“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”
— Coretta Scott King (wife of Martin Luther King Jr)
From time to time, images of deprivation, crime, disenfranchisement and school exclusions in our communities have been thrust into millions of homes in the UK followed by buzz words such as, “lack of role models”, “single-parent household”, “no father figure”, “absent fathers”, “lack of discipline”, “mental health issues” and so on and so forth. What needs to be made clear is that these statements coupled with the negative images can lead to harmful stereotyping especially towards the young who live, work and study in these communities. Hardly a month goes by when we hear of another young life succumbing to knife violence, of yet another family mourning the loss of their child, often a son, and unfortunately, this is not only a reality, but it hardly allows for some of our media to focus on the more positive angles of the community. The narrative needs to change and this is what BLAC aims to do.
We cannot even begin to contemplate engaging with our youths without knowing their back-stories because without the need to know is the need to not care, without the ability to care, we’re in danger of stereotyping in the same way some aspects of the media have been accused of. In fact, we cannot begin to engage not just with the youths but also with places or with others without knowing the story and instead, making assumptions, denies people of their dignity and only succeeds in revealing how much separates us than actually unites us and it can also rob people of the ability to acknowledge humanity in what should be equal measures. Marcus Mosiah Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Accepted also is the fact that in the wrong hands, stories have the ability to undermine, malign, dispossess and disempower with one fail swoop of the tongue or a stroke of the pen depending on the weapon of choice but by the same token, stories can create growth, give empowerment and humanise. As much as stories can break people’s dignities, they can also replace, repair, realign and restore that broken dignity.
“The school-to-prison pipeline is an epidemic that is plaguing schools across the nation. Far too often, students are kept in isolation, given fix term exclusions or permanently excluded. This can even go as far as a child being arrested for minor offences that leave visits to the headteacher’s office a thing of the past. Statistics reflect that these policies disproportionately target students of colour and those with a history of abuse, neglect, poverty or learning disabilities.” (Cheryl Phoenix, The Black Child Agenda).
London’s knife epidemic is showing no signs of ending anytime soon, with the capital reeling from fatal knife attacks since the early hours of 2020.
When we speak to current and ex-gang members, their world is totally different from ours and we need to understand this in order to effectively intervene because the journeys of some of these young people embroiled in knife crime and gangs are quite similar; excluded from school, no significant role model in their life, moved from place to place, involved in petty crime very early on, came from a household known to social services, mental health problems within the family structure and more. At BLAC, we’re aware of the pattern. Police have a role to play, but every profession and agency also have a role to play in the hope of intervening in the right places and at the right time.
In the year 2017 to March 2018 there were 285 murders in England and Wales where the method of killing was by a knife or sharp instrument, and according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), this was an increase of 73 compared with 2016/17, and the highest number since records began at the end of the Second World War. The previous high was in 2008, when there were 268 victims.
Figures also show 25% of victims were black – the highest proportion since data was first collected in 1997. The rise in these deaths seen in recent years has been most pronounced in male victims and those in younger age groups and in part, reflects the increase in serious violence in London and other cities where young adults have been disproportionately affected.
More than half of the inmates held in prisons for young people in England and Wales are from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background, the highest proportion on record according to the prisons watchdog, prompting warnings that youth jails have hit “American” levels of disproportionality.
About 51% of boys in young offender institutions (YOIs) – prisons for boys aged 15 to 17 and young adult men aged 18 to 21 – identified as being from a BME background, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) found. In addition, the inspectorate found 42% of children in secure training centres (STCs) – prisons for children up to the age of 17 – were from a BME background. The proportion of BME boys and men behind bars in YOIs in England and Wales is nearly four times the 14% BME proportion of the wider UK population.
David Lammy MP, who published a review into the treatment of and outcomes for BME individuals in the criminal justice system in 2017, said he was shocked by the figures, which have rocketed since he released the report, when the BME proportion in YOIs and STCs was just over 40%. He said: “This is very alarming. England and Wales are now hitting an American scale of disproportionality in our youth justice system. The government urgently needs to step up implementation of my review. There are real problems with the youth justice system. I’m very concerned by how youth justice courts are performing. They’re not very close to communities. Parents seem to be disengaged. Community members seem to be disengaged.”
While many communities are working to promote health, safety and well-being, many continue to be plagued with persistently high rates of trauma. With rates of trauma and its symptoms more prevalent in certain parts of the country, trauma can be a barrier to achieving community health and well-being. There is a growing understanding that trauma manifests not only at the individual level, but also at the community level, through exposure to both interpersonal violence and structural violence, which prevents people and communities from meeting their basic needs. Community trauma manifests, for example, as a breakdown of social networks, relationships, and positive norms in the community.
For more information on racism, discrimination, mental health and the criminal justice system, please click the link Mental Health Foundation.
Our aim at BLAC in its entirety is to counter unrepresentative observations by highlighting the positives and we do this by providing the strategic thinking, community insight and creative excellence which produces exceptional relationships between brands and people. This event aims to sow the seeds of unity, friendship, understanding and enrichment amongst our varied communities. The truth is, we have role models in abundance in every one of our communities and BLAC aims to help change the narrative and bring this to the fore by shining the spotlight on those wonderful individuals and businesses striving to make our community a fabulous and wonderful place to be proud of.
We need to stress and make it abundantly clear that we are under no illusion whatsoever that an awards ceremony can put an end to knife crime, we wish it would, our aim is to create and foster an environment which will encourage and invite those who are from dysfunctional and disadvantaged backgrounds to this prestigious event where they can be afforded the opportunity to mix not only with many of their role models and peers, but to also meet leaders of industries and dignitaries and to see, feel and hear how others (their role models) have strived successfully to make better choices with their lives through sheer hard work, determination, dedication and perseverance – others who have walked the same paths as themselves who have also made bad choices but more importantly, found the right choice. It’s all about early intervention and the BLAC Awards is to be utilised to help guide the youths to a more productive, constructive and healthy lifestyle.
The magnificent occasion will build a legacy for the African-Caribbean communities. We’re honoured to have the interest of so many important figures supporting this worthwhile cause.
“If everyone does a little, no one has to do a lot.” Charles Harper