Man Up!, the true story of the Boys Club Network, was performed on Parliament Hill at an event sponsored by Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan, who is himself a mentor in the program. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

'Man Up!' play brings powerful message of mentoring hopeless young men

  • December 7, 2016

OTTAWA – In very dramatic fashion, the Vancouver-based Boys Club Network has taken its case for mentoring programs to Parliament Hill.

In front of an audience of MPs and Hill staffers on Nov. 29, professional actors put on a performance of Man Up!, which tells the true story of the Boys Club Network.

The play, which has been performed widely across British Columbia for several years, shows how high school administrator Walter Mustapich and fine arts department head Jim Crescenzo set up a club 10 years ago in East Vancouver for boys who were drifting into crime, drugs and lifelong poverty for lack of positive male role models.

Mustapich and Crescenzo, both Catholics, were present at the event, sponsored by Canada’s Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, MP for Vancouver-South, and Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky.

“I was truly lucky to find a mentor in the right time of my life,” Sajjan, a mentor for the Boys Club Network, told the audience. “Another friend of mine ended up six feet under.

“If we don’t hold the opportunities out, we as a society will be losing out.”

The play involves four young men: a First Nations youth who is bullied and beaten up by other students, a black youth whose abusive father pressures him to deal drugs at the school, a white youth from an affluent family whose father is too busy as a judge to spend time with him, and a youth from a Vietnamese background who becomes involved in one of Vancouver’s most powerful Asian gangs.

The actors portray the anger, sense of hopelessness and casual violence in the young men’s lives and the emotional risks the two educators take in reaching out to them. The play also depicts the complicated family relationships of a couple of the boys and some mentors, including a Vancouver police officer.

Dzinh Nguyen, who joined the Boys Club 10 years ago at the age of 15, plays himself in Man Up!

Though he grew up in a Catholic family, his parents were so busy working trying support the family that he drifted into the gang life as a loan shark in one of Vancouver’s biggest Asian gangs.

“I was one of the original boys,” Nguyen said in an interview.

Nguyen said it took about two years for him to trust Jim and Walter, “that they were for real” and they “really meant what they said about unconditional love.”

“It took me a very long time to understand that concept,” he said.

Nguyen said he recalls praying nightly as a child that God would send someone to help his family.

“I always believe that things happened for a reason and on many, many, many nights where I was super depressed and terribly sad, I would always pray,” Nguyen said.

He didn’t think his prayers were answered at the time. “That’s where I kind of went awry and made the choices that I did.”

“However, with the introduction of the Boys Club, I finally realized my prayers were answered,” he said. “I think the journey that God had for me was a little bit different. I think that God wanted me to understand the pain that is out there for a lot of children and youth who can’t help themselves, so that one day He would hope that I would be able to help out the youth.”

Mustapich explained the reason for the Boys Club Network is that teenaged boys are four times more likely to commit suicide, five times more likely to drop out of school and 18 times more likely to be a victim of a major crime.

Over the past 10 years, the network has grown to serve 500 boys in 14 chapters in schools throughout British Columbia, he said. A common denominator among the boys is a lack of a positive male role model in their lives. Ninety per cent of Boys Club members stay in school and graduate.

Mustapich said 22,000 people have seen Man Up! free of charge because of the generosity of donors. Many of the actors, who have an array of professional credits in television, film and on stage, both in Canada and in the United States, serve as mentors.

After performing on Parliament Hill, the Boys Club Network took the play to four Ottawa Catholic schools.

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