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Time to expose black boys to black self-development programmes

Mar 19, 2014 - Comments: 0

Recently, Baroness Lola Young and I spent an interesting afternoon visiting a prison as part of the Baroness’s review into young black and/or Muslim males in the criminal justice system. 

Government statistics show that young black males are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system and more likely to reoffend on release. Baroness Young wants to help reduce the reoffending rates among these groups through influencing public sector commissioning specifications, especially in the National Offender Management Service.

This is not going to be easy and trying to understand why so many more young black and/or Muslim men end up in the criminal justice system and then go on to have higher reoffending rates is difficult. Is it down to racism, stereotyping, lack of opportunities, and the problematic status of black men in this country?

We spent a few hours in discussion with the Governor of the prison and, separately, with a group of black inmates that had completed a voluntary black self -development programme (BSDP). The men were from a varied age group and serving a variety of sentences. 

I have listened and talked to black men in several prisons. The conversation has usually been about enterprise and encouraging the men to think about self-employment as an option on release. Many of the men are enthusiastic about this route. But on this last occasion the conversation was about the difference that the black self-development programme had made to the men.

It was clear that the BSDP had made a difference, perhaps in many cases a profound difference, to the participants.  When asked about the impact of the BSDP, the men made the following comments:

 ‘I hadn’t released that this (racism) has been going on for so long’.

 ‘I have released the skills I have are interchangeable’.

‘There are a lot of pathways to rehabilitation. All the other courses are about offending behaviour’

‘They teach you certain values, before I thought that crime was the only way out and I didn’t have regard for other people’

 ‘My family situation (parents separated) made me feel left out and I craved attention and being bad at school was the symptom’

 ‘We need young people to see how long this goes back (the experience of black people in dealing with racism)’

‘There is no one outside to push their things (i.e. things that they are good at). I want to draw and make music’.

Spending time in prisons with groups of black men has made me think about why, as a society, we wait so long before helping black men to realise that they have potential, helping them identify their real interests, developing a sense of identity, self-worth and skills. Most of the black men we met thought that black boys should be encouraged to attend similar programmes whilst at school to prevent them entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

I wonder if what makes the difference with these kinds of programme is the space it provides for black men to reflect on their life journey, their situation with other black men and to learn and challenge each other intellectually, in a non-threatening environment, with the direction of an educated facilitator of African/Caribbean heritage. 

I wonder if this is precisely what is missing in many mainstream rehabilitative services for black male offenders! 

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Too cool or just afraid of rejection?

Mar 17, 2014 - Comments: 0

Last week a group of young men attended a Routes2Success enterprise session where they met with R2S role models and other young entrepreneurs. The young men discussed their interests and were given advice on the first steps of business.

After hearing some of the young men talk about their interests and passions one entrepreneur’s feedback was that he believed the young men’s’ approach was ‘too cool’ and that this was a problem for a lot of young people.

I pondered on this for a while; as a young person myself was I too cool?

I thought back to the R2S steering group meeting we had the week before where it was suggested that another big issue young people were struggling with was rejection or the fear of it. I could relate to this more than that of being ‘too cool’.

Throughout my years studying I always appeared calm and collected when it came to exams and coursework. I didn’t go crazy with revision or spend weeks in the library BUT I was just as worried and nervous as the next person. However, I refused to let anybody know this; not my mum, friends or teachers.

This was not a good thing.

I feared failing which caused me to adopt a blasé attitude. No matter how badly I wanted something I couldn’t put my all in, just in case I failed.

To others I may have seemed ‘too cool’ or unenthusiastic but the reality was I lacked self-motivation; a common issue for a number of the young men that have engaged with the R2S programme.

Some of the young men we meet have amazing ideas and are passionate about what they want to do. When you are passionate about something you will invest your time, money, energy, effort and everything else you have left to give to see it succeed. Unfortunately fear of wasting that time, money, energy and effort accompanied by the fear of rejection and failure can see some of these young men never feeding their passion and bringing it to life.

