Category Archives: youth

Newday 15 – 19s Seminar 2017 #UnpopularCulture – How many more lives?

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Back in the summer, I spoke at the excellent Newday event on the subject of knife crime to 400 young people and youth workers. We had a great panel who either work in the field of youth violence or have experienced the issue impacting so many children and families in the UK. It was great day.

Listen back here

 

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6 ways Christians can help stop serious youth violence by Benjamin Lindsay

6 ways Christians can help stop serious youth violence by Benjamin Lindsay

This post originally appeared for Premier Gospel for black history month October 2015

Since 2005 179 teenagers have been murdered in London. 123 have been fatally stabbed (Source Citizens Report). Since then numerous reports have been published by the UK government and think tanks suggesting strategies, ideas and solutions to solve and combat the issue of serious youth violence (SYV). These include: Dying to Belong – An In-depth Review of Street Gangs in Britain (2009), Time for Action – Equipping Young People for the Future and Preventing Violence (2008) and Ending gang and youth violence: cross-government report (2011) to name a few.

None of these reports have managed to stem the tide of serious youth violence (SYV) in London. The capital is currently seeing the highest rate of teenage knife crime fatalities since 2011. In this year alone there have been 11 teenage murders. 10 of the victims were Black Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). Nine out of the 11 were stabbed. (Source: Citizens Report). While we know that the majority of young people want nothing to do with gangs and serious youth violence, for some young people violence is part of their daily lives and we need to support them to transform their thinking.

So how should we respond? Faith groups and more specifically the Church, have too often been silent on the issue. As someone who has worked on the SYV agenda for 15 years and now works as a pastor of a church in southeast London, the lack of action from Christians both saddens and infuriates me.

The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us to examine our religious and social prejudices. The twist in the Good Samaritan is that the religious leaders do not step up to defend the weak, perhaps due to fear or ignorance. It is the outsider who ‘knows nothing of God’s temple’ who shows those in need the kingdom of God. The Good Samaritan demonstrates compassion. Full bloodied, uncompromising and relentless compassion.  He offers friendship, advocacy, emergency medical treatment, transportation, a hefty financial subsidy, even a follow up visit. To engage in the SYV agenda that impacts our streets, families, neighborhoods and congregations, churches must replicate the compassion and concern shown in Luke 10.

Below are 6 ways Christians can engage in the serious youth violence issue and help save lives. As a Londoner I’m going to give a London perspective but this clearly is an issue in major cities across the UK.

  1. Volunteer

James 2:14 says: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Austerity cuts, youth clubs closing, youth workers losing their jobs has all impacted those young people deemed disengaged and marginalised. It’s no coincidence that the first year of youth service cuts in this country coincided with the 2011 UK riots. The UK youth engagement teams who were once there to connect with young people are no longer active. The church is unique in having a very strong volunteer force. Churches should be at the forefront of offering time, expertise and encouragement to young people where role models are lacking.

In 2001 a friend and I volunteered our time in the evening to local youth centres in London teaching young people music production skills. We eventually helped them to create a radio station and through this taught them the business and legal aspects of the music industry and other life skills. 15 years on some of these young people are carving out successful careers in the music industry; others work in the education sector or are progressing in other fields. Like all of us, young people need people to talk to. Young people’s lives are becoming increasingly stressful and complex and a wide range of factors can lead to poor decision-making. We can offer hope and shine the light of our Father into dark situations. Whatever skills you have can be used to divert young people away from a life of crime. You may have a career that could inspire someone or a skill to pass on; perhaps you’re a good listener. If you’d like to become a mentor contact a local charity. Many of them will provide training and support for mentors. Suggested charities include: XLP, MAC-UK, Street Pastors, Chance UK, PYE, St Giles Trust, MsUnderstood

Most important is how you as an individual view young people. Do you actually say hello to young people on your street? Do you build relationships with them? Do you place yourself in a position to listen to their needs and concerns? There is a gap between the generations where older and younger people do not engage. Young people need role models.  Christians can be the bridge. As it says in Joshua 1:9  “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” We need take this command seriously in relation to young people. It could be difference between life and death.

