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Black Lives Matter: The 2015 Bernie Grant Memorial lecture

Nov 19, 2015 - Comments: 0

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.

A brilliant night and you can read Gary’s lecture on the website of the Bernie Grant archive and find out about the Bernie Grant Arts Centre here

Do we still need black history month?

Nov 10, 2015 - Comments: 0

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:

  • it removes the myth that the history of black people begins and ends at slavery
  • it exposes young people to the achievements of black men and women in history
  • it encourages young black boys and girls to be more than what society suggests they should be

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. 

If you want a job, then …get volunteering

Nov 04, 2015 - Comments: 0

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Many young people coming out of school, college and/or university are lacking the attitude, mind-set and behaviours employers are looking for. 
 
Youth unemployment is one of the greatest challenges facing the country. Nearly 1½ million young people are currently not in education, employment or training. That’s over one in five of all young people. Of these, 20% are BAME 16 to 24-year-olds who have been out of work for more than 12 months, according to an analysis of official figures by the House of Commons Library and the Office for National Statistics. 
 
For young people, long-term unemployment can have long-term implications. It can mean lower earnings, more unemployment and more ill health in later life. 
 
So how can young people help themselves?
 
Young people want to get a job that matches their career aspirations and they want to be recognised for their talents but they lack the experience in their chosen fields so that they are ready for a potential employer. Even though there are a range of programmes available to help young people get the experience, the exposure and the skills they need, why do so many young people (particularly of a BAME background) not take advantage of these opportunities?
 
For example, BTEG has been strongly advocating volunteering for young people as a way of getting relevant experience through its Capital Volunteers programme. The programme helps young people to be ‘employable’ though personal development sessions but, possibly more importantly, through volunteering placements that enable access and opportunity towards career goals and aspirations. 
 
However, young people don’t seem to get the connection.
 
In recent weeks, I have spoken to many young people about volunteering generally and, in particular, the Capital Volunteers programme. I explained the benefits of volunteering in relation to getting career related jobs. Although the initial responses and body language are positive unfortunately the end result has been discouraging.
 
There is an attitude of ‘it takes effort’, and comments such as ‘I need to be paid’ and ‘it sounds good – I’ll email you’. This mind-set is very disheartening and frustrating, especially as we know they have a skills deficit, lack of confidence and lack of basic work environment knowledge.
Those that have been on the programme - and I’m sure on other similar projects such as Vinspired or the Prince’s Trust - have benefited enormously and can see the valuable connection between volunteering and securing a job. 
 
There are many opportunities for young people to get support to enhance their experience and skills, including BTEG’s Capital Volunteers Programme. Young people need to take advantage of this support to be more competitive in the job market.
 
Read more about the Capital Volunteers Programme

Young people lack the get up and go attitude

Oct 26, 2015 - Comments: 0

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At BTEG we have often considered why there is such high youth unemployment, especially amongst BAME young people. We discuss the lack of opportunities directly related to qualifications and aspirations but actually see a major reason for youth unemployment as being lack of ‘oomph’ in young people.

Whether it’s through placements, at job interviews or even attending events, we too often see a laid back approach to life. Only yesterday, a friend told me about her 18 year old son who is academically bright but has openly asked her to ‘get a job for me’.

He is not alone in not wanting to make the effort and expecting jobs, money, houses and cars to fall into their laps.

I am sure I’m not alone with been frustrated in the lack of take-up by young people of projects designed to help them to be more employable and get noticed.

What are your experiences of trying to recruit young people?

Involving volunteers, not using them

Aug 26, 2015 - Comments: 0
We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.
                                                               Winston Churchill
 
 
Volunteers are all about giving; their time, their skills, their effort. Volunteers can make an enormous impact by helping to expand the capacity on their host organisation:
  • By helping deliver important services
  • By bringing skills to the organisation that it doesn’t already have
  • By enabling the organisation to explore new ideas it wouldn’t have the time to do otherwise
  • By giving dedicated attention to specific areas of work
But it shouldn’t be a one-way street; organisations shouldn’t just see volunteers as “free help” and should see themselves as “involving”  the volunteer rather than “using” them. 
They should be clear about the value that the volunteer brings to the organisation and about how the organisation can give back to the volunteer. To do this they need to have a clear understanding of how their organisation recruits, retains and manages volunteers by:
  • Strategically taking on volunteers rather than using them ad hoc
  • Having policies that support both the volunteer and the organisation
  • Having a clear definition of the role you want to fill and the qualities that the volunteer would need to bring to it
  • By providing the right support and management of the volunteer when they have joined the organisation.
To enable small to medium (up to 25 paid staff) BAME organisations to do all this BTEG – with the support of the City Bridge Trust – has a series of four free courses that cover all aspects of getting the most from your volunteers.
 
