Why your vote can make a difference

It has intrigued me to see that the hashtag, ‘CameronMustGo’, is still trending and shows no signs of weakening, despite having kicked off at the weekend.  What intrigues me more is that it comes at a time when there are numerous news stories about the effect of the government’s actions or influences on young people’s finances, living conditions and situation of employment.

It seems the question of whether young people are worse off than previous generations is more relevant than ever, but I think the bigger question is, are things set to get worse?  In reality, it is likely to get worse as young people continue to get poorer and more of them are being driven to homelessness.  However, if we want the situation to get any better, then we need to have an input, and voting is one of the ways to do this.

While reading an article on the Telegraph website about the dire future that we have to look forward to as young people, Alex Young shines a light on the difference that young people could have made if more of them voted in last general election.  Why?  Because our voice does count.

A lack of voting led to the Conservatives gaining power, yet on the other hand, it was voting that led to the coalition with the Liberal Democrats.  However, this is not entirely reassuring, because the Lib Dems turned their backs on a number of their policies, most notably raising the cost of tuition fees.  I’m sure that the young individuals who voted for them were furious about that turn of events.

It’s no wonder that young people have lost faith or confidence in politicians, but it is essential for our voices to be heard if any type of change is to take place.  The Tories look out more for the older generation, because they are the ones who more money in their pockets and the Tories are a party concerned with the wealthy and privileged.

Young people are being encouraged to voted more than ever now, which is important in a time when so many of them feel discouraged from voting.  When speaking to a number of young people about voting in the recent local elections, there was a common thread as to why they did not want to vote.

Image by Nemo and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by Nemo and used under Creative Commons License.

Some felt that they did not have enough information, but there were a number of them who felt that their vote would not count and that their voice would not be heard.  They felt that even with them casting a vote, they would not see a change, because ultimately, politicians have the final say and they don’t understand us or how we live.  However – despite being unsure about voting – 22-year-old Petros did say that “if we had no say in the matter, it would just be them doing whatever they want”.

Nevertheless, not every issue that young people are facing relates back to the government or even to generations before us, as highlighted in Alex Young’s piece in the Telegraph.  We also have to face up to the choices we’ve made and stop feeling sorry for ourselves, as some of us tend to do.

There are opportunities out there for the taking, so we need to go out and grab them.  We need to step up to the plate and do something to ensure that our voices are heard, because then we won’t be ignored.  We need to do all we can to make sure that the positives and potential that may be hidden within us are on show.

Yet most importantly, we need to ensure that we have our say by casting our votes, because we have been granted that right and privilege.  I’m glad Petros later told me that he decided to vote, because he didn’t like some of the ways our country was being run.  No matter what we may think, our vote does count, and if all of us young people came together and voted, imagine what a great difference we coud make.




We need to step up and make changes to stop the cycle

I recently finished reading HOOD RAT: Britain’s Lost Generation by Gavin Knight, which allowed me to get into the minds and actions of some young individuals mixed up in drugs and gang culture.

Just like John Heale’s One Blood, this book was a learning curve that gave me an even deeper perspective of young people caught up in a dangerous lifestyle in Britain.  Reading Hood Rat also reiterated a previous point I made about there being more to young people than what is on the surface – in many cases, there is more to their actions than we realise.

In reference to the 2011 riots, Gavin Knight wrote: “Over two years I’d spoken to so many articulate, even charming young men, lost to a life on the streets.  They felt abandoned.  When no one cares about you, you are less likely to care about smashing a shop window.”


I continued to see how the system has let so many young individuals down, as they find themselves falling through the cracks.  In too many cases, not enough is done to try to help, guide and support them in a bid to turn their life around.

This is made worse when a young person is suffering at home, whether it is because of an absent father, domestic abuse, near poverty, a lack of love, a struggling mother who is working 24/7  or perhaps a number of other factors.

When referring to deprived areas that have seen a surge in youth violence and teenage gangs, Gavin writes: “The absentee father, the brutal stepfather or the depressed, harried mother crop up again and again when I talk to kids who live there.  From a very early age, they are told that their lives will amount to nothing.

“They start to believe it, fall behind at school, truant, drift into delinquency and end up in a young offenders’ institution at the cost of £60,000 a year.  And the cycle continues.  A quarter of young offenders are already fathers.”

Again, I saw that there is a desperate need for us to break the cycle.  Once these young people fall into the trap of drugs and gangs, it is hard for them to get out – even if they want to – and they find themselves being pulled in deeper and deeper.

Image by Nemo and used under Creative Commons License.
Image by Nemo and used under Creative Commons License.

