It is an honour to work with the leaders of tomorrow’s Britainby Lindsay Johns / August 24, 2011 / Leave a comment
I first met Leroy seven years ago, on a rainy, winter’s evening in Peckham. On being asked if he liked books, his response was: “Nah man, reading’s a long ting!”
Back then, in that group mentoring session in a dilapidated community centre, Leroy’s entrance was memorable. He bopped in as if he had dislocated his pelvis, adorned with all the teenage accoutrements of recalcitrant, faux-macho braggadocio. Visibly in thrall to the pernicious bling culture, he was, for all outward appearances, part of the truculent “You get me, blood?” generation: that tranche of ostensibly marginalised inner-city youth, baseball cap perched at an angle. In conversation, he couldn’t look me in the face (“doing a Stevie Wonder”) and littered his speech with obfuscating double negatives, basicallys and likes. His answers were terse and surly.
Seven years later, was Leroy one of those feral hoodlums looting Peckham High Street? No—he was too busy studying. He‘s now in the second year of a politics degree at Sussex University, and recently won a highly-coveted summer internship at a City bank. He wants to become a barrister.
Am I surprised by such a metamorphosis? No, because I have seen what a strong, protracted dose of tough love, encouragement, support and a laying down of clearly defined parameters can do for young people.
At the mentoring scheme where I volunteer, we try to emancipate the raw talent contained (or trapped?) beneath the hoodie, the puffy jacket and the baseball cap. Leroy and his peers are clearly symptomatic of a wider cultural and generational malaise, one that must be tackled head on if we do not wish to witness more of the chilling, dystopian events that occurred in early August.
Our scheme challenges young people to “confound, not conform to stereotypes,” by helping them raise their academic achievement, expand their cultural horizons, develop their moral compasses and not, like many other inner-city youth schemes, their rapping, basketball or DJing prowess.
I am no fan of cultural or moral relativism, and do not shy away from imparting rigid concepts of right and wrong. Leroy, like many, needed to be told in no uncertain terms why saying “batty man” was unacceptable, and why tolerance and humanity are the key to good citizenship. Our aim is to get young people to take themselves seriously, and thus to be taken seriously by others, particularly in that all-important college, university or job…