To find out more about the courses and how to apply click here

Is Britain Fairer?

Jul 20, 2015 - Comments: 0
 
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a London consultation conference organised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The central theme of the event was ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ Later this year the EHRC  will publish an important report containing lots of statistical evidence covering those groups listed under the Equality Act 2010, with the nine protected characteristics including ethnicity, religion and belief, gender and disability. It will also address human rights in the UK.
 
As I sat in the audience, listening with interest, I started thinking about the position of young people today and especially one group of young people – young black men. I asked myself, “Would they think Britain is fairer?”  
 
What has changed for this group of young people over the past five years? 
 
I thought about all the statistical data that I am aware of and continually share with the media but rarely receives any coverage. I thought about how difficult it was to find employers in London willing to talk about their experiences of recruiting young black men.  It was great that BBC Panorama and Sol Campbell made a programme about young black men and unemployment a few years ago but, despite their being nearly 2 million viewers, no employer contacted the charities featured (BTEG and Making the Leap) in the programme.  
 
I tend to see the journey for some young black males in the following way:
 
  • Higher rate of exclusions at school (0.36% of Black Caribbean boys were permanently excluded from school in 2012/13. This is double the rate for White British boys, of which 0.18% were permanently excluded in the same year)
  • Higher rates of stop and search (four times more likely to be stopped and searched)
  • Higher numbers in youth custody (43% of under 18s are BME and mainly black)
  • Higher rate of unemployment (the unemployment rate for young black males was 36% in 2014. This is more than double the rate for young white males, 15% in 2014)
  • Higher rate of drop out from university (11% of  black students  were no longer in university one year after entry compared with 7% of white students, in 2010/11)
  • Higher numbers dealing with mental health. African Caribbean people are three to five times more likely than any other group to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia.
In 2014 BTEG conducted an on-line survey of young black men and ran four focus groups in job centres. We heard from nearly 200 young men aged 16-24 with a good mix of educational qualifications from GCSE’s to degrees. Nearly all of them listed racism, discrimination and negative stereotyping as the three main barriers to employment.
 
In some ways I believe if we can make Britain fairer for this group, it will be a lot fairer for all young people. The EHRC and policy makers need to recognise the thread of systematic racism and disadvantage that impact on young black men. Not many groups of people have to deal with the discrimination that they do and the powerful negative stereotypes that are reinforced by the media on a daily basis. 
 
These negative stereotypes do have an impact on teachers and employers. Expectations for young black men must be higher and communities, the state and employers need to start talking and taking action to normalise the terrible figures above. 
 
There is a strong case for the EHRC making young black males a priority group over the next five years. 
 
Jeremy Crook OBE, Director of BTEG.

The Met

Jul 08, 2015 - Comments: 0
Great PR but a one dimensional view on the tensions around policing and minority communities in London

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Like many people I watched the first episode of the BBC’s new fly on the wall series the Met. 
The programme focussed on the three year anniversary of the killing of Mark Duggan which sparked the riots of the summer of 2011; an event that still divides opinion and can instigate heated responses (to say the least). 
My view on these issues is skewed as I work on improving policies to reduce the high number of young black men entering the criminal justice system. I couldn’t help thinking that if I were part of that undefinable constituency `middle England’ I probably have finished watching that programme with a great deal of sympathy for the officers.
I guess for the Met’s huge PR team that’s a job well done in the PR battle. But does it really serve the public interest and understanding of the issues?
Throughout the programme we heard statements of lessons that needed to be learnt, but in the absence of a Scarman or McPherson-type review after the riots, and the gravitas and authority that that brings, my fear is that those lessons will not be learnt. This has undoubtedly been to the detriment of better police community relations in the capital and across the country. Instead the government opted for a riots panel report led by a former civil servant which hasn’t had a long term impact. 
I contrasted watching the programme with the experience I had a week earlier at a meeting of `activists’ with the stop and search campaign group Stopwatch. I spent an hour sitting with the mother of a mixed race son who had been through the most awful ordeal on the road where he lives in Walthamstow. On his way home from work he was stopped and searched by the Met’s Territorial Support Group. I cannot go through the details but it really was a wretched case and will probably end up as one of the many each year that the Met pays compensation on. The statistics on race and policing still make distressing reading but beyond that is the mistrust that permeates communities that cases like the one I have highlighted demonstrate. They are still too frequent despite the media savvy responses of senior officers. 
Have lessons been learnt? 
The Met needs to change but as somebody who has seen the organisation from a number of different vantage points it certainly isn’t changing in terms of looking like the city it serves, retaining minority ethnic officers, developing an inclusive culture and building trust in communities that are often the most affected by crime. It has a long way to go and after the McPherson enquiry it should have progressed further than it has. Baroness Lawrence has made statements to the same effect.
The Mayor has a 20% target to increase public confidence amongst Londoners in the Met. Central to this is community engagement but are the Met doing this in an effective and consistent manner? 
At BTEG we have seen some great work in Hackney with Hackney CVS supporting those young people affected most by relations with the Police, to engage with local officers on the issues that matter such as stop and search. But my sense is this is not happening consistently across London and there isn’t really a steer from the top.
If we are ever to change this depressing cycle it will take leadership from both the politicians and the senior officers 
 

