the adversities that were yet to come.”
At that point, I wondered when JuVan really knew his life’s calling. Was that the defining moment, at 11? “No, not at all.” He said he had spent years without ever planning to work in empowerment, in fact he avoided that for much of his life. Fortunate to get a full ride to Skidmore College, where he completed a double major in Business Management and Spanish.

After college, while living abroad, he had what might be called another coming to Jesus moment where he became clearer on his purpose. He had spent his entire life trying to be better than average at everything, but not great at any one particular thing. With this thought in mind, he really wanted to be called on to make a difference and leave a positive legacy behind.

Again, he became curious and asked himself, “If I could do anything, if money wasn’t an issue, what would I be doing? I would be in the entertainment industry behind or in front of the camera.” Thoughts of an experience as a child helped form this vision. One night as he was being pulled back and forth from his grandmother to his mother they ended up in a shelter and on the TV was the Wizard of Oz. Years later he realized that just like Dorothy at the end of the movie, that he already had everything he needed to achieve his goals right in front of him.

Innately, he knew that all he would need in terms of relationships and resources, would come. The next years would be learning his dream. A stint at Maker Studios, where, as one of the first few employees, he got to experience lots of job roles. From creative scout to producer, to director, and pretty much everything in between. There, he learned about video production and the impact of social media.

When Maker Studios was sold to Disney, JuVan had an opportunity to take time to think about what was next. He decided to go abroad. “I went to the Dominican Republic and I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a third world country, but it was one of those mind blowing and heart opening moments. I realized this is the work I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to give back, I want my work to be a real contribution to society.” It was at that point that a young man shared his story with JuVan, and it was such a reflection to his own story, that the question of where do young men go in that situation to turn for help?

That was the turning point for his decision to reorganize his non-profit to focus on young men. Into the schools of Los Angeles he went, with a passion to help. “We began to realize that these young men needed community. These young men needed to be witnessed by one another. These young men were going through some of the greatest challenges of their lives. And I just built this belief that men are not meant to just maintain careers in sustained families and then struggle in their pursuit for inner peace. It’s really the other way around.” So he’s clear, find inner peace then you’ll be fulfilled in your career and your family.

It became more and more clear to him that men are lacking a place to really communicate with other men. He thinks at the very core that men don’t need a place to go to. They need a place to come from. “We’ve lost a sense of who we are and what we want and where we’re going,” he says.
The organization’s mission is to focus on the core principles of: identity, intimacy and integrity. The reason being, is that identity is the most important element in a man’s life. “If he doesn’t know who he is, he will have a very challenging time navigating any situation or any relationship he chooses to be in. And so the philosophy is that if we can get men to be clear on who they are, what they want, where they’re going, then they will feel strong enough, they will feel clear enough to be able to have intimacy in their life, not only in the interpersonal relationships, but in their romantic relationships.”

With that intimacy, men could lead a life of integrity and be willing to say what needs to be said. Men wouldn’t choose to remain silent about what matters the most, which directly applies to spirituality. He found that often, men would go to church more as a ritual, rather than a true experience. And that and the overall decrease in church attendance leads to another problem. Young boys are growing up and not having any idea who they are or what they want out of life. They need a community to plug into and that is what the nonprofit provides—a safe place to speak the truth with someone who can offer counsel in a positive and supportive manner.
JuVan went on to say that men often tend to hide from what they don’t know or are uncertain about. The problem with these “non-choices” is that they have delayed consequences, and without the benefit of having mentors to talk with, this avoidant behavior is unlikely to change. The focus at his non-profit centers will be to create those spaces again, lead those conversations where men can be witnessed by other men.

I wondered, what keeps men from seeking this on their own? For JuVan, he said it was his embarrassment about sharing—he felt he just wasn’t man enough because he didn’t already know the answers. This feeling created a sense of vulnerability, instead of empowerment. To be a person that could help shift the dynamic of a social stigma against men’s empowerment, he would have to get comfortable sharing his story again and again. Doing so has helped him to break through and create a roadmap for masculinity and conversations that create empowered men.