Hood Rat allowed me to empathise with these young men and I sat in sadness, as I read about how just one bad decision or bump in their life could send them on a downward spiral.  I even found myself rooting for a violent criminal, in a way, as I did not want him to go to prison for committing a botched-up robbery, because of his back story and the possibility of the person that he could have been.

However, I was also inspired while reading about one woman in particular within the police department, who took a stand in her community and made a real difference.  She pummeled forward, interacted effectively with young people and stepped up to make a change in Scotland.

I learned a lot from her and I think that all of us could learn something from her actions.  However, we cannot just look to the older generation to make changes for us.  As Gavin writes: “This problem is no longer the sole responsibility of the police.”

As young people, we need to step up and make changes within our own generation, which will help us to move forward and create a brighter future for each other.  We cannot continue to get swept up in the negative cycle that is bringing so many young people down.

How do you think that you can make a change within your community and stop the cycle?

Making the move to pursue his dream: Matthew’s Story

With the USA College Basketball Season set to tip-off this week, there is no better time to shine the spotlight on a talented young man who is pursuing his dream of playing in the NBA.

Matthew Don is a 21-year-old London native, who grew up in Croydon.  Growing up in Croydon was a “fun” experience for him, but it could be difficult as an aspiring basketball player, because he could “never find a court to practise at”.

Matthew is a power forward, who has been playing basketball for seven years, but what started off as a fun activity during secondary/high school, soon developed into passion.  When he was about 15, a conversation between his dad and his coach helped Matthew to realise that he wanted to pursue a career in basketball, so he began taking the necessary steps to get there.

He not only played basketball at his secondary school – Archbishop Lanfranc – but he also played for club teams.  He was a part of the Kingston Wildcats from 2009-10 and then the Westminster Warriors from 2011-12.

However, Matthew knew that if he wanted to play basketball at NBA-level, making a move to the USA would be the best step forward, and it was a decision that solidified in his mind by the time he was 17.  Nevertheless, he found the scouting process hard, as he was “getting denied and getting no answers from coaches all the time”, but he never gave up.  Matthew said: “I had to keep emailing them until I found a school that would offer me a scholarship.”

Matthew did succeed, resulting in him gaining a place at North Iowa Community College (NIACC), which is a part of the National Junior College Athletic Association.  He played at NIACC for two years, where he had 16 double-doubles and left averaging 12 points and 9 rebounds per game – he led the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference in rebounding.

Playing at NIACC was a lot faster than playing in the UK and the players were more athletic.  During his time spent at NIACC, Matthew learnt to “play hard every possession” and to not let other players get into his head.

Photo from Facebook and used with permission.
Photo from Facebook and used with permission.

Matthew has now made the transition to the next level at Cameron University –  a Division II school in the renowned National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – where he will be studying Criminal Justice.

He is most looking forward to the competition at the next level, as it will give him the opportunity to play with some of the best players around in a situation where is the underdog, because as he puts it: “No one knows who I am”.  He also said: “I’m hoping to gain a life long friendship my teammates… and to learn the skills I need to take my talents to the next step.”

Matthew has also had the opportunity to represent Great Britain as part of their Under 20’s basketball team in 2013 during the European Championships.  He was able to come home with a silver medal, which he says is the highlight of his basketball career so far.  According to Matthew, playing for a national team is “a great experience and opportunity.  [There is] no better feeling than standing on the court with your national anthem playing”.

Photo from Facebook and used with permission.
Photo from Facebook and used with permission.

Matthew is a Brooklyn Nets supporter and he named his top three favourite basketball players as Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.  However, it is Kobe Bryant’s work ethic that he is most inspired by, because “he’s been injured his whole career” and he has now come back from a major injury and is “killing it”.

Nonetheless, Matthew’s parents are the people who most inspire him, “because they worked hard to get me where I’m at, supporting me non stop from a different country”.  He is also inspired watching the success of the San Antonio Spurs, a team dominated by foreign plays, as it makes him truly believe that it could be him one day.

Sport was a good tool for keeping Matthew off the streets and out of trouble – “[It] made me realise what I wanted to do with my life and how to get it.  The streets couldn’t help me.”  He feels that there needs to be a stronger focus on sports in our schools here in Great Britain, and that there should be more basketball services available within Croydon.

Matthew is determined to turn his dream into a reality and he encourages young people to do the same – “It beats working in an office from 9-5”.  He took it upon himself to leave his familiar surroundings to further his basketball career, and he would recommend it to other young players, but “only if they are serious about basketball”.

Photo from Facebook and used with permission.
Photo from Facebook and used with permission.

Being a student athlete is no joke and Matthew knows what a tiring, difficult experience it can be.  However, he keeps his “eyes on the prize”, stays focused and continues to grind everyday.