Photo: Victor Vic via Creative Commons

Is prison really a holiday camp?

Jun 11, 2015 - Comments: 0

                                                                                                                     Picture by Tony Hisgett / CC BY 2.0

I'd never given serious thought about what it would be like to be locked up behind bars 24/7.

When I was growing up, I heard the stories about ‘Feltham’ being like a holiday camp. To be honest, I thought there was some truth in it. I saw young men I had grown up with, one after the other enter ‘Feltham’ and keep going back. There was no deterrent, which made me think it must be better than life on the outside!

 It wasn't until I started working at BTEG that I got a sound understanding of how the criminal justice system works and could truly appreciate the issues and difficulties prisoners face. Not only was it an eye opener for me to talk to the men experiencing the British criminal justice system and to the prison staff but, just as important, I was working with role models who had been through it and had a positive outlook.

But the young men describing Feltham as a ‘holiday camp’ played over and over in my mind and hearing that many had the luxuries of televisions and computer consoles at their disposal. One of our R2S role models assured me that being in any type of prison was no stroll in the park. I asked him if that was the case why so many reoffended. Surely if the experience is that bad they would stay away.

His description of what the prisoners see as a ‘brotherhood’ put things into perspective for me.

Imagine being on the outside, free from the restraints of an oppressive 24 hour ‘bang up’ regime, but having no-one or nothing. No family because your dad left when you were young and your mum worked around the clock to bring in the little money that she could. So you only had your friends from the ‘endz’. Not real friends because they showed you how to ‘shot’ to make ends meet, steal and lie to those around you.

Then you end up behind bars and meet like-minded people. People who have been through what you have. People who understand where you are coming from and so you form that ‘brotherhood’. Then the visits from your loved ones become less frequent. As the inmates from HMP Wayland in Norfolk explain:  “it's just too far to travel from London” and the expenses you incur from one visit makes it “impossible to have regular visits”. So you get lonely and lean on your fellow inmates for support.

Added to this you have prison staff without a clue about what it means to be a young black man; isolated and alone in Norfolk never having experienced life outside their ‘all white’ Norfolk village. So again you look to your brothers inside for that united front.

Years down the line and you are due for release but that all becomes daunting as you have become ‘institutionalised’; used to being in this environment. Comfortable.

The prisoners at HMP Wayland and Thameside shared their fears of being released. Not being able to provide for their family, being broke, dealing with a hostile environment, mental strength, getting a job, friends. The list goes on!

All these fears are playing on their mind upon release and then they face the harsh realities when they get out. It can be overwhelming and hard to get through, especially if your ideas of a ‘man’ means being able to provide for your family but you are repeatedly turned down by employers.

So you turn back to what you know best and make some money which leads to you ending up back behind bars!

This is not always the only reason that these young men reoffend, but it is also going back to your comfort zone – having a roof over your head, the safety of the four walls, others who you can relate to, no one to answer to. Unlike the harsh realities of the outside world, prison can seem like a safety net.

So my opinions have changed. Prison isn't a holiday camp. Anyone who describes it as this has some harsh realities to face up to in the outside world they think that prison is a better place to be. If a young person feels freer in prison than in the outside world we have to realise that society has to address some serious problems and that rehabilitation needs to provide the safety net that these young people need.

Be genuine

May 28, 2015 - Comments: 0

In a perfect world, my perfect world, we'd all be genuine; genuine with ourselves, our family and our friends and in the work that we do. I'd hope for a kinder world and a more empathetic one, too, but for now I'll settle with my first step of genuine people and genuine services.