  1. Get a job

Young people need Christian teachers, teaching assistants, police officers, clinical psychologists, drama-therapists, SENCOs, learning mentors, behavioral specialists, MPs, youth offending service officers, youth workers, probation officers, mental health workers, substance misuse workers, social workers and creatives. Anywhere society comes into contact with the most marginalised and most challenging young people Christians should be present. Christians along with their skill set need to demonstrate the reconciliation, forgiveness, hope and abundant love of our Lord Jesus Christ. As said in 2 Peter 1 we are partakers in his divine nature and therefore through us, God can change the hearts of young people. My first paid role working with young people was as a learning mentor. I not only worked alongside the young people but also connected with parents and teachers. I really felt the presence of God change the culture of the school.

If you feel called to work with young people, start talking to others in the field, volunteer, get training and gain experience.

  1. Wrestle and Pray

Your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:10

This seems like a no brainier but you will be surprised how many Christians do not pray or do not know how to pray (see Romans 8:26) for these issues. We spend our time debating and theorising but rarely commit ourselves to persistent prayer. Prayer should be our first weapon against SYV. Like Jacob and Habakkuk we are to wrestle with God in prayer. We should never be satisfied with what we see happening to our young people in the UK and therefore we should ask God to move mightily to change the circumstances that cause young people to succumb to SYV.

The Lord’s Prayer directs us to pray for heaven to invade earth. When we pray this line “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, we are acknowledging that this world is broken but there is another world which is perfect in every way. We’re asking our Father to send his power – which is just and excellent – into this sinful world. As Christians we know there will be a time when ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). However the Lord’s Prayer encourages us to pray for a piece of heaven to invade earth today. We cannot ignore such an invitation. In 2010 I started working for a community safety team in London. I was tasked with developing and implementing a gangs and SYV strategy. I knew this would be hard and so I prayed a bold prayer. During the year I prayed that there would not be a fatality to SYV in that borough. Heaven invaded earth for that year and no one died. Let’s remember we serve a God who is mighty to save and act on our behalf.

  1. Use your influence and partner with others

We need to recognise the voice we have and use it to advocate for change. Together we can influence and work alongside decision makers to work for the common good of society and in particular for those who may be most marginalised or at risk. For example, you can attend council meetings or join your borough’s Independent Advisory Group (IAG). The role of independent advisors is best described as a “critical friend in time of need” – a group of non police people who can:

  • Provide advice and guidance to the police to help prevent critical incidents escalating (these may be external or internal incidents).
  • Provide a sounding board for the police to understand the potential impact on communities of police practices and operations.

You can also write letters of concern and support to local MPs when SYV incidents occur locally. You can raise money or give encouragement and support when a fatality occurs in your neighborhood. Christians shouldn’t be afraid to find common ground with other faith groups or those of no faith at all. We need to be humble enough to learn from each other and work together to find solutions. In the borough of Greenwich we have Project Mosaic. The project, which seeks to increase community safety and confidence in the police and other agencies, also aims to enhance youth safety and increase access to the range of youth provision and activities in the borough.  In the last six months, as part of Project Mosaic, 130 faith leaders from across the borough of Greenwich have attended training sessions provided by police, Royal Borough of Greenwich, NHS Greenwich and voluntary organisations on a variety of matters including safeguarding children, gangs, youth violence and domestic violence.

  1. Get creative 

With a wealth of resources and volunteers, the Church should be thinking of creative ways of early intervention and prevention to divert young people away from SYV. Many of us have the flexibility to go beyond the traditional boundaries of 9-5 work to offer youth provision in the evenings and weekends. This gives Christians an advantage in creating programmes and activities that can really support the most marginalised young people.  This doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. There are young people who have never travelled outside of their borough or have never gone to a gallery or museum. Attempt to give young people alternative views of life.

One of the biggest challenges facing young people is unemployment. In April 2014 I started a 10-week pilot project. The Grind Coffee School is a partnership between Emmanuel Church London, Browns of Brockley and Positive Youth Expression (PYE). The idea for the project came from a conversation with Ross Brown who owns Browns of Brockley. We both observed that with the increased coffee shops in inner city areas, there seemed to be a lack of variety in the people working in these establishments. We identified a group of young people, a group disaffected with life, demotivated to work who made up a large amount of the 21% of 16- to 25-year-olds (958,000) young people out of work in the UK. This project would aim to help young people identify their true needs; offer relevant support and signpost them to employment. Although challenging at times, we gave these young people an opportunity to gains skill in an area, which was not previously available to them because of various barriers.

