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

A year on from London 2 LA gang documentary.

 

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

Pictures:

 

Tottenham MP David Lammy, gets behind CONSEQUENCES.

Books such as this are crucial to understanding the issues that drive a minority of young people into the kind of lifestyles that are damaging both to them and to the rest of society.  While there is never an excuse for criminal behaviour, we need to try to understand, and tackle, the background issues, such as parenting and lack of opportunities, that lead some of our young people to consider a lifestyle of crime and gang-related violence. Emeka Egbuonu’s experience in dealing with these issues is clearly visible in this interesting and well-informed book.
promo video

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

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