Taking off the Mask: showing up as your authentic self

Ashanti Branch has a passion for helping others realize their full potential. California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and Monterey Peninsula College (MPS) hosted a hybrid event highlighting student support resources on Sept. 14 with guest speak Ashanti Branch, founder of The Ever Forward Club, which seeks to provide community engagement, mentorship, academic and family development through various workshops and services.

Being raised by a single mother in Oakland, Branch quickly became aware of the lack of role models and positive outlets for Black and Latino males. Inspired by his passion for teaching and his desire to give young people of impoverished communities a fighting chance of educational success, Branch’s vision came to fruition by starting The Ever Forward Club.

Branch began the event by asking the audience how they were feeling that day on a scale of one to 10. His goal was to inspire students to live each day as their authentic selves, and never being afraid to ask for help when it’s needed. Having a group of people around us we can confide in, that we can be 100 percent comfortable around, is essential for self-growth development and remaining optimistic.

“When do you decide you aren’t going to stay silent?” Branch asked. “It’s easy to say that words don’t hurt, but words you can feel them.”

When it comes to “taking off the mask,” Branch doesn’t mean in the literal sense of living life in a pandemic maskless, but living without restrictions and having to put up a front for others to appease them. 

The event was engaging, with Branch calling up volunteers to share personal stories and struggles. The mood of the event was ranging from somber to relief. After doing the activities, Branch advised the audience to reach out to people on their minds – someone they haven’t spoken to in a while.

“Sometimes it feels good to know that we are being thought about,” Branch said. “I want you to reach out to someone for the sake of them being thought about.”

Ending the event with another group activity, Branch had the audience speak to their neighbors for two minutes each to allow everyone a chance to catch up or express concerns they have been concealing. 

All volunteers that participated in the event were recipients of gifts Branch brought to express thanks and gratitude for being vulnerable and opening up.

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