Is the character assassination of the young black male now being perpetuated with good intentions?

Such a bold and controversial question has been plaguing my mind over the last three years due to a number of events. Each time I do my best to repress it, however on this occasion the strength of it overtook me and I found myself here; documenting my thoughts hoping that this article will be thought provoking especially for those that have never questioned this before.

Let’s jump backwards to March 2011, a younger inquisitive me conquering my first book, knee deep in research. A typical commute on a train led my eyes to an advert pleading for mentors for ‘troubled’ young black men in London. Splashed across this insistent call was the face of Arsenal legend; Ian Wright. A well-known black man to promote this campaign hoping to recruit a thousand men willing to volunteer for this vital work.

Contextually this was when I was working on the chapter of my book on broken homes. I was intrigued by this advert, desperate for more information on the process and agenda of this campaign. I saw it as a golden opportunity to dig deeper and potentially use my skills to equip other young men for their future. I had experience; Team leader for The Crib Youth Project in Hoxton, Hackney I was accustomed to mentoring young people, building positive relationships and assisting them to reach their potential.

Although I was already embedded in mentoring a number of young people I wanted to make a change in other young people and as such I enthusiastically signed up to Boris Johnson’s mentoring scheme. A few months later I attended the launch of the scheme at the Epicentre in Leyton, East London. It was led by Ray Lewis, ambassador for the program and also Head of Eastside Academy (focused on helping young boys who have been excluded from mainstream education). I was unsettled. It became quickly apparent that the event was publicity centred; set to benefit the ‘founders’ more than the boys they claimed to help. Fingers were pointed, recognition was given, applause erupted, cameras flashed; what a ‘success’. The tokenistic nature of the event captured beautifully in the prize shot of Boris Johnson surrounded by 12 black boys. I was slightly irritated.

For two long years there was hardly any progression or forward movement of the scheme, no volunteers were being placed with at risk black boys. What a ‘success’!

Fast-forward to the present day; Hackney has decided to have a workshop dedicated to young black males.  My inbox celebrated with an invitation to participate in this ‘new’ initiative and my soul responded with the burning repetitive inquiry:

Is the character assassination of the young black male now being perpetuated with good intentions?

It wouldn’t be subdued, the heat of the flames continued to rise and I could no longer ignore it. I decided I would find out what their objectives are and hopes of their outcomes. These are the key areas they want to address:

  • Primary and secondary education transition

  • Incidents in secondary school and subsequent experience

  • Family, friendship groups and other support systems

  • Relationships with police, council and health services

  • Trying to get work

 The correlation of this ‘new’ program and Boris Johnson’s ‘new’ mentoring scheme was highlighted in their ultimate aims “saving the black male” and I wondered if I was alone in my interpretation. So I took it to the general public and asked them the focus of this article. Responses were varied and opinions interesting. Some didn’t understand the question so I rephrased it; Are these good intentions (i.e. mentoring scheme), which exclusively target young black males doing more bad than good?

 Initially 62% said yes and 38% said no. While my own opinions were strong I did not want to influence answers however through conversations the number of ‘no’ responses changed significantly.

Media representation of black males continues to reflect negative stereotypes on international scales. Newspapers are always quick to report criminal activities when related to black men, the large press coverage on incidences identified as ‘black on black’ crime. Praise seems limited to achievements in music or sport yet this is counter-attacked by the modern day coon caricatures black musicians are painted as. Even in film, Denzel Washington had to play a negative role in training day to win an Oscar; the same can be said for Forest Whittaker who played Idi Amin to get his glory. We are all aware of this type of character assassination but in this article I am talking specifically about how concentration on a specific group can perpetuate negative stereotypes.

 Of those who felt that the intentions were good their reasoning centred on their opinions that black boys need extra help because they are failing in schools and are killing each other on the streets. While I accept and agree that there are numerous social issues these involve all ethnic groups and are not limited to black boys. The root of the issue is deeper than the rotten fruit and as such simply blaming the black male for all the social issues he faces is unproductive. This however is not an excuse or condoning negative behaviour. We are all responsible for our actions.

 Mentoring is a powerful tool, one I use and have seen the outcomes associated with it. However only pin-pointing black boys may change a young person’s life but ultimately reinforces the idea that black boys are the problem and they need to be fixed. This approach renders all other potential factors innocent; school, prison and social inequality leading to no permanent change at crucial levels for future generations.