It is easier said than done but I feel it is the best way, especially when working with young people. When given the opportunity to ‘help’ others you should do your best to ‘help’, not just do enough to tick a box or to receive praise but to genuinely support those 'in need'.

Working on BTEG’s Routes2Success programme I have had first hand experience of dealing with young people who are hesitant to engage. Some can be sceptical of services and all that they promise. With so many new organisations offering something better than the last and then disappearing a year later it is understandable. A number of the young people we engage with share a common frustration - the lack of commitment some organisations offer:

 ‘They visit once or twice a year and then they are gone, they don’t really want to help us’.

I can relate to this frustration, both the 15 year old me and the adult that I am today, I still relate.

When I was 15, attending my local youth club, we had a youth worker named David. He was honestly one of the nicest, most caring individuals you could ever meet. David always wanted the best for us, constantly told us to be good for our parents, stay out of trouble and work hard in school.

One day he suggested that we took part in a community course, the equivalent to 1 GCSE. Most of us were doing well at school but some were struggling. We all signed up and completed the course. Ten years on and we have yet to receive an accreditation for our work. I asked the centre manager about it every month for at least 3 years but nothing came of it. Though we had learnt new skills, ultimately we had sacrificed our time for an accreditation we never received. The services involved, however, had the portfolios they needed to tick boxes and receive their funding to continue working with young people.

The truth is that this was only one organisation claiming to care but this one organisation could have used this instance to change the future of a number of young people’s lives. That one GCSE could have made a huge difference to some of their chances. Maybe ‘Jermaine’ might have got onto the college course he wanted rather than taking up construction and dropping out a year later or maybe ‘Stacey’ would have got onto her ‘Health and Social Care’ course instead of having to work for minimum wage at a local hairdressers.

As services we do not always know the backgrounds of the young people we work with and nor do we know how much help or support they truly need but it is our duty to at least deliver the service we offer them. As staff they may not remember which organisation you work for or your job title but if you are genuine and provide them with the support you promised, they will remember you in years to come for making that difference in their life.

Be true, be genuine, be who you are supposed to be, not just to your funders but to your service users…the reason your service exists.

R.I.P David Noel…I am forever thankful  X

Some myths young people have about volunteering…

May 12, 2015 - Comments: 0
…and how to dispel them

There is a need to promote volunteering to young people. Despite the benefits they are often unwilling to volunteer because:

  • They are reluctant to work for free  If money is their goal point out the long term affect volunteering might have on earning potential. It could help them get a place at college or university and may help them into a higher paid job in the long run.
  • They see it as ‘slave labour’  Many young people believe that volunteers do mundane tasks that no one else in an organisation wants to do. This is not the case. There are many volunteer roles available and young people can choose what kind of work they want to be doing depending on their interests. Although they cannot pay them, organisations value their volunteers greatly. Volunteers increase the organisation’s capacity, allowing it to do work that otherwise would not be done.
  • They think they are not old enough  In principle anyone can volunteer as long as they are able to do the task required. In reality, it is harder for under 16’s to find opportunities because of the capacity, policies and insurance of individual organisations using volunteers. However, under 16’s should not be put off and should seek support and advice from appropriate sources.
  • They don’t have time There is often a misunderstanding about how much time volunteering takes up. Some people think it’s a great deal of time but actually volunteering opportunities can be as little as a couple of hours a month..
  • It’s just ‘not cool’ Volunteering has an image problem. Many young people think people like them just don’t do, it’s just for the elderly or unemployed for example. This is untrue. Thousands of young people across the country volunteer successfully in interesting and meaningful positions.
  • They cannot afford travel expenses etc. Volunteers should not be disadvantaged by their volunteering and most organisations will reimburse travel costs.
  • They are concerned about police checks - People working with vulnerable groups will need to be checked under the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme, whatever their age. This is the organisation’s responsibility and there is no cost involved to the individual. For young people with a criminal record, a record check can be daunting though many offences don’t prohibit a person from volunteering. Each case is different and whether or not a young person will be accepted for a role will depend on the offense itself and the individual policy of the organisation. Volunteers must also be prepared to wait several weeks for their record check. This requires them to plan ahead.
  • They ‘can’t be bothered’  Volunteering is a choice not a punishment. People should not be forced to volunteer but point out to them the advantages.

 

Capital Volunteers is a new project hosted by BTEG which is specifically working with BAME organisations to get the best of existing or new volunteers. We have a series of training sessions free to BAME organisations in London that will be starting shortly.

For more information contact Tebusssum Rashid Tebussum@bteg.co.uk

Follow Capital Volunteers on Twitter @CapitalVol

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