Being The Change I Want to See Through 3 Years of YP Insight

When people learn about or get involved with Young People Insight, the question I am most commonly asked is: “Why did you decide to start something like this?”  No matter how many times I am asked this question, it still throws me a little, as I know that I will take a full story to explain.

I started YPI, because I wanted to empower the voices of young people and ensure they knew their voices mattered, as I often felt that mine didn’t.  I started YPI, because I wanted all young people to feel they belonged somewhere and never feel as lonely as I felt.  I started YPI, because I wanted to create a space where young people expanded their mindset by stepping out of their comfort zones, which was the case for me.

All in all, I started YPI, because I knew young people and young adults needed it.  Leaving the teenage years and entering into adulthood can be an awkward time, which we are left to navigate on our own.  I set up YPI to be a bridge that eases the transition, which is why it is aimed at 16-26 year olds.

However, if I was going to answer with one sentence, I would say that I started YPI because I wanted to be the change I wanted to see.

Before starting the YPI blog in 2014, making change was something I regularly spoke about, but not really doing anything about.  Once I started the blog and spent more time interacting with young people at a charity in Croydon, I knew that I wanted to create a platform for young people to make their raw, authentic voices heard, come together from behind a screen in the process.

I had ideas upon ideas written down in notebooks from 2014, but if you knew me at that time, you would know that my confidence was basically shot and I continuously doubted my abilities.  Once I finally developed that confidence and began believing I could do more than I thought, YPI was ready to be launched as the physical platform you know in 2016.

Since launching YPI in 2016, I believe that I have been the change I want to see, despite always wanting to be a greater change in society as a whole.  I especially want to reach more young people, because I know there are more out there who will benefit greatly from being part of the YP Insight family and building the confidence they need to be the change themselves.

It has been a struggle to keep YPI going over the past three years, but it is the young people involved in the platform who keep me going (partnered with the resilience and will God gives me).  They inspire and uplift me at events, especially with the bravery shown when sharing their poetry.  I want to continue sustaining and developing this platform not only for them, but for every young person who is yet to be a part of our family.

I cannot stress how much I have learnt and grown, through building up YPI and the various events that have been put on.  I’ve developed skills as a host, facilitator, events manager, poet and so much more.  I’ve also gained knowledge on a variety of topics – which I can honestly say rarely crossed my mind before – including modern slavery, young carers and psychosis.  The more I know, the more I want to know.

Starting YPI has made me a better, stronger and even more understanding person.  It’s taken me out of my comfort zone, and continues to do so, which is not so terrifying anymore.  I’ve come to embrace it, which is why I finally got it registered as a Community Interest Company this year.

Making YPI official was something I have wrestled with continuously, especially when there were so many moments when I wanted to walk away and put an end to it altogether.  I’m so glad I persevered though, as I can finally say that I’m the Director of my own company, which is something I always wanted.

Three years is a short space of time in the grand scheme of things, but to keep YPI going for this long feels like a great achievement to me, especially when I have seen a number of initiatives in Croydon come to an end during this time.

So to everyone who has supported Young People Insight over the past three years, and to everyone who supported my journey even before that, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I could not have kept this platform standing without you.  And to every member of the YP Insight family, I love you all so much.

Here’s to many years more.

Young People Share Their Dreams at the YP Insight Forum

Passion and goals; something inside of you that you want to fulfill; something you hope to be; an imaginary milestone. These were some of the terms used to describe dreams, the focus point of the Young People Insight forum on May 17th.

It only seemed right for us to start by sharing our dreams, which included:

  • Being a fashion designer
  • Happiness
  • Effecting people in a good way
  • Becoming a counselor, marriage therapist or family therapist
  • Becoming a qualified accountant
  • Getting married.

DSC_0783After sharing our about dreams, it was time to hear from the guest speakers for the evening.  First up was Stephanie Kane, who is pursuing her dream of selling art work internationally and opening her own gallery.

Growing up, Stephanie always knew that she wanted “to be an artist of some sort” and that she had “that sort of entrepreneurial spark” in her.  Knowing that she wanted to go into the creative field, she went to study Fashion Illustration at London College of Fashion, which turned out to be the wrong decision for her.