“I thought, man, I don’t want to be just another person,” said Juvan. What’s clear is he wants to be the person who helps shift the dynamics of a form of social behavior that is crippling the male population. Deep down he feels like our greatest challenge is the thing that we’re born to break through and then teach others. And this is certainly the case for me when it comes to the masculinity conversation. In my own journey for soul growth I found this to be true and it was no sooner than sharing my truth that so many opportunities opened up to help me. In this it seems to me that JuVan is right on the mark.

What he learned, is that what separates one man from the next is their story, their history, what they’ve been through and how they’ve not gotten over it, but rather, learned to live above it. For him, it boils down to this. “What I have learned is how to manage my emotions, how to build my emotional intelligence, how to connect with myself, how to build a relationship with my inner child and to heal the wounds and reframe the narratives that have kept me hostage and really distanced me from everything that I wanted.” He went on to share that learning to simply tell the truth until it doesn’t hurt anymore has opened a lot of doors. There are a lot of men who are hurting because we live in a world that makes it unsafe for us to be honest about our feelings, sharing with other men so that we can heal openly.

JuVan Langford has a vision–a huge vision–to build conscious campuses around the world. The vision is to provide resource centers with doctors, lawyers, therapists, and dentists that offer their services to men who may not be able to afford them or just don’t feel safe to reach out for those services. “We will have a leadership complex where we have a wraparound auditorium and co-working spaces in a meditation dome where men can come in and learn mindset training to build their willpower. We will have a health and wellness complex where we will have a state-of-the-art fitness center, farmer’s market, football fields, basketball courts, indoor volleyball, and then we will have a residential complex. Then we have young men who can actually live on the campus and be given jobs and opportunity to share in creating a virtuous cycle of mentorship.

“The last six years of traveling across Europe, Australia, Africa, and sitting in rooms with men of different backgrounds, sexuality, creeds, religions, and realizing there are a lot of common concerns that these men have (which also) drive me. I feel the world’s greatest challenges are the direct result of masculine dysfunction in men. And I think that men are dysfunctional because we’re at war in our mind and hearts. What we need as men are one on one exchanges with other men that are committed to helping each other.”

We can do this for each other at any time. A simple conversation, sometimes a single thought or idea is spoken and everything changes. “That happened to me at 13 years old. I remember being at this huge event. There were 20,000 people in the auditorium and this man came floating out to the center stage in a white outfit with white hair. And he just stood there just watching the entire audience and people were clapping and rooting and I’m like, ‘who is this guy?’ And he spoke so much truth that day.

Juvan with his mentor and renown public speaker George Zalucki

“The person that I was sitting next to is my grandmother and she nudged me and said, ‘are you okay?’ I said, ‘yeah’. She goes, ‘you’re crying.’ I was so connected to his message that he was literally transfusing this wisdom into me and I took it enthusiastically. I later got a chance to meet him, and he’s become an incredible mentor of mine. George Zalucki, has become very special to me {Cityview Sept/Oct 2019}.” To experience love and be witnessed by a woman was one thing for JuVan, but for a man to truly care about him was a tremendous new experience. “He gave me strength in the spiritual muscle to work through a lot of the challenges that I was experiencing. And now, I can be that man for other men.”

Certainly, this is a grandiose plan and when asked where the funding will come from JuVan laughingly says, “It will come from wherever it is now.” Although it may seem like an impossible dream to some, it is difficult not to respect the confidence he has in his vision.

“So what is the key, the first step?” I asked. His answer was both clear and direct. “I think a big part of growth comes through self-education and a lot of men don’t realize what they’ve actually been through. They don’t realize what they’re holding onto or carrying through life. They don’t realize who they are and their worth. They become numb, but in most cases it’s just an absence of awareness. I help men build their awareness and bring to their awareness what they are choosing or pretending not to be. And once you can be honest about where you are, then you can start to heal.” He believes that healing creates room in the mind, in your heart and your life so that you can start creating, self-generating, and manifesting what you truly desire. That is the definition of a healthy relationship with yourself. “If I can teach those things to a man, then I have done my job.”

In closing, JuVan has given us some ways to begin our own soul journey. If we approach learning about ourselves with self-honesty as the point of beginning, then we are on-path. We can just be exquisitely honest about what’s not working and what we want. This would be a great thing for any man to experience and their significant others will be so happy that their man has gotten real with himself.

Cityview looks forward to following JuVan on his journey. Look for our updates on the first big event that will happen right here in Knoxville later this summer.

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