  1. Get low

John Piper says this: “So this is really clear. Jesus is high. His rank is high. His standing is high. And therefore, by ordinary standards of this world, he should be served. But instead he contradicts the ordinary standards of this world, and serves. From his height he goes low. From his high standing, he goes to lowly serving.”

Or to be more penetrating, let your whole life have this mind-set: you are servants (Philippians 2:5­–8). All that you do, do it with a view to getting under others to lift them up, not getting over others to look down and feel superior. As Churches we should aim to adopt what American church pastor Matt Chandler calls “Incarnational Ministry”. In other words discipleship and evangelism shouldn’t be taking place simply within the church walls but also outside the church walls. The incarnational approach tries to break down the walls of sacred/secular so we can begin to see everything as sacred and quit being so fearful of the secular. In all domains of society the church should be at the forefront of to help providing innovation and support in the battle against serious youth violence.

The incarnational mode of ministry, the church’s mission of evangelism and discipleship has us intentionally living as agents of gospel reconciliation. After all isn’t this what the Good Samaritan demonstrated to the man in the need? He got low, served in these domains and took risks on behalf of those in need.

Social reformer Frederick Douglass said: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”. Let’s invest in all children and young people and try to live out Isaiah 1:16-17:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

If we do this with guile, zeal and passion, the Church will demonstrate the light of our Lord Jesus Christ and young people’s lives will be transformed.

Benjamin Lindsay is the lead pastor at Emmanuel New Cross.

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Listen, Understand, Respond: A Foundation for tackling Serious Youth Violence by Selina Stone

Over the coming weeks and months I have invited key professionals to write a piece on my blog about ideas on how we can combat the Gangs and Serious Youth Violence issue in the UK. Our first guest blogger is Selina Stone who looks at the importance of listening to the voice of the perpetrator to help us develop strategies in combating the gangs and serious youth violence issue.

Listen, Understand, Respond: A Foundation for tackling Serious Youth Violence by Selina Stone

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” – Stephen Covey

In the area of Serious Youth Violence there are many voices to be heard; the newsreader relaying the media story, the police condemning the crime, the victim’s family demanding justice. There is a place given to every voice, except the voice of the one who has committed the crime. In general, we do not recognise the importance of listening when it comes to those who commit acts of violence. Why should we care what they have to say? Because the key to an effective response can be found in the act of listening; not to reply, but to understand.

So what do I mean by ‘listening’ and why is it so essential?

The temptation for any person who wants to create change is to begin with ideas of what needs to be done. This tendency exists because we assume we already understand what the problem is. We have various means of informing our understanding; we can read statistics on the current picture, we can depend on our own lived experience or the reflections of those who have gone before us. All of these sources of understanding take us away from the reality that regardless prior knowledge, nothing is more important than the stories of those whose lives we want to see transformed.

‘Listening is the process through which speech and information is retrieved by an individual before proceeding to storage.[1]

As a community organiser at the Centre for Theology and Community, I depend on 121 meetings to drive the social justice issues we choose to tackle at the grassroots. Before we consider setting an agenda or strategy we begin by listening to the stories of the people who live and work around us. The listening campaign uncovers shared concerns or issues, helps us to clarify a clear objective and to identify leaders. Rather than exerting political power over communities, grassroots organising seeks to develop relational power with people. It is through listening that we uncover what makes people angry, what their self-interest is and who the leaders are who can make change happen.

So how does this relate to youth violence?

Each young person has a story that explains why they think or feel the way they do and how they have ended up where they are in life. The process of storytelling allows them firstly to recognise themselves. A person is able to acknowledge their life journey with its defining moments and influential relationships in order to understand how they have become who they are. The sense of identity and self-understanding this brings causes each of us to have the confidence to imagine the kind of future we want for ourselves.

When we help a young person tell their story and we choose to listen, we give them the respect and dignity due to all human beings. It is an act of humility on our part to listen, acknowledging that in that time and place, what the other person has to say is more important than what we want to communicate.