 Eleanor, 26 from Gispy Hill said “Black boys are seen as something of a menace to society and therefore treated as a disease that needs to be treated before it corrupts the good elements in society.  In doing this however the black boys are made to feel worthless and this affects their self-esteem. They are made to feel different and are singled out as special cases and then some of them begin to behave as such; self fulfilling prophesy”

 She also went on to say “ Having funding exclusive to young black boys can generate resentment to other ethnic groups that may feel they need that funding for something they deem to be just as important in their own communities”.

 Channel 4’s hit drama series Top Boy is an example of fulfilling the negative aspects of minority of black males on television. For those who haven’t seen it; the plot involves young black males selling drugs, making bad decisions, having no respect for others and getting involved in violence and other criminal activities. Glorified gangster living. In a discussion with a white middle aged man I questioned his perception of black boys after watching Top Boy and then viewing an advert in the Evening Standard of London mayor Boris Johnson investing 1.2 million in a mentor scheme for young black boys. He replied “ I am old enough to not take what is on television seriously as it is fiction, but after reading that article, I am inclined to think that maybe all I watched was true that they might all be like this, if they need separate organisations like this, something must be wrong with them”

 Asking the question again after discussions around my opinions the results had changed significantly. On reflection 84% said yes and only 16% said no.

 Victor, 23 from Hackney said, “It shouldn’t be specifically aimed at black boys or anyone, and instead it should be for people that live within similar conditions”

 I agree with Victor’s comments. Mentoring is helping for all individuals from a variety of different backgrounds and shouldn’t be limited to a particular race. Poverty, crime, low educational achievements affect a vast majority of young people who all deserve extra assistance. Repetitive focus on black boy’s factors out those that are achieving continues to affect the struggle black boy’s face in society by having to overcome society’s perception of their abilities based on their skin colour.

 Is the character assassination of the young black male now being perpetuated with good intentions?

 You tell me.

Behind the scenes of Consequences book advert.

Behind the scenes of the promotional video for consequences, breaking the negative cycle.

Finalised version

Are you willing to KILL?

Image by: Stefan Paul: twitter @sketchdesignsuk

Are you willing to kill?

Last week I had the opportunity to have a discussion with a group of young people who are actively involved in a gang in Hackney, East London. Their allegiance is decorated on their skin with tattoos of their postcode and gang name. They gave their consent for the documentation of our discussion based on anonymity. The intention of the dialogue was to explore their reasoning regarding their gang involvement. None of these young people are engaged with local youth projects.

Initially the conversation focused on questions about gang hierarchy. With a unanimous voice they declared that they answer to no one and will act on impulse. One replied “the time we use to answer to ‘olders’ (older gang member) is long gone”. “You have to put in the work for your team; this is how you get your status up. Eventually when people know your name they will fear you as an individual or your gang.” Another shouted “at the end of the day it is all about respect”

I intercepted their outbursts with a personal account of my annual video tribute dedicated to all the young people who had died in London due to gang and youth violence. Expressing my sorrow at this situation I enquired about their feelings towards youth deaths. The response I got did not surprise me, the oldest one exclaimed “this is how it is now, people become immune unless they are directly affected”. There was no emotion on their faces, lacking empathy they were devoid of care. The desensitisation to youth fatalities was evident in their reactions. It became apparent that this hard outer shell was embedded into their survival technique ‘never show signs of weakness’.

My questioning shifted to serious topics: Are you willing to kill for your ideals, your gang, or where you live?

The smallest out of the group replied; “we are in too deep, I have enemies who probably will not hesitate to kill me if they saw me slipping (caught off guard). That is why I am always prepared for whatever the occasion and if that means dropping a body in the process then so be it”

Although many may be shocked by this, I was not. Unfortunately this is not the first occasion in which I have witnessed this same content from young people. I am always reminded of a quote from the film ‘we own the night’ “I would rather be judged by 12, than be carried by 6”. After I told them about that quote, they all agreed, saying that is exactly how they see it.

What would it take for you to move on from this lifestyle?

They all exchanged glances before one of the quiet ones who hadn’t yet participated in the discussion piped up: “to be honest even if I decided to go legit, I would still be in the game because like they said before we are in too deep. I would probably have to move out of London totally to actually concentrate on other things. Apart from that no way, my guard stays up 24’s.”

It is young people with this mentality that I am consistently attempting to engage with. Their loyalty to their peers and self perception as gang members forms a stumbling block from opportunities to change.  Although weapons cause considerable damage, the real danger is spread through the mindset of these young people. Minor altercations can now result in a fatal shooting or stabbing, leaving yet another family with a scar that can never be healed. I attempt to get these young people to attend my consequences workshops or engage in youth activities but they refuse.  However I consistently converse with them to challenge their way of thinking and provide an alternative lifestyle to the one they currently uphold.

