I started off as a young man whose parents were very protective of and never let me interact with the outside world. Going to school was for me the only opportunity to come into contact with other individuals but my lack of interaction with people led me to withdraw into myself. Unable to understand how to relate with others, I was always on the defensive, which brought me into challenging situations. As a result, my school decided to assign me to a mentor – Nick, with whom I met every week to talk about my life inside and outside of school. We also did many enjoyable activities such as bowling, going to watch Arsenal games, build model cars etc.
Before having a mentor, I felt that no one knew how to deal with me but Nick had patience and allowed me to open up when I was ready. He taught me essential life skills and the importance of politics and political figures. One of the last times I saw my mentor was at a Christmas party at 11 Downing Street with the Chancellor of Exchequer who was Gordon Brown at the time. Nick believed in me, spoke words of wisdom into my life and years later it manifested.
This mentoring programme not only showed me how to interact with others and become part of the society, but it also gave me a sense of direction as I realised that I wanted to work in the government. Eight years later, I started to work for the Treasury and over the last three years, I have been volunteering with Hackney council as an inspirational peer leader for the Moving On Up initiative. I use my life experiences and success to encourage young people who face difficulties to get into work and education, and I help them build confidence the same way Nick has helped me.
My mentor and the various organisations I came across have had an enormous impact on my life as they help me build a strong foundation. They invested their time in me and because of that, I have been able to come this far. I believe that people like me are examples of hope, change and resilience and no matter what situation you are in, you can turn a mess into a message. All it requires is patience, someone who can believe in you, motivate you and help you get a sense of direction. This is exactly what plenty of young people out there need in their life.
Getting the views and concerns of young black, Asian and minority ethnic Londoners heard in the 2016 Mayoral election
In case it may have passed you by, Londoners are electing a new Mayor in May, when the huge political personality that is the current Mayor, Boris Johnson, steps down.
The campaign up until now has been quite subdued, with the Westminster village focusing on a referendum about the tiny matter of the country’s future relationship with Europe. Although it has so far failed to produce any fireworks, the substantive issues of the campaign are of profound importance to all Londoners and to the country. They focus primarily around economic prosperity, growing inequality and London’s housing crisis.
Some of the key challenges that face London’s BAME communities are demonstrated by:
What these figures highlight is the wide ranging impact of inequality across the capital and how it effects young ethnic minorities and can make it feel that they are locked out of the opportunities in one of the richest cities in the world. Engaging people in the democratic process is critical and voting levels are lowest for young people and ethnic minority groups.
CORE is an alliance of civil society organisations working to address race equality. It would like to produce an e-manifesto for change that reflects the views of young BAME Londoners. With the kind financial contribution of Trust for London, the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) – a CORE member organisation - will oversee All London Voices, a time-limited project with the aim of capturing the views of London’s BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) voluntary and community sector and young people and giving them a voice in the run-up to the 2016 London Mayoral elections.
BTEG will hold a series of community consultations with BAME organisations through our networks and beyond to inform the e-manifesto. It will set out the ten main concerns and policy ideas of London’s BAME communities for the mayoral candidates to consider and for the chosen mayor to address over the next five years. Such issues as affordable social housing, welfare and tax credits reductions, unemployment, and pay gaps are likely to be high priorities.
There will be a hustings meeting of the candidates in late April, with an audience of young people, held at the British Library.
CORE is also conducting a survey of young people 16-30 and hopes to attract a 300-500 responses. Click here to view the survey.
This is a crucial election and our aim is to ensure that the views of young people from London’s BAME communities are heard.
In 2015 Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to increase the black and ethnic minority (BME) employment rate by 20% as part of his Vision 2020.
Following this pledge, in February (2016), the Moving On Up Advisory Group Chair with BTEG and Trust for London met with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials to discuss the Government’s plans for achieving this target referred to as “The BME 2020 Challenge”.
According to the Minister for Employment Priti Patel, this challenge needs to be tackled in a holistic way across all Government departments and local authorities. Indeed, to DWP, it is critical to achieve full employment, help people achieve their aspirations and ensure that British businesses make the most of the talent and potential that exists in the BME communities across the United Kingdom.
To help meet “The BME 2020 Challenge”, DWP is launching new guidance for Jobcentres and local partners, developing new approaches to support BME groups and targeting a number of BME unemployment hotspots the department has identified. In addition, DWP will ensure that all national employment programmes support BME groups with suitable services.
