Behind the scenes of the promotional video for consequences, breaking the negative cycle.
Holloway Prison holds female adults and young offenders remanded or sentenced by the local courts. Of these over half have reported suffering domestic violence and one in three have experienced sexual abuse.
As a young man, having the opportunity to address these young women was a shock and a privilege. Public speaking has become a major part of my life since the release of my book and I have been propelled from small community group settings to large scale lectures across the country. As a confident speaker I relish new challenges and opportunities to share my knowledge and message with others never usually feeling nervous. Yet here I was, Black History Month 2012 racking my brain for inspiration and being overcome by the unfamiliar feeling of unease.
Although the majority of my work over the last nine years has centred on the development of young men there has been overlap as their relationships with young women is often a topic of exploration. Through these projects a number of concerning issues have surfaced spanning from abuse, gang affiliations, joint enterprise and sexual exploitation. While much attention has been given to young men entangled in a street lifestyle the young women involved are often neglected. Running interventions with Janette Collins project manager of The Crib Youth club has exposed me to the concerning daily experiences of some of these young women.
The safe nature of the youth club and the trust between worker and young person has presented an environment where young women feel able to express the extent of their issues. Through intimate relationships young women had become caught up with their boyfriend’s lifestyle of drugs, guns and gangs. Pressure and coercion to hold and hide drugs and weapons were rampant with young women admitting to being initially attracted to the power and reputation from being linked with these men. However this benefit was short lived as they told us of often being treated disrespectfully, forced to be involved in criminal activities and risking going to prison for ‘love’. I learnt to listen without judging the primary focus to assist these young women to leading fulfilling lives; often referring them to other targeted organisations.
As my mind reviewed the work I had done with young women in the past my nerves began to subside. I noticed a key difference in the mentoring I had done previously; unlike speaking to young women on the verge of making a mistake or currently needing guidance, this was about young women who had come to terms with their mistake and hopefully looking forward to the next stage of their lives. My shift in perspective allowed my mind freedom to link thoughts and once ignited ideas began to flow.
On the day nerves temporarily attempted to make an appearance but they were thwarted by my increasing confidence. Prepped and passionate I left my notes on the floor and addressed the inmates from, the heart. Hope; to look forward with desire and confidence formed the foundation of my message. Speaking words that I hoped would penetrate and be effectual. I used language to challenge their perspective on themselves; evidencing that self respect was necessary “to demonstrate that you have self-respect and carry yourself in a way people will respect you because you are confident in who you are”.
Like Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” and this seed I wanted to sow to them as its core concept flowed through my speech. If they took nothing else, I wanted that to impact them; being such a powerful statement. Throughout my life I have been blessed tremendously by being surrounded by strong, confident women. Their words and lessons have affected me and a number of others and I remember them to this day. My presentation gave me the opportunity to combine the voices of many inspirational women and amplify their message to a vast audience. As an ambassador of their teaching I felt privileged to translate their words to these young women and pass on the mantle of experience. In relation to help and assistance I challenged them to discern genuine people from those pretending. Regardless this support will end so self-motivation and ambition is vital to drive them to their success. I aimed to show them their importance and get them to consider their future regardless of their past. To conclude I spoke about redemption, the process of accepting mistakes and how to move forward. If and when the opportunity arises that they get a chance to re-join society what plan do they have for themselves.
This is some background statistics on women in prisons;
Women prisoner background
• One in four women in prison has spent time in local authority care as a child.
• Nearly 40% of women in prison left school before the age of 16 years, almost one in 10 were aged 13 or younger.
• 30% of women were permanently excluded from school.
• Over half the women in prison report having suffered domestic violence and one in three has experienced sexual abuse.
• 19% of women were not in permanent accommodation before entering custody and 10% of women were sleeping rough.
Reconviction and reoffending
• 51% of women leaving prison are reconvicted within one year – for those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 62%. For those women who have served more than 10 previous custodial sentences the reoffending rate rises to 88%.
• 58% of women identified unemployment and lack of skills as problems contributing to their offending
A number of young women are categorised as ‘vulnerable’ by organisations, in policies and by society. Often the label focuses on the woman’s situation but may not address the misogynistic male who has attacked or controlled them. Barnados Charity run a project that helps ‘vulnerable’ young women and a manager explained that there is still much work to be done to help educate young women about various issues they face and more importantly understanding when to ask for help. Although stigmatised, seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of awareness; showing you understand your situation and realised you need support in order to succeed.
After my talk at HMP I had the opportunity to talk to some of the young women and two stood out. The first (19) explained that she was in prison due to being mistreated by her partner and using violence to defend herself. She did not see herself as being vulnerable. Societies over centuries have told us that men are innately superior to women. So when a man or boy for instance is abused the courts never used the word vulnerability rather they concentrate on perpetrator. When a woman is a victim regardless of her personality traits the word “vulnerable” is often used by the police and in courts, which in part deflects that is was solely the action of the male perpetrator that is at fault and should be fully accountable.