More senseless killings

A few days after our discussion, I found out about the fatal stabbing which took the life of Kwame Ofosu-Asare (17) in Brixton. Reading the story made me angry and reminded me of the pain of losing someone.  Also thinking about the family and how they will now cope with this void in their lives.

I am reminded of the period when I was doing research for my book and a man in his late 40’s said to me “do not waste your time it is inevitable, they will continue to kill each other”. I chose not to accept what he said, that can only happen if we do nothing and allow this to continue. The thing is people do not think it is their problem until something happens that affect them. The way things are anyone could be a victim.

I wrote my book Consequences  to enhance my ability to spread my message to people around the country and of the young people I work with that believe in change. Thankfully I have been doing that by speaking and working in schools, at youth projects, prisons, and in the next month I will be running more consequences workshops, speaking at youth conferences in Wolverhampton, and also in Berlin.

Although I enjoy communicating, action is essential for change. Due to this I have enlisted positive young men to take charge and make an impact on someone’s life through mentoring. There seems to be an outcry when the police kill someone, while young people are killing each other every day, with a lack of effort for change and justice. One thing I learnt from my time in Los Angeles, speaking with former OG Crip gang member is to always have hope no matter how bad things may seem.

My repetition is for emphasis: everyone can play a part no matter how small.

If we strive to change mindsets, promote ambition and invest in young people then we would not need to tell them to put the knives and guns down. They would be in a position to make the right choices. This is not the time to give up, or to remain silent. A generation of future doctors, lawyers, prime ministers and teachers are wrapped up in a detrimental lifestyle of violence where innocent people are dying. Complacency cannot bring change.

 

Emeka, Why “Breaking the negative cycle”?

A few people have been asking why I use the term ‘breaking the negative cycle’, for me this term represents everything that I do in youth work explained more clearly through my teenage experiences. Growing up in Hackney I was witness to the effect of negativity outshining all the positives in the borough. In 2001 ‘The Crib’ youth project was barely 2 years old, and the place was packed with young people from all over Hackney. Watching Janette and Karlene the founders of the Crib, taking in young people no matter how bad they were, and giving them a chance to make something of themselves impacted me. At the time being surrounded by both positive and negative people I had to filter through the mess to discover what I needed to lead my path to success. Eventually everyone dispersed, some chasing their dreams, via university, work, setting up businesses while others chose to stay or join the negative cycle.

After going away to study and returning to the area, I started working for The Crib with the set of new young people who are now part of the project. Observing them for a while, I noticed that things hadn’t changed much from my time, negativity was still rampant. Some of the young people were focusing all their energy on the wrong things, which could lead to prison or worse death.

Now with the opportunity to make a real difference, I was thinking of ways to break the negative cycle. This spurred me to start the consequences program, using knowledge I had acquired from past mentors, books and parents. Tackling issues like, youth violence, gang culture, peer pressure I created effective ways to help shape these young minds to strive for success using relevant and inspirational methods.

I aim to break the cycle of:

Doubt,

Where young people believe they cannot achieve because the fear of failure consumes and prevents them from even attempting. I remind them that “they cannot win if they do not play” Showing that you can succeed if you truly believe, and put in the hard work. I do not believe in the saying “if it was meant to be it will be” my logic is if it was meant to be then by working hard you will make it happen. When contemplating on writing my book, I was told ” do people still read, are you sure people will buy books” I refused to listen to the doubts and persisted to my aim till I accomplished it.

Excuses,

Young people constantly hear that they cannot be the best because they do not have what it takes, or that the rich have more advantages to succeed. Repeatedly informed that their history, racism, convictions, slavery, ethnicity, provide no escape route. To break this cycle we need to lead by example, like I say many times the children are watching, so we need to lead not just by what we say but by what we do. There so many reasons to explain why people use excuses to stay in the negative cycle, to overcome these barriers you need the right tools to take them down, the right mind set, knowledge and the right people around to help you move forward. You must use the negative situation and convert them into tools to push you further. Knowing my history gave me a sense of pride, knowing all the great things that were done by my dad with little or no education not by choice but by circumstances, so I had no excuse, having all this opportunities to succeed. No matter what situation you are in, you have to believe that you can come out of it, with that seed in you then, at least you have broken the cycle and can move forward with attempts to success.

Blame,

We live in a world where it is easier to blame someone else for the problems or social ills that we face. Government, police blaming parents, parents blaming the schools, young people blaming everyone. If we cannot work together, how can we expect anyone to follow suit. To break the cycle I feel everyone needs to first respect each other no matter what race, religion, class they come from., without that we have already failed. From there we can then concentrate on the real task, which is everyone concentrating on what is in their control. Before I point the finger I need to make sure that my house is in order. So government will do all they can to make sure provision and funding are available to help young people acquire jobs.