Speaking from experience, two of our role models - Bola Abisogun and Gifford Sutherland -advised the young men at the enterprise event to ‘fall in love with rejection’ and when it gets hard ‘passion will be the only thing that will get you through’.

Too cool or afraid of rejection?

Either way you are blocking the world from seeing and sharing your amazing passion! When you want and believe in something SHOW IT!

I overcame my fears, expressed my passion and got myself this great position working for BTEG on the R2S programme.

What doors will you allow your passion to open for you?

Janine Goodin Deer
Project Support Officer
Routes2Success (R2S)


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Confidence, confidence, confidence...

Mar 16, 2014 - Comments: 0

Cat looking in the mirror at a lionTrying to secure jobs or move up the career ladder can be difficult in the current economic climate. It is even more difficult when coupled with barriers such as language, accent, pronunciation, education, religion race, age and disability.

However, I believe that one of the main barriers in trying to secure employment is lack of confidence.

Delivering a series of employability workshops made me realise that all of the people in the room actually lacked confidence - a key element that was inhibiting their success in securing work more than some of their other issues - age, lack of computer skills, dyslexia or pronunciation of some English words.

I was pleasantly surprised that giving them some short exercises to do at home* and giving them some constructive feedback was a vital trigger for many of them to: 

  • change their perceptions of themselves
  • challenge some of their negative thoughts
  • set clear short term goals to give them a sense of achievement and success.

These participants came back with smiles, the ability to stand and sit tall and an assessment of their strengths. Above all they seemed to have unlocked energy and aspirations that they had forgotten they had. This change is such a short space of time made me smile too.

The moral of this blog is that we all need a constructive friend to push us along and encourage us to have a ‘CAN DO’ approach.

* For example, one of the exercises is to read a page of a book – out loud. This helps the brain get used to hearing your voice and therefore reduce the shock when speaking at interviews

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Black young people - shut out of the labour market?

Mar 16, 2014 - Comments: 0

Our action research project to produce an action plan for improving employment rates for young black men in London will be completed next month.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that in 2012 the unemployment rate for young black men in England was 50 per cent while the unemployment rate for young white men was 22 per cent. Our research is asking: why is the unemployment rate for young black men so high?

A lot of people think they know the answer to this.  During the research we have heard the same explanations over and again:

  • young black men are in gangs
  • they do badly at school
  • they have low aspirations
  • they get involved in crime.

But what do young black men themselves think are the reasons why unemployment is so high?

We asked young black men this question in an on-line survey and received over 80 replies. They mentioned all the usual things - gangs, crime, aspirations - but these weren’t the main reasons.

Ahead of all other explanations by a long way was racism. Around half of them said that young black men find it harder to find jobs because of racism, discrimination or the negative perceptions that employers have of them. Many gave examples from their own experience; of turning up for interviews and being told that the vacancy had already been filled, or sensing from the interviewers that they are just not going to appoint a black man.

It is impossible to prove racial discrimination in individual cases like these. But there are systematic differences in employment outcomes for black young people; for example, unemployment among black university graduates (12.7% for those graduating in 2011/12) is more than double the rate for white university graduates (6.0%). When all other explanations have been eliminated, to misquote Sherlock Holmes, then what is left must be the answer.

The answer here is what many young black men experience every day as they try to find a job; that racism, discrimination and negative stereotyping by employers are shutting them out of the labour market.

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Mind how you go - enterprise in disadvantaged communities

Mar 16, 2014 - Comments: 0

Surveys show that the aspiration to set up one’s own business is consistently higher amongst ethnic minority groups compared to white people. Furthermore, new migrant communities, whilst facing some challenges, are also showing a promising tendency towards entrepreneurship according to a new report. Business and social enterprise support schemes are thus important to support enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Of course, as most race equality campaigners and development specialist know, the mere presence of schemes does not generate fair and equitable access. This has to be worked on - and there are wider challenges that go beyond access issues. Strategic challenges remain because many black and ethnic minority groups are concentrated in disadvantaged areas, which generate their own constraints. Although dispersal from inner city areas is growing many BME communities still live in relatively less prosperous areas. And such areas tend to consistently display lower levels of actual enterprise and entrepreneurship compared to prosperous areas.