Rather than stay on a course that she didn’t enjoy, Stephanie left university and decided that she wanted to exhibit every month for a year.  After that year, she began working at RISEgallery and she later found herself taking part in an event at the TATE Britain, which led to a collaboration with Apple, which was later seen by a major global brand, kind of like a “snowball effect”.  She told us that as an artist, “it’s really important to know how to market yourself”.

In July 2015, Stephanie was the south-east winner of Young Start-Up Talent, with her vision of STUDIO14.  She said, “Winning the competition meant you had to learn things you didn’t know before”, but “I now know how to manage a business.”  Stephanie’s key word of advice was: “Don’t turn opportunities down.”

DSC_0786Next was Matthew Don, whose dreams are to serve the Lord, play basketball as long as he can without injury and make the basketball culture in Croydon bigger.  However, this wasn’t always the case for him.  When Matthew was 10 or 11 years old, he didn’t know what he wanted – “I was out on the streets a lot, getting into trouble” – but when was 13, something clicked.

Initially forced into playing basketball, Matthew eventually grew to love it and by the time he was 15 or 16, he wanted to pursue basketball as a career.  Matthew was fortunate enough to get a full scholarship to play basketball in the United States and he also had the opportunity to represent Great Britain as part of their U20 basketball team in the 2013 European Championships.

Despite having people tell him that he wouldn’t be paid to play basketball, Matthew is currently professionally in Spain.  He told us, “At the end of the day, people are going to bring you down, but you’ve got to stay motivated,” which has been his biggest lesson.  Matthew’s words of advice to any aspiring basketball players are: “Don’t watch Stephen Curry highlights… Keep grinding everyday, working on fundamentals …[and]… play with older guys.”

DSC_0795When it comes to her dreams, Frances Acquaah says that it’s about being happy and everything having balance.  When she was younger, Frances really wanted to be on TV, as an actor or a singer.  However, her mum planted the seed of becoming a journalist in her mind, which Frances began to gravitate to more a she got older.

After graduating from university, Frances got an internship working at the youth marketing agency, Livity, which was “a really, really cool place to work as my first professional job out of uni.”  She later went on to become the Deputy Editor and then Editor of Live Mag UK for two years, before it closed down, but she admitted that she may have become complacent, which is a danger.  “When you’re not learning anymore in a job, I think that’s when you need to leave,” she told us.

Frances is currently working as a junior researcher at the BBC, and she’s also written pieces for The Guardian and Red Bull Amaphiko.  Leaving Live Mag also gave Frances the opportunity to start her blog for the third time, which prompted her to tell us, “Don’t give up on your blog if you have one.”  However, a key bit of advice from Frances is, “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this or you can’t do that, because it’s not true.”

DSC_0810Last but not least were Kyle Hylton and Jason Simms-Davis, co-founders of the recently launched social enterprise, Justified Kings, which aims to “enrich young adults with the tools to gain control of their lives.”

During secondary school, Kyle felt that he was in a bubble and not prepared for the real world, not fully knowing what we wanted to do with his life.  However, according to Jason, attending Riddlesdown was quite a deciding point in his and Kyle’s lives, as they came to the realisation about the lack of opportunities in Thornton Heath.

Jason believes that a lot of issues come from a lack of knowledge of self, so he and Kyle want to help people, inspire people and give back to the community.  Kyle believes everyone has their inner king and queen inside of them, but some need to have it extracted from them, which is where the name Justified Kings comes from.  “What we’ve been taught, we’re going to give back to the people,” Kyle says.

Kyle and Jason will be hosting their first Justified Kings event on Wednesday 25th May in Project B.  The event is called J.U.I.C.E, which stands for Justified, Understanding, Incorporating Confidence & Energy.  “It’s helping people through the transition,” Kyle says.

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The next forum will be on June 21st at Project B, when we’ll be discussing violent crime.  There will guest speakers, as well as a surprise twist.

Follow @YPInsight on Twitter or like Young People Insight on Facebook for any updates.

Telling My Truth

Truth is one of the main elements at the centre of Young People Insight, with young people being encouraged to tell their truths in their own words.  That is tell their truth without distortion from the media or pressure to say the right thing from others; just raw, unadulterated truth.

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

As the founder of Young People Insight, I thought it was important to share a little more of my truth with all of you.  I’ve previously shared my experience with self harm and explained why leaving university was one of the best decisions I ever made, but I haven’t shared any recent part of my story with you.