To the parents: making sure they are doing all they can to be providers and protectors, making sure they instil good values and morals, so when the time comes that child can make the right choices.

To the police: working closer with the communities to ensure that the people they are supposed to be keeping safe feel their presence in a positive way. To the young people themselves making sure that they respect those around them and get their voices heard in a more productive and positive way.

To the youth worker: providing support and being ready to help with that extra push when needed.

When everyone is doing their part no matter how small it is and we are all communicating effectively then we can break that cycle. I feel we can achieve more together when we do not blame or care who takes credit for good results.

To those who are welfare dependent and in poverty, you cannot rely on anyone to make your bad situation go away, you have to be ready to do something about it, accept help in form of welfare if needs be, not to live on but as a lifeline to get past that period of time. Hand outs will not take you out of poverty. Ultimately setting yourself with the right tools to succeed, whether that is education, investing money in business to create your own wealth and putting yourself in a position where you create jobs for others. Then we know we are breaking these negative cycles.

For me it is all about your mind set, if you are ready, the difference is between accepting the cards you are dealt or if you’re willing to strive for a new deck. So I will leave you with a story I was told not too long ago.
Two brothers were raised by their father who was a drunk, abusive, dependent on welfare and had gambling addictions. Eventually the two boys grew up totally different, one became a successful business man, the other became a carbon copy of this dad. They were asked one question, How did you end up in the situation you’re in now? They both had the exact same answer bearing in mind they both had different situations. They both said look at my father, why wouldn’t I end up like this?
The one that ended up like his dad decided that he would doubt himself, makes excuses and blame his father, this route took him into the negative cycle and if care is not taken his children will end up in that cycle.

The one that became successful had a different mind-set. He used the negative in his life and used it as an inspiration to succeed. Overcoming doubt, excuses, and blame. He had ambitions and the belief he could succeed.

So Remember to do your part to break the negative cycle.

By Emeka

 

Peace awards…Great people of London

 

Four days before the awards, I received an email
saying that I had been nominated for two awards. On the night of the awards
walking from London Bridge on Tooley Street towards City hall, I was excited
because I didn’t know what to expect on the night. Walking towards the odd
shaped glass building, I could see the queue from outside.

I walked through security and then off downstairs
for a light refreshment.

It was already past 6pm the show was bound to
start late. Reverend Nims Obunge was the host for the night; he introduced the
mayor of London, Boris Johnson who made a short cameo appearance before he was
off for other duties.

As the awards started, I was moved by some of the
work the people of London were doing on a daily basis.  Some of the work being done needs more
recognition, these awards are just a small way of saying ‘thank you, we
appreciate you and we hope you inspire more people to do the same’.

For me this was my first time at the awards. There
was a sense of pride amongst everyone there, it was not about winning or losing,
it was about showing that there are people out there trying to make a
difference.  I was more than happy to be
there to see and hear about all the amazing working that is being done for
young people, homeless, disabled and the elderly.  These people have dedicated their time &
effort to make a real difference to the community.  I was humbled and in awe of some of the
stories I heard and proud because this is what London is about, coming together
to build a better city and community.

The idea is to get as many people to support their
community in any way that they can. There are so many organisations out there
that would love your skills, advice and input. In Hackney I can say that they
are many organisations like The Crib
who are out there every day making a real difference and providing that
stepping stone for young people to stand on and move forward; organisations
such as Calibre minds, Hold it Down, YOH,Pedro and Skyway.

Working effectively together is a great way to show
that we too have the community spirit that we are trying to sell to everyone
else.

So please make a positive contribution to your
community.

Thank You, Emeka.

Layer cake actor, Jamie Foreman endorses Emeka and his book.

I’ve played gangsters, baddies and hard men in the movies, but in real life, the tough choice that takes real courage is be able to say no when violence seems like an easy way out. Emeka Egbuonu has made it his mission in life to equip young people with the confidence and knowledge to make good choices in difficult situations. His book Consequences – Breaking the Negative Cycle is based on his real life experiences with gangs as a youth and his work since helping other young people not get sucked into violence.

This is a valuable insight from someone who tells it as is really is and doesn’t pull any punches. It’s funny, it’s dramatic – but most of all, it’s honest.
It’s no good just condemning street violence, you also have to look at why it’s happening and how to stop it – especially when British cities have been torn apart by looting and rioting. Emeka was out on the streets during the recent unrest in London, helping young people to see sense and not get involved in trouble. This book is a must-read and a practical guide for young people, parents, teachers, police and anyone with an interest in making our cities safe and creating a new generation of hope instead of alienation.