Harnessing higher levels of entrepreneurship requires both direct and indirect barriers to be addressed. The former, for example, in terms of generating self-belief and know-how amongst local communities and the later in terms of providing access to finance and premises, boosting the reputation of areas and putting in place long-term regeneration plans. Yet, with the demise of mass area-based initiatives, many local communities are becoming much more dependent on enterprise to create opportunities for local people and stimulate community change.

But risks remain if small scale projects end up generating low-quality entrepreneurship. I can hear some arguing that even low-quality entrepreneurship may be better than the poor quality jobs, being locked out of certain job markets or prospects of unemployment.

Generating low-quality entrepreneurship need not be the default option for disadvantaged communities. We, for example, now know more about what factors explain differences in BME enterprise performance. According to Ram money, management and sectors go a considerable way to explaining these differences.

At the recent launch of BTEG’s Opening Doors Network Enterprise Programme, aimed at young adults aged 18 to 30, delegates also identified a number of other issues we need to be mindful of:

  • When it comes to sectors, we shouldn’t get seduced purely by technology. Young BME entrepreneurs are now creating new starts up in a wide range of industries.

  • And in a connected world, building social capital needs to be integral to any approach

  • There is a need to focus on up-stream enterprise education but the emphasis should be on inspiring entrepreneurship not simply providing employability skills

  • When trying to rejuvenate high streets, ‘pop-up’ premises can help create space for testing new ideas and provide start-up premises - but these only work if set within a wider regeneration plan for the area.

Armed with a broader and richer picture, we should be in a better position to encourage higher quality entrepreneurship in disadvantaged communities.

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Your Life is Your Business

Feb 19, 2014 - Comments: 0

A guest blog by Tony Henry, a Routes2Success volunteer role model

Your Life is Your Business

We say that we want a life full of Love, Joy, Peace, Happiness, Laughter, Harmony, Kindness, Patience. However, far too often we end up pointing the blame finger at any and everything else other than ourselves as to why we don’t have what we say we so desire.

How many times have you pointed the finger at your teacher, your parents, your friend, your worst enemy? Remember when you point your finger at someone else there are three fingers pointing back at you.

Sure, there will be situations in life where you will have little or no control as to what happens in your life; however the key is to know and understand that you can control how you react to any given situation or circumstance and that the choice is yours to take.

Which leads me onto a very interesting poem:

That’s Not My Job:

This is a story about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.

Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did.

Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job.

Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Somebody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

Not taking RESPONSIBILITY means asking someone to do for you the things you must do for yourself and being angry when they don’t do it.

It cannot be said loud enough “Your Life is Your Business” Think of it this way, if you choose to relinquish RESPONSIBILITY for your life, how can you expect to be RESPONSIBLE for the good things you say you want to receive in your life. How can YOU ensure that you get the best out of your education? How can YOU make sure that you leave school/college/university with the best grades? How can YOU make sure you choose the right career path? If you take RESPONSIBILITY for your own life you can have very few regrets!

In closing Life will work for you, when you make the decision to work your Life. Make a decision today to review your life, identify the areas that you are not satisfied with, make a list of all the things you can do to create the needed changes and in the words of Nike “Just Do It

Live Life, Love Life, and Do life your miracle is waiting around the corner.

Your Lift Doctor, Tony Henry (R2S role model)

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Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

Feb 12, 2014 - Comments: 0
Black inmates - social mobility, aspirations and community

Most mornings I jog to work down the busy north London roads of Archway, Holloway Road and Caledonian Road to BTEG’s office in Kings Cross. Along the `Cally Road’ (as it’s known by to the locals) is one of London’s oldest prisons, Pentonville, which was opened in 1842 and houses around 1300 inmates.