DWP guidance for Jobcentres:
Understand your community:
Understand your claimants:
Understand your employers:
Understand your partners:
Growing up in Hackney, one of London’s most deprived boroughs, Bola Abisogun has always been aware of the key socio-economic issues that affect young black men in the UK. Being a father of three young men, he often asked himself - “how can I make a sustainable difference given that the imbalance in society is so profound?” This self-assigned mission was not only aimed at his family but also at his community, and it contributed greatly to his self-growth. Indeed, Bola’s aspiration was to grow an international business and in 2000, sixteen years ago, he embarked on a trip to Atlanta seeking to find the largest black owned construction companies in the US, which – at the time – confirmed that to be H.J. Russell. His conversation with the company’s founder, Mr. Herman Russell, inspired him to come back to London and make a contribution to the industry. He later founded UrbanIs, an organisation which has successfully established two US companies in the field of Economic Development and Construction Cost Management. Bola’s success led him to share his journey into business in local schools and empower young black men through BTEG’s Routes2Success project.
For Bola, it is and has always been important to ‘turn, look back and pass the baton’. The idea of taking a group of young black men from Hackney over to Atlanta arose from a series of conversation that Bola had with the young men that he has engaged with over the last 3 years. While sharing their individual stories, the cohort pointed out that there is a lack of opportunity for young black men in London, which stops them from making positive changes in their lives. Therefore, Bola sought to raise the aspiration in these young men by offering them a life-changing experience through which he hopes they will find their purpose and take their life plan to the next level. The trip will lasts six days during which the young men will visit the Federal Reserve Bank, attend the 2016 Construction CareerExpo at the Georgia Convention Center, have several meetings with ‘African American men from the Diaspora’, visit the Allen Entrepreneurial Institute, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change and visit many other places and meet local businessmen. Upon their return to London, each of the participants must identify five other young black men who could benefit from the same experience, all in pursuit of establishing a lasting legacy in the London Borough of Hackney.
During an action research conducted by BTEG between 2013 and 2014, young black men were asked about their views and experiences of unemployment and job seeking. The participants, whose qualifications and employment status were similar to the profile of all young black men in London, provided moving personal accounts and important insights into the factors affecting their employment opportunities. In addition, they all shared understanding of each other’s experiences and viewpoints. Some of them described the high unemployment rates for young black men in the UK as the historical legacy of slavery. Even though these young men considered that this reason was not worth focusing on, they still felt that they are “trying hard” to make their way in a society where the odds are stacked against them. Unfortunately, they believe that employers simply reflect the rest of society’s negative stereotyping of young black men in terms of making recruitment decisions. On the other hand, the young men participating in the action research explained that the other factor affecting their employment opportunities is the quality of assistance from support services. Being active job seekers, they felt that most advisers from Jobcentre Plus or Work Programme were indifferent to their situations. Finally, they also believed that strong supportive networks are lacking in black communities compared with other ethnic minority communities. This factor disadvantages young black men when looking for work as they recognised that these are a valuable means of identifying opportunities and gaining work experience.
The following quotes obtained from the research reflect the range of views young black men expressed on unemployment and their experiences of looking for work.
For more information about the survey and BTEG’s action plan, click here.
Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, is considering an ‘earned release’ scheme for prisoners. What does this entail?
It means that prisoners who show commitment to taking part in educational activities and are able to gain qualifications will be considered for early release. However, there is the one additional and important clause. These prisoners need to demonstrate that they have changed attitudes and are ready to contribute positively to society. Is this the right incentive and will it work?
According to Juliet Lion from the Prison Reform Trust “nearly half of prisoners report having no qualifications and 42% of people in prison say they had been expelled or permanently excluded from school.” Is this not because they are disengaged from education?
From my experience, both as a teacher and a manager of a national role model programme that aims to inspire young black males to raise their aspirations in education and employment, I can honestly say that with the right material and practitioners you can get the most difficult young people to engage. If this new scheme is to be successful prisons need to ensure that the right staff are employed in their teaching roles and are able to motivate and inspire the young people
Many of the young prisoners, especially those from a black and ethnic minority (BAME) background, that have engaged in the Black Training and Enterprise Group’s (BTEG’s) Routes2Success role model programme have commented on the way that they have been inspired by the role models and motivated to continue on to further education or pursue entrepreneurship opportunities upon release.
“I study already, made me continue to aspire. The speakers at the event have helped me to stay motivated about education and continue with my degree. Made me realise that you can be successful though coming to jail. Thanks” Inmate at HMP Ranby.
A review will be carried out by Dame Sally Coates to look in to the educational provision that is in place in prisons. I hope that role model and mentoring programmes are taken in to account and recognised for the value that they add for keeping prisoners educationally motivated and on track to being rehabilitated. It is also important to recognise that not all prisoners are academic and, in the same way that Gove wants to raise the numeracy and literacy levels of prisoners, it is vital that those with a more practical ability are given a chance to gain qualifications in these areas.
