Jon Barry—Healing Violence with Compassion and Commitment
Jonathan Barry’s life journey has been one of compassion and leadership. He was raised in St. Paul where, as a student, he was identified as a learner with dyslexia. As a boy, Jon struggled with labels and learning. But with passionate support from his mother and a number of talented teachers, Jon learned that while we sometimes suffer from the labels our community applies to us, we all have gifts that may be trapped in roles or undeveloped by low expectations.
One of Jon’s gifts is his capacity for compassion. Early in his teens, Jon felt the pain felt by others. At Grand Rapids High School, he began reaching out to other students who were suffering, recognizing that some students had no one to speak for them. He started a student group to support GLBT kids in his high school. His compassion grew with leadership and actions that helped heal the hearts of others. He recognized that we don’t all start with the same opportunities. That insight has made him sensitive to injustice.
As a result, Jon took his compassion and leadership skills to the College of St. Scholastica to earn a degree in Social Work. While engaged with a Kiwanis leadership group, he met another student interested in justice and equity, Sarah, who became his wife. His CSS education honed his gifts, and he went on to earn a Masters Degree in Social Work from UMD. After exploring the relationship between our socially defined roles and the behaviors they generate, he was fortunate to work for the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project. He served with DAIP for eight years, learning more about how communities use shame to control and direct behavior—especially in guys. Due to his years of service there, Jon developed special skills working with violent men who were underperforming. This meaningful work added focus and power to Jon’s skill set.
In his work with DAIP and St. Louis County Public Health clients, Jon learned more about how to help people with healing relationships. Violent men tend to suffer from early roles which left them feeling shame. This simmering shame often made them prone to violence. Jon developed the capacity to sense their shame and help them see another response. This helped them heal their hearts and open a door to more vulnerable relationships and resilient living. Jon understands that lots of American men accept masculinity as defined by anger, hostility and threats. This is why guys often do not hang out with other guys. But one can feel isolated and alone in that box of hostility.
Jon has been working in Heath Services at UMD as a therapist for five years. His training and work experience have helped students increase their capacity for healthy relationships. His learning journey has harnessed his gifts of healing, compassion, dedication and leadership. He uses all these tools to address mental health and healing energy in the lives of students. Our false beliefs can define roles and behaviors for us. Unfortunately, the shame in some of these roles pushes us towards violent and dysfunctional relationships. Jon’s gift is the ability to help others see this is unjust to oneself and others.
When asked about sources of inspiration, Jon identified a recently deceased colleague, Jennifer Wright, and Steve O’Neil. Jennifer offered years of insightful guidance at DAIP that helped Jon see the core of healing relationships. And Steve was a compassionate and strong male who was an active and attentive leader for those without a voice in our community. One quickly senses that Jennifer and Steve are very proud of Jon’s committed service to our community.
Jon currently works with the Peace Church Men’s Group, Health Services at UMD, and is working with UMD leaders to improve the relationships and teamwork of student athletes. Jon is committed to working for justice through healthy relationships and resilient living.
Interviewed by Bill Mittlefehldt