My work at BTEG revolves around the justice/penal system and the over-representation of BAME groups within our jails and on the wrong side of the justice system. Running past one of London’s Victorian landmark jails often triggers thoughts of the lives caught up inside and what can be done to keep young people and particularly BAME young people out of these places.

Last November, I was lucky enough to be invited to a challenging debate on social mobility, aspirations and community organised by inmates of HMP Pentonville.

Over 40 inmates attended the debate in the prison library and the level of questions from them was extremely high and perceptive. I was humbled to be part of an auspicious panel of high-achieving people which included journalist Hugh Muir, musician and poet Andrew Ward and broadcaster and social entrepreneur Ricoh Edwards-Brown.

For me, if you are looking at issues of social mobility, inequality has to be mentioned. On all the indicators the UK is becoming a more unequal society and this is hampering social mobility generally compared with other western countries. But for the black community, I suggested, the lack of social mobility was becoming more entrenched, systematic and perversely invisible.

When forces such as discrimination, poverty, widening inequality and, what I would call, institutional inertia on the challenges combine, things can be difficult to change. But the panel members all gave uplifting analyses and personal testimonies to the power of personal change.

Change from within has to be accompanied by wider change in society; as Martin Luther King said `injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ In our sometimes apathetic times, it’s a quote that should rouse our passion. Mine was certainly roused by the intellect of the inmates.

I was delighted to give my copy of the Spirit Level – the landmark book by Professor Richard Wilkinson and Dr Kate Pickett which led to the development of the Equality Trust (read more here) - to the event chair Peter, a prisoner in Pentonville. He told me he writes and hopefully one day we will see his words in print.

You can read more about the debate on the Prison Education Trust site here

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Are you positive about your self-image?

Feb 12, 2014 - Comments: 0

What does self-image mean to you:

  • What others think of you?
  • What you have achieved or not achieved?
  • What you see when you look in the mirror?

I guess everyone has their own definition of what self-image means to them.

Having worked with young people in a pastoral capacity for over seven years and from attending a Routes2Success session on Friday, I have found that most young people base their perceptions of themselves on what others’ think of them. The thoughts and feelings of others towards young people make them either feel positive or negative about themselves.

Interestingly enough on Friday, when a group of young black boys was asked whether they had a positive self-image about themselves, the few that put their hands up to say they didn’t referred to the fact that they got into trouble at school a lot and now had a reputation. This made them feel like they had a negative self-image. Their self-image was based on what others tended to say about them or thought about them, rather than what they thought about themselves.

Of course, it is always important to think about and consider what other people say about you, but at the same time it is important for us to be positive about ourselves. If you can’t say one positive thing about yourself, how can others see the positive in you?

A definition of self-image “is a person’s mental picture of themselves in terms of both their physicality and personality. It’s a combination of someone’s thoughts about what they think they look like, how they see their personality, their beliefs on what others think of them, how much they like themselves and how they see and feel about their status in life.” which is said to link closely to one’s self-esteem.

What concerns me particularly with some young black males is that stereotypes lead them to constantly have a poor self-image which leads to low self-esteem which further leads to low aspirations. If the perception of others’ makes up part of how you feel about yourself then some black boys, based on media stereotypes and statistics, are going to have quite a negative self-image.

This somewhat pains me, which is why I believe the work that the Routes2Success role models do is not only important but necessary to help instil a positive self-image to black boys and help them to raise their aspirations.

What I took away from the session on Friday, and from the feedback from some of the boys at the school, is that self-image is not only about what others think of you, but also about how much you like yourself and see your own potential.

So, what do you think about yourself?

Read more about promoting a positive self-image here

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Inclusive Growth and Enterprise – Join the Debate and Share Ideas on 12 Feb 2014

Jan 29, 2014 - Comments: 0

As the UK economy emerges from the deepest recession since the 1930s, the debate is shifting onto the nature of that growth. London as a global city is the driving force for the national economy but it also remains a divided city with the fortunes of people and places intertwined. Many young people from a range of backgrounds are trapped by unemployment and underemployment. According to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission “disadvantage and advantage cascade down the generations”.