What we don’t want is the same attitude that he took with the school curriculum by devaluing those subjects that the less academic students will flourish in. Like students at school there will be learners of all abilities and with preferred methods of learning. This needs to be considered when promoting this scheme of ‘earned release’ through qualifications.
It is clear that with the prison staff that we have worked with, role models can build a rapport with the prisoners and open them up to the possible opportunities that there are in prison that will add value to their rehabilitation process.
“Our young men were engaging and opened up their thoughts and feelings about what their future holds outside of prison. The speaker encouraged them to raise their hands, be confident, speak out and be pro-active. At the end of the afternoon I had a few young men asking me for details on any business courses our establishment runs!” Equalities staff at HMP Wayland.
It makes sense that prisons work with other organisations that can offer this type of support and encourage prisoners to take up opportunities that they might otherwise shy away from because they cannot see the benefits.
In the case of BAME prisoners it has become clear that they are able to more easily accept advice and support from BAME role models who have come from a background similar to themselves.
I will always remember Bernie Grant’s classic request to the House of Commons for the UK to pay reparations to African and Caribbean nations for the slave trade; a cause to which he was totally committed. It was a truly sombre moment, which has even more resonance now as we know that the UK paid huge reparations to slave owning Britons when slavery was outlawed. The moment was only broken by the laughter when he said his mother’s maiden name was Blair and so there may be a family link between the then Prime Minister and himself!
One of many truly memorable moments, from what was a truly momentous life!
Fate couldn’t have played a more appropriate hand when, in September, the Bernie Grant Memorial Lecture was delivered by the Guardian journalist Gary Younge in the week when a Muslim was selected as the London Labour Party candidate for Mayor and one of Bernie Grant’s oldest political comrades, Jeremy Corbyn, was elected leader of the Party.
Somewhere, I thought, Bernie is kicking back with that big infectious smile and a twinkle in his eye.
There was a full house on 10th September at the vibrant community Arts Centre in Tottenham - named after Bernie Grant - to hear Gary Younge’s reflections on the campaign in America – Black Lives Matter - formed from the popular resistance to the disproportionate slaying of young black men at the hands of the police.
Younge’s critique began with the USA’s founding myths and the ongoing paradox of a country many see as the standard bearer for modern nationhood. Young depicted a great country built on freedom and democracy that has no time to mention or reflect on the reality of those denied access to these founding ideals through genocide and slavery. Even with a black president, this great nation appears impotent in its response when the contradictions to this image of fairness and integrity rear their unwelcomed head.
For Young, Black Lives Matter resonates because the reality of modern America is that black lives too often don’t matter! The Justice Department’s own investigation into the Ferguson Police Department unearthed a culture of systemic civic administrative abuse and that revenue generation is stressed heavily within the police department and judicial system – for example, fines for minor traffic offenses. These cause disproportionate hardship upon Ferguson’s most poor and vulnerable residents.
What I took from the lecture was that racism still plays a profoundly powerful role in modern America but in less visible and more furtive forms than in the era of civil rights. These can be seen, for example, in the growing structural economic and political inequality and the fragmentation of the African American community through class and status. Even with a black President, real reform seems remote.
What’s the answer? Well Younge didn’t profess to have one and, as someone who had lived in another country for twelve years, he didn’t to respond to questions on what the UK and the black community here should do.
But perhaps the make-up of his panel for the Q and A pointed us in the right direction. They were all under 30 - a new generation. Engaging them in dialogue has to be the key.
In 1926, when ‘negro education week’ was founded, there was a clear need for African-American recognition.
Founder Carter G. Woodson lobbied schools across America to participate in Negro education week in order to recognise the contributions of African Americans as legitimate parts of history. He also hoped that one day, the triumphs of black men and women would no longer need a spotlight and would be held in the same regard as that of their white counterparts.
Considering this was his final aim, do you think we still need Black History Month?
We can all name at least one great black man or woman who did something commendable in history, for instance, Nelson Mandela or Harriet Tubman.
But what about all the other heroes and geniuses who have been left out of history, such as those hundreds of ex-service men, pilots and soldiers of WW2 who have been written out of history by a Eurocentric perspective? Now, I am not suggesting that the name of every single black man, woman and child who was around during the war should be screamed from the mountain tops, but I do think it is important that there is a general understanding that people other than white Brits fought and died for Great Britain.
Black History Month is still relevant because:
We have come a long way from the racial struggles of 1926. However, with people from ethnic minority groups still disproportionately represented in prisons and under-represented in the employment market celebrating Black History Month is an excellent way to inspire change within the black community and increase the attainment of young black men and women in the UK.