Jamie Foreman – Of EastEnders and movies – Gangster No 1, Layer Cake and Inkheart.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/eastenders/2011/08/derek-branning.shtml

Book promo video

Britain’s leading criminologist endorses Consequences BNC.

Prof David Wilson

Young people generally have fast become the human equivalent of dangerous dogs in our culture, and young people who join gangs are especially seen as being somehow different, dangerous and alien.  Few of us have bothered to try and understand why a young person might want to join a gang, or thereafter how we as a society might repsond to that decision and thereafter help that young person to leave the gang behind.

Written from his personal experiences of working with gangs and young people in Hackney, Emeka Egbuonu’s Consequences - Breaking the Negative Cycle fills this criminological gap, and brings fresh insight into what we all should be doing in the wake of the English riots to help young people – usually young men – bridge the gap between school and a law-abiding adulthood.

This book should be read widely – not least within the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office – because we can all learn something positive and inspiring from Emeka’s work.

Professor David Wilson, Britain’s leading criminologist, Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham City University and author of Looking for Laura: Public Criminology and Hot News.

Trailer for London 2 LA; gang intervention documentary

For more information on gang intervention programs visit http://www.thecrib.org.uk

London 2 LA; Gang intervention documentary.

The process of going on this trip was one month in planning.  The consequences workshop is project that uses different techniques to get young people involved in positive activities. We use critical thinking methods to get young people thinking. Within our workshop we discuss the effects of youth violence and gang culture.  The plan now was to see if we can research on world most known areas for gangs and to find as much information as possible to help us in our workshops.  The young people did research and came to the conclusion that Los Angeles was the gang capital of the world and some of their deep rooted problem are taking effect in London today.  We all came back together and analysed what we had all found individually, we all had a chance to present to the group, about the main issues they were facing in LA and most importantly getting information on the gang intervention programs . The results of the research were in and everybody had an interest in the LA programs, this is when the inception for going to LA to do a documentary  in comparing the differences and to find out what we can learn from them.  It was now time to put a bid in for funding to see if we would get the opportunity to make this happen, which would create a new opportunity to work with young people abroad.

We all saw an opportunity to go on a trip and make a good documentary. When the approval for the trip came, the next stage was to pick who would go on the trip.  This was a fair and easy process because we decided that 1 young person from each Crib project across Hackney will get an opportunity to go.  The one person was decided by who had participated the most in all the workshops even before the idea for the trip was ever mentioned, This seemed like a fair way to do it and the young people were happy with it.  This also allowed us to bring together young people that have never worked together before, either due to gang violence in their areas, but this was an opportunity for them to mix and create something worthwhile

When the final four young people were confirmed, we now had to start planning for the trip. I would call a meeting with them once a week to discuss plan.  We divided up the task, some were in charge of calling youth organisation to see if they could accommodate us, while other looked into the visa process of travelling to the States.  We had a budget of £5000 which we had to spend wisely, this was for travel, food, and accommodation. We all worked on a budget together, everyone was assigned something to do i.e. checking flight prices, accommodation prices , car rental prices, equipment for filming.  The budget was drawn up and was always monitored at every step to make sure we were still within our budget.

We had to do several risk assessment to make sure that the trip would be as safe as possible. One of the things which we had on the risk assessment was that we could not interview anyone that was not part of an organisation we have contact with. We would always have a youth worker with us when in dangerous areas.  We all sat down to brainstorm what risk we could have, when we found these out, we now had to minimise the risk or figure out how to eliminate that risk. This process was long but effective and had to be done.

When the trip was over, they young people had to keep a diary of their trip and their experiences. All of them learnt something from the trip, they learnt to appreciate things a bit more. They saw many people’s struggles and comparing that to what happens in London made them realise their potential.  This trip made them want to spread the message of positivity even more, to help shape and guide their peer from any forms of negativity that could disrupt their lives. The confidence they gained from asking questions, interviewing people, interacting with people that they never would have met before, this has now transpired to their lives here as they are all using these new skills to make a positive impact here in London. The journey of the trip and the life experience is not something that they will forget and they are really grateful to have the opportunity to go and make something positive that they can be proud of.

by Emeka

To buy the DVD use the link below;

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Consequences-London-Crib-youth/dp/B005FEY0X4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312203471&sr=8-1%3Cbr%20/%3Ehttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Consequences-London-Crib-youth/dp/B005FEY0X4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1312203471&sr=8-1