SYRACUSE — Sean McLeod said he wanted to create a space where men could express themselves.
In the Footsteps of Martin: A Conference for Men, allowed McLeod to do that, he said. McLeod, founder of the event, president of the Auburn-based New York Institute of Dance & Education and founder of Reaching for Higher Ground Consulting, joined various panelists who spoke about topics such as what it means to be a man and a man of color — though McLeod noted that the event was for everyone — at the Salt Space Theater in Syracuse Saturday.
The panelists spoke at a general panel discussion as part of a two-day event that included various panels throughout the day Saturday, and a concert Saturday night following an event at the new Equal Rights Heritage Center in Auburn Friday. In the Footsteps of Martin events have also been held in the past.
"I really feel as though as a man it sometimes can be lonely and as a black man it can be debilitatingly lonely," McLeod said after the panel discussion. "But that condition is an accepted condition. You can change it by simply creating a possibility for other black men and other men in general, period, to be able to come together and to have these kinds of conversations that you've been having inside your own head and heart."
One of the first things McLeod asked his panelists was how they believed iconic civil rights rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s actions impacted them.
Thomas Warfield, artistic director at PeaceArt International, said King and others like him "created a path that the people behind them could walk on," making Warfield's own path smoother, he said.
"I think that's what we should be doing for the people behind us. As we're creating a pathway forward, our behavior, our actions are about creating a way forward that leaves a path," he said.
Gregorio Jimenez, executive director for the Syracuse community organization the Near West Side Initiative, said during the general panel discussion that as a man of color he had felt an expectation to not demonstrate emotion and to constantly display strength.
"Being able to come in front of a group of men where you can express yourself is powerful," Jimenez said after the general discussion. "You get a better understanding of yourself once you do that. You're hearing similar things from other men that we might not have expressed with each other."
Virne Cannon, who attended the event, said his wife was aware of the conference and suggested he attend "to meet like-minded people" that want to make changes within themselves and society. He said the conversations had been informative.
"It all starts within (your) self, I feel. We can't change what we see around us unless we're actually different within (your) self," he said.