Matthew’s drive, courage and determination have gotten him this far and will continue to propel him further.  His hard work and hunger to reach his dream has driven him forward and provided him with opportunities.  He serves as an inspiration for young people of finding what you love and then going for it.

What is most special, though, is that Matthew has not forgotten where he comes from and what it did for him.  He says: “If I make a big impact wherever I play in the future, I will definitely give back something to my high school and the coaches and to Croydon.”

Hopefully he will be able to help and inspire another young “Matthew” in the future to believe that they too can pursue their dreams.

What is your perception of young people?

Young people get a lot of bad press, which leads to negative perceptions of them from individuals looking on from the outside.  However, people are usually only seeing what they want to see.  All they see is the headlines, criminal activities or bad attitudes, rather than the actual person underneath all of that.

There is so much more to young people than what they do and how they are perceived.  If you look closely at many of them and take the time to get to know them, you will see that they are more witty, intelligent, caring, funny and vulnerable than you think.  They also have really good hearts hidden beneath the surface; however, they are unlikely to show them to just anyone – you’ve got to break through the surface first.

Photo by SplitShire and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by SplitShire and used under Creative Commons License.

A few months ago, I met a young man, who has recently turned 18.  He has been arrested more than once and already spent time behind bars.  He would steal and carry a knife.  I knew none of this when I met him, but even if I had known, it would not have mattered to me, which I know would be the case with some people.

He is a sweet and funny individual, with one of the most adorable faces I’ve ever seen.  Although he’s cheeky and can sometimes be rude, he always treats me with care and respect.  I am also incredibly proud of him for going to college and embarking on a subject that he loves, because he wants to do something with his life.

I can see that he is an individual who needs support and kindness shown to him, which is possibly why he responded so well to me.  I simply addressed him with a smile the first time I saw him and then tried to get him involved in a project that we were working on.  Sometimes, that is all that a young person needs to open up.

Photo by Giuliamar and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by Giuliamar and used under Creative Commons License.

Two years prior, I met another young man, who has also been arrested and who also used to steal.  He’s carried out community service and been involved in some foolish things, but he happens to be very intelligent.

For a 17-year-old, he is wise beyond his years, but you would have to embark on a genuine conversation with him to realise that, because I know it can be easy for people to pre-judge him based on his appearance.  This is a young man who did well at school, is currently in college and intends to go to university.  He is also likes to read, which is not a common occurrence amongst young men.

There is a lot more to his story than people know and he is more vulnerable than he makes out, but you would miss this unless you took the time to genuinely get to know him.  Once you get to know him, you will also find that he has a very loving heart, which happens to be one of his best qualities.

Photo by Hermann and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by Hermann and used under Creative Commons License.

Then there is my friend who is currently in prison.  The media have portrayed her as a cold-hearted monster and people have lapped it up, without even knowing the person she really is.  However, I know that person.  I went to school with her, which gave me the opportunity to interact with the girl who had a good heart and kind spirit, before she got in too deep with the wrong guy and went on a downward spiral.

As I write to her, I see a vulnerable young woman, who knows that she has made a series of mistakes that has led to her to a jail cell.  I also see the good person that I knew at school, who supports me, encourages me and asks about my younger sister.

I will put my hands up and say that she did wrong and made a grave mistake, but people seem to forget that she didn’t twist the knife in.  She has also never had the chance to express her feelings or her side of the story, which has led to completely negative perceptions of her character and the media displaying her as some sort of monster, which is not fair.

Photo by jodylehigh and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by jodylehigh and used under Creative Commons License.

There are many other examples that I could give of young people who have so much more to offer than the negative perceptions people have of them, because that is the sad reality of the world we live in.

Countless young people are not encouraged or unable to tell their stories.  In fact, young people are not given much of an opportunity to use their voice at all, which leads to one-sided connotations and the negative view of young people as a whole.

The older generation needs to spend more time with young people, so approach them and speak to them just like you would speak to anyone else.  Talk to them about general subjects, don’t pass judgements and make them feel involved whenever you can – then you will really see who they are.

Of course, not every young individual will be receptive or automatically nice, but sometimes it just takes a little longer to build that trust.  There is more to young people than meets the eye and there is usually a lot more going on beneath the surface than you realise.

Photo by PublicDomainPictures and used under Creative Commons License.
Photo by PublicDomainPictures and used under Creative Commons License.

Look past the stealing, drug dealing, anger, bad attitude and violence, to the good that is in them, because it usually is there.  Just take some time to get through to them and you will soon see that there are a lot of beautiful hearts and wonderful talent you may have missed.

What are your perceptions of young people?