So is the die cast for many disadvantaged young people or can they play a role in their own destiny? Is it time to put entrepreneurship on the map alongside other measures to promote mobility? Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has argued that economic opportunity now needs to be the next frontier for race equality. So what is the realistic opportunity to scale up entrepreneurship amongst young adults - who may not only lack financial capital and business acumen but also social capital? And with technology and changing consumer habits driving a retail revolution, is this once a natural route into business in free fall?

Join us at the launch of the BTEG’s Opening Doors Enterprise Programme to discuss these issues. The event is taking place on 12th February 2014 from 3.00pm to 6.00pm at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, 748 High Rd, Tottenham, London N17 0AP. There is an excellent line of speakers and you can immediately book a place here.

Raj Patel, MBE

Programme Director (interim)

Opening Doors Network: Enterprise Programme

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Equality, racism and BME Sector Leadership: Crises or opportunity for revitalisation?

Dec 10, 2013 - Comments: 0

The 1960s, 70s and 80s was a tough place to be an ethnic minority in Britain. Racial tensions, high unemployment, poor housing, inner city deprivation and stop and search “sus laws” saw riots erupt across a number of cities. It was also the period which saw a generation of Black and Asian young people become activists and organisations sprung up across the country to serve the needs of BAME communities, highlight their plight and promote race equality. But is the BAME voluntary sector now in crises at a time when race and immigration are the second highest issue of public concern after the economy?

With integration better than most places in the world, there is a great deal to be positive about race relations in Britain. However, according to a BBC report in 2012, nearly 88,000 racist incidents were recorded in Britain's schools between 2007 and 2011. Data from 90 areas showed 87,915 cases of racist bullying, with Birmingham recording the highest number of incidents at 5,752, followed by Leeds with 4,690. Carmarthenshire had the lowest number with just 5 cases. Many areas including Luton, Oldham, Croydon, Bedford and Middlesbrough saw an increase of 40% or more over the period 2007/08 to 2009/10, whilst in Cardiff, there was a 32% increase in cases of racism in schools.

Not surprisingly, some commentators believe that racism is on the rise again in Britain, and the tragic and violent death of Bijan Ebrahimi is a stark reminder that hard won gains can be lost without constant vigilance and new ways to catalyse positive social change.

Austerity measures, though, have dramatically reduced the capacity of the BAME voluntary sector to hold the Government and other institutions to account, stimulate evidence-based debate, provide practical help to individuals and promote fairness. Area-based initiatives, which sustained many local organisations, have been all but dismantled. According to new research by the Third Sector Research Centre, managers and employees in BAME organisations feel their work is less valued than previously in the current political context. Faith groups on the other have been thriving in many communities.

So does the BAME sector have to offer anything distinctive in the 21st century? Many have struggled to compete in contract and service driven markets, unable to provide economies of scale or adequately differentiate their activities. Those engaged in advocacy have done so on the back of support for service delivery. Yet, whilst service provision might not necessarily offer a differentiator for some organisations, advocacy clearly can.

But scaling up advocacy is not straightforward and requires some creative thinking by the sector. It is profoundly very different from service delivery, particularly in terms of securing outcomes. Services can generate atomised and measureable successes but “in advocacy well designed efforts often fail, scaled-up efforts often have no more success than smaller ones, and replication of previously successful models doesn’t always lead to success” (Teles and Schmitt, 2011).

One of the big challenges facing the BAME sector is also a generational one. How do 2nd and 3rd generation young people perceive and think about racism and equality today? Is there a critical mass of young people picking up the mantle of championing economic and social justice?

Each generation needs to define its own challenges, and maybe if there is a lasting legacy from the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s and the subsequent progress, it is to ensure that a generation with new ideas and energy picks up the baton. And from the ‘click to change the world’ generation, we may just see the revitalisation of the BAME sector – and probably not as we currently know it.

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