“(Some young people may have) difficulties understanding and expressing emotions, or (display) challenging behaviour as a means to communicate feelings.”[2]

Aside from the stories of individuals, we must also become experts at listening to the collective story being told by the young generation, including those engaged in violence and crime. Nonverbal communication is as essential to informing our understanding as verbal communication. Young people communicate individually through their choices of dress, their facial expressions and their life choices. Collectively, they communicate through their common interests, trends of behaviour and attitudes which become defining aspects of their generation. Before we seek to address social trends and impacts of serious youth violence, we must be willing to listen to the individual and collective stories of young people. Only through this act of humility will be equipped to reply effectively to young people and to wider society.

So what we can do?

This ‘listening to understand’ needs to take place in our families, in our friendship groups, in our faith communities and in wider society.

How well do we understand the young people in our homes and families? How much time do we spend time listening to those who attend our churches, youth clubs or mosques? How well do we understand the young people we are friends with? Do we take time to listen to young people in prisons or detention centres? Do we know the young people in our neighbourhoods?

Through a regular commitment to 121 conversations we can discover the stories of these young people and work with them to redefine their lives with a brighter future. Violence does not have to be the final voice in the lives of our youth.

Selina Stone

Twitter: @Selinars1

  
Selina Stone is a church based community organiser working to develop the capacity of churches to work on issues of justice in their communities. Her PhD research is looking at the significance of justice in Pentecostal understandings of salvation and mission. Selina currently works for The Centre for Theology and Community

Selinas@theology-centre.org.uk

[1] http://psychologydictionary.org/listening/

[2] http://theconversation.com/neglecting-neuroscience-has-criminal-consequences-for-youth-34872

If you would like to contribute to our blog please tweet me @bcwlindsay

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3 things I learnt from the death of #Shaklius Townsend

Last nights drama My murder was heart wrenching, thought provoking and all too familiar. Unfortunately for myself, colleagues and friends this was our first experience of losing a young person we were working with. From a personal perspective, My Murder was very, very difficult to watch. I remember the day we heard that Shak had passed and the numbness that spread through the office and the support we had to provide for one another. After watching My Murder last night and going through a multitude of emotions, I came to a few conclusions. These conclusions are from an inside perspective. A perspective which was not shown last night but one which I feel needs to be shared. Below are 3 lessons that I learnt from Shak’s murder.

1. The need for Clinical Supervision for Youth Offending Service

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The first thing people say when you work with young people in the field of serious youth violence is that there is a likelihood that you may lose a young person to murder. It’s just the way it goes. Thanks for the warning but how about some support for workers when it does actually hit the fan. When Shak passed workers gathered together, cried together, prayed together, encouraged one another and supported each other to the best of our ability. Yet, there was no outside space where staff could unleash their emotions with out fear of being diagnosed with mental health issues. I can not understand, in a field where staff regularly witness testimonies of rape, robberies, violence, face abuse and on the rare occasion have a client murdered that there is not regular out side 1:1 or group clinical supervision. It’s not enough that youth offending staff have monthly task orientated supervision with their line manager. Nor is it sufficient to be offered one session of counselling after such a horrific and traumatising event. Regular outside supervision, with trained clinical psychologists is the key. I believe if youth offending service staff are offered this, productivity and well being will improve. With the high level of case loads YOS staff deal with, this is the least local authorities can provide.

2. The Media are part of the problem

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Let’s get one straight. Shak was on his way out of gang life. I think My Murder depicted the everyday struggle of a young inner city youth battling with his surroundings very well. Shak was no angel but I remember waking up on Sunday morning to the News of the World front cover above and feeling physically sick. Firstly, the picture with the knife was an old picture. Secondly, workers will testify he was so focused on trying to stay positive and move on with his life. However, the front page of he News of the World did not show this. A mother had just lost her son to an ambush. Where was the sensitivity? Shak was the victim, yet time and time again the media are allowed to twist the facts and create a moral panic in the UK. I do believe Shak’s ethnicity played a part in how he was portrayed. Too often its easy to come to this conclusion – Black boy + Inner city + Murder = Gang!?! Obviously Shak’s murder was pre-Leveson inquiry and pre-UK summer riots. I wonder if Shak would have been depicted as the victim in light of these two events. The unfortunate truth is, probably not. I am glad that there is now more scrutiny on how the media and in particular the written press report on stories.