The second young lady, who was in her mid-twenties, came up to me and she started crying. She thanked me for coming to speak to them and told me she really appreciated it. Parts of the message had really impacted her deeply and she spoke of how her perspective had shifted and she now viewed her future more positively. I was humbled by her admission and her honesty and touched by her emotion and self-reflection.
Mentoring, guidance and direction should not be gender determined. Both young men and young women require positive role models with those in disadvantaged positions especially benefitting from a positive adult relationship. Often young men’s issues are thrown into the spotlight but I hope that those in close contact with young women will be vigilant to their needs and give them the love and support they need to make positive choices.
“Emeka is a charismatic and interesting speaker. When he spoke at HMP Holloway in support of Black History Month 2012, he engaged and entertained a large group of women, whilst presenting some challenging and inspirational ideas. His breadth of material and fluid style sustained his audience throughout and gave them plenty to think about afterwards.”
Dominik Ceglowski, Equalities Manager
Last year I was involved in a documentary with Siobhan Benita about the events that took place at Cable street in 1936.
Civil unrest is about a journey we took interviewing people who were alive at that time and how they fought against fascism.
The journey is also about what lessons we have learnt from the events of the past. Siobhan and I have huge interest when it comes to the
welfare of young people in the UK, so doing a documentary like this is really important because there is so much to learn from the past
and from the people who stood up and organised effectively for what they believed in.
Hope you enjoy the shorts clips we have uploaded so far.
The Kindness of strangers
The eyes of a child
Retweet or share on facebook, more videos to be uploaded soon.
Follow Siobhan on twitter @siobhanbenita
On October 4th and 5th 2012 The Crib youth project ran a trading places workshop on Debeauvoir estate N1 with the Metropolitan police.
This is some highlights of the two day session.
The idea for this video came to me while I was thinking of what I wanted for the cover of the book. This video is basically what happens before that image is taken on the front cover. The whole idea is about sharing and passing on knowledge, the main character (John-Luke) who is running to help make sure his friend makes the right decision. When he eventually gets to his friend (Kelvin) and gets him to think about his actions, he hands him a book, which Kelvin eventually hands to his friend (Toby) who is still in that negative cycle. That is the image I used for the front cover of the book. Young positive men ready to break the negative cycle by sharing knowledge.
Of course there are different barriers that many young people face, the book talks about some of those barriers. The thing is that you can do all you can to help young people make the right choices, but ultimately when that time comes you have to hope they make the right choices.
For me the most important part of the front cover is the willingness of the young man who wants to receive the knowledge and use that to progress.
I hope that explains the concept of the video and how it ties into the front cover of the book.
Big thanks to the Director Sam Edwards and the producer Hannah Nedas for all their hard work.
Big thanks to all the young actors:
Listen and share this great poem by Lionheartfelt
Wolverhampton Citizens for Change (WCFC) Conference
Saturday 24th March 2012
I am very pleased to invite you to our second conference which will be held on Saturday 24 March 2012 from 12.00 noon – 6.00 pm at The Connaught Hotel, Tettenhall Road, Wolverhampton WV1 4S4.
Building on the success of the inaugural conference, which resulted in a total of 24 delegates indicating an interest in joining WCFC, this will be delivered through a variety of formats including presentations, workshops and debate. We anticipate this to be an exciting, stimulating and challenging conference which will give attendees the opportunity to contribute to and influence the future activities of WCFC.
The conference will draw on the experience from Keynote Speaker Emeka Egbuonu, writer and youth worker for the Crib Youth Project who grew up in Hackney and is the founder of Consequences, a programme aimed at giving 13-19 year olds the confidence and skills to avoid getting involved with gangs; or help them to exist gangs.
This will be an excellent opportunity to become inspired and invigorated to contribute to the work of WCFC.
Enclosed with this letter is a booking form and information about the four strands to assist you in making a decision about which workshop to attend.
I sincerely hope you will be able to attend and request that you complete and return the booking form by Wednesday 14 March 2012.
To book a place email the booking form to: email@example.com
Chair – Wolverhampton Citizens For Change (WCFC)
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.
It has been a year since I took four young people from our Crib youth project to Los Angeles to do a gang intervention documentary. The idea was to find out as much as we can about young people in gangs in LA and the most important thing was to find out what intervention projects where in place to tackle the gang culture. We visited Crenshaw, Inglewood, Boyle heights and we even had the opportunity to get a tour of a county jail for juvenile young people.
Since then Tobi, Mustaphar, Bobbie and Bernard have been spreading the message of their experience in LA, through the documented interviews of active gang member, former gang member, gang intervention worker, and a District attorney. The DVD London 2 LA gang intervention documentary has been watched by more that 800 people. We have also distributed more than 600 copies in the last year.
The 4 of them are now working hard to build a successful future for themselves. They will never forget their experience in Los Angeles and hope that their message in the documentary reaches many young people in the UK.
For more information on the planning of the trip click the link: http://emekabnc.com/2011/08/10/london-2-la-gang-intervention-documentary/?preview=true&preview_id=64&preview_nonce=2d38405714