“You see, identity has been lost along the way.” These were some of the first words by Tony Supreme, who delivered a spoken word piece to help kick-start the launch of the Youth Violence Commission, which I had the opportunity to attend on the 12th July at London South Bank University.
Just like Kyle mentioned at last month’s forum on violent crime, identity is one of the factors that has been picked up on in relation to youth violence. However, there are so many more and the Youth Violence Commission wants to get to the root of that. “What we wanna try and achieve here is the first of its kind,” said Executive Director Ian McInnes.
“The Youth Violence Commission has been established to work with young people, communities and experts, from around the UK, to explore insights and public opinion, with the aim of better understanding how violence manifests in young lives, its drivers and how we can work together to stop young people from disappearing from our streets too soon.”
Despite not being funded or controlled by government, the Youth Violence Commissioners are six MPs: Chuka Umunna, James Cleverly, Mark Field, Greg Mulholland, Chris Stephens and Vicky Foxcroft, who started the Commission.
Vicky was inspired to start the Commission when she was knocking on doors and someone asked her what she was doing about gangs and youth violence. She can see that all the acts of youth violence have had an effect on those left behind – “Trauma is being suffered on an industrial scale.” Vicky believes that it’s an “absolute moral responsibility” for us to look into finding solutions.
Vicky raised many points that I agree with and have stressed in the past, which made me engage even more with the Commission. She brought up the point that the wider community must be listened to; she asked , “Why don’t we have enough positive images of young people out there?” and expressed that by working together, we can find a solution.
We were able to hear from the rest of the Commissioners in their speeches and a Q&A session, which brought up many interesting insights and comments on an issue that has been spoken about often.
Mark Field MP stressed that if we see violent crime as just a black issue, or even just a youth issue, then we are making a huge mistake, while Chuka Umunna MP thinks that it is an issue of health and well-being, particularly mental health. One of my favourite points was made by Chris Stephens MP, who passionately said that if young people’s voices aren’t being listened to, then shout louder and make sure we’re heard.
We not only heard from the Commissioners, but we heard from some inspiring and charismatic young people who will be working with the Commission. The first young speaker we heard from was Ebi Iyere, who grew up in Lambeth and left home at 15 – “Growing up in South London isn’t easy… you see a lot of deaths” she said.
Ebi delivered a few home-truths to us, saying that youth violence being just a gang problem and a male problem is far-fetched. “Youth violence has been institutionalised,” she says. She also deeply conveyed that “Young people are hurting out there”, and that if we’re going to talk about them and describe them, we need to remember that they’re children and that they’re human.
While Ebi delivered some home truths, Temi Mwale, CEO and founder of The 4Front Project, well and truly schooled us on the issue of youth violence. One of the main points of focus in Temi’s speech was the term “gang” – “We don’t understand it, but we’re quick to form a picture of what a gang member looks like in our brain.”
Despite starting her organisation at the age of 16, Temi stopped using the term gang when she was 18. She told us that when we use it, we don’t mean people harm, but others in the community see it as meaning them harm. Temi also revealed that using the term gang shows those young people that we don’t understand the complexity of their situation – “We’re quick to label people when we don’t understand the circumstances of their life.”
Temi also flipped the subject of fear on its head. She said that when young black men open the paper, they’re scared of young black men too, which is something that many of us don’t stop to consider. “We’re scared of each other,” Temi bluntly told us.
Temi also raised certain factors that are glossed over far too often: she mentioned our society’s problem of glamourising violence, newspapers dehumanising young people, and the need to address the issues of capitalism to address youth violence.
Youth violence is a complex and very broad issue, that cannot be confined to just one root cause or one solution. It is going to take a lot of hard work together as a community to stop it, but the launch of the Youth Violence Commission has taken another step towards making that happen.
Being a part of the day was a great experience and I gained a heap of knowledge that I not only intend to take forward in my youth work, but hope to feed back into the Commission. By working together, we can make a real effort to end youth violence.