3. Let’s not forget Samantha Joseph is a victim as well

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Samantha Joseph did not die. Samantha Joseph was key to Shak’s death. These are the two facts where people will disagree with me suggesting she is a victim. However, if we look closely, Samantha was a young girl caught up in a dangerous lifestyle which many young women find difficult to break. Fear and panic make the most rational people do stupid things. Who could Samantha turn to in her time of trouble? Where could she get advice from? Samantha made some fatal decisions that day but I don’t believe she intended for Shak to die. For a deeper understanding of some of issues around girls and gangs I would recommend reading ROTA (March 2011) The Female Voice in Violence Project. Final report: This is it. This is my life… written by Carlene Firmin. The report gives an insight into the pressures young girls face who are caught up in gang life.

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My Bullying Expereince: Meat and Walkmans

“The way I saw it, everybody takes a beating sometime.” Henry Hill, Goodfellas

They say time is a healer. Not always.
On Friday night, my wife and I were out with close friends for a delightful Turkish meal in the heart of SE4. With the conversation flowing and the meat building up in my belly, the conversation turned to school experiences. My friend shared some unfortunate nicknames teachers (yes teachers) used to call him and I recalled a time when the new African kid turned up at the start of a new school year and was called Whale by our form tutor all year (His name was actually Wale). We laughed and joked and then for some unknown reason the tone changed and left our friends in tears.

I shared a story of when I was at secondary school. It was the last day of term and I was in the 3rd year (year 9 to those born post 1983). I remember it being a hot day. I always enjoyed banter with the boys a couple years above me. When I say boys , what I actually mean are the most hardcore, scary, gang connected kids in my school. However, up until that day all was well and we all got along.

I was playing football and something which felt like a black cloud came over the football pitch. ‘Run’ I heard. So about 10 of us legged it. This black cloud (10 older youths) chased us around the school. Suddenly, I began to notice the group I was running with started to disperse. What started of with 10 of us went from 10 to 5 to 2 to ME! I always had a Nike back pack which basically consisted of a Walkman, Hip Hop tapes, my journal and a pen. They caught me near the music suite and I got a beat down. As the punches rained down, I remember being more concerned about my music in my Nike back pack. Needless to say, they nicked my tapes and Walkman and left me balling like a baby (I was 14 before I get told to grow a pair).

Fast forward twenty odd years, I was surprised why a story never shared before brought genuine tears to my friends eyes and raised such strong emotions in me. To be honest, this experience did not shape me, neither did it turn me into a bully. However, reminiscing on my childhood made me wonder about a few things.

Firstly, if this case of bulling had happened in 2012, would I even be alive to tell the tale. As much as my experience was unpleasant, there were no knives involved. Times have definitely changed. Secondly, if feelings and emotions can come out randomly for me (and this case of bullying was an isolated incident), what must people who are or who have been constantly bullied go through daily – mentally and emotionally.

According to Bullying UK’s 2006 National Bullying Survey (the largest, most comprehensive survey of its kind at the time)
69% of children in the UK report being bullied
87% of parents report that their child had been bullied in the past 12 months
20% report bullying others
85% had witnessed bullying
(admirably, 82% of them tried to intervene).
Source: http://www.beatbullying.org

While these statistics are shocking, they are not unsurprising. What the figures do not show are how many cases of bullying can lead to serious youth violence. Cases of revenge attacks have caused fatal incidents in the school environment. I am personally an advocate of more in school support for issues around conflict. These may include mentors or peer motivators. Models where young people can connect with young adults who have gone through similar experiences have been proven to be successful in diverting young people into making better choices. This combined with emotional, behavioural and mental support for young people could be difference between life or death, or in my case, not reliving a frightening situation 20 years after the event and making my friends cry in a restaurant.

At primary school level, I have seen drama-therapy work well in allowing a young person to express their fears and concerns in a safe and fun environment. At a secondary school level, the MAC-UK model of combining young people from the streets with clinical psychologists to deliver sessions on themes such as knife crime, substance misuse and anger management has proven successful in supporting young people to open up about the issues which impact themselves and their friends in the borough of Camden, London.

I believe part of the solution around the ongoing battle of serious youth violence is for models like MAC-UK to be placed into full time education. We can not keep underestimating the significance the experience of bullying and conflict can have on a child’s education. I was fortunate. I grew up into a 6:2, 15.5 stone black man and my experiences of being physically bullied were minimal (I’ll leave my emotional and verbal bullying tales for another post). Time for a change of focus in the education system to focus on the emotional health of the young person as well as the academic.

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