Trying to get Young People Insight off the ground has been a struggle, which I am still battling now.  I didn’t know where to start with the forums, I wondered how I was going to reach people, I found myself worrying about funds and the list goes on.  Countless questions, doubts and worries have been plaguing my mind.

All the while, I’ve had people congratulate me on what I’m doing and encourage me to keep pushing forward, but I found myself feeling like a failure.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the brave step I’ve taken to even start something like this, but I feel like I’ve failed in the number of people I’ve reached and the time that it’s taken for me to actually start my forums.

You may be saying don’t be so hard on yourself, but that is a difficult feat for me.  I may come across as confident to a lot of individuals and seem like I have it all together, but that is so far from being the truth.

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As I strive on in my quest to build Young People Insight, I continue to battle the voices inside that tell me that I’m not good enough, not capable enough and not liked enough.  I fight against the fear of taking the next steps, but most of all, I fight against the desire to simply give up.

Over the past month, I found myself in a depressive state, dealing with grief and doubting who I was, what I was doing and what my purpose was in life.  I couldn’t write, I didn’t want to be around people and I even considered giving up on Young People Insight.  What made it harder was that during this time, my sessions with my counsellor came to an end, when I most needed to speak to her and have that safe presence in my life.

It was the second time in the last year that wanted to isolate myself from everyone, give up entirely and just be taken from this world — the first time was actually the reason why I found myself in counselling.  Nevertheless, I made the decision to battle on, because what I intend to do through Young People Insight is simply too important to simply give up on.

There are young people who need to be heard and feel like they matter.  There are networks that need to be formed and creativity that needs to be tapped into.  There is also a borough that needs to do all it can to reach as many young people as possible, and I intend to be a part of that.

I know that this journey will continue to get tougher, but I just need to take time to remember why I’m doing this.  It’s not about me, but it’s about all of the amazing young people who need to be seen and feel empowered to use their voices.

I want them to know that I genuinely care and that I’m not above them, or any better than them, because I haven’t got it all together myself.  I’m still figuring everything out, just like them, which is why I want us to go on this journey together.

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

To all my young people, just know that you can take the step to drop out of university and overcome struggles with mental health to pave your own way towards greatness.  I believe we all have special potential within us.

Guest Post: What it’s like living with depression and anxiety disorder

Rhianna shares her story about what life is like living with depression and anxiety disorder, as she tries to defy the “depression stereotype”.

“Just sleep on it, you’ll feel better in the morning”. The most common thing I hear from people. However, depression is not something that you can sleep on. Things don’t just miraculously “get better” in the morning. Depression is more than just a low mood or a sequence of bad days; it is a very real illness.

I’m a young person and I suffer from severe depression, alongside anxiety disorder. I’ve been suffering from depression for five years, been clinically diagnosed three times, and “overdosed” is printed out on my doctors records under the title, “important information”.

I was recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder, although I’ve been aware of it for longer. I’ve hidden self-inflicted scars so I wouldn’t be judged by people in a world where depression is brushed off as being weak and just too pathetic to deal with the hustles and bustles of life. Suicide has also been a common underlying thought.

My journey with depression and anxiety disorder has been a roller coaster. It’s been consuming, overwhelming, frustrating, life changing, and above all downright tiring; it’s been exhausting.

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

Although over the years I’ve had fleeting moments of happiness, joy and hope, the majority of the time I’ve felt helpless, hopeless, disconnected, cold, careless, numb, stupid, paranoid, worried, doubtful, and overall an overwhelming sense of not belonging. I’ve also felt empty or extremely disconnected from everything in this world, struggling to find a purpose. These are only but a few of the emotions I battle with daily.

A while ago I decided that I couldn’t continue this way and I needed to talk to someone. Although I had previously been to a counsellor a couple of years ago, it wasn’t very effective as I was unwilling and unable to open up to the counsellor and they regarded me as being quite “aggressive”.

I decided to call the doctor at the end of last year, and they referred me to the Croydon Psychological and Wellbeing Services IAPT, where I have been on a waiting list to receive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This was a big decision for me, as I hate to talk to anyone about what’s going on with me, but I got to a point where I missed the spark that used to exist in my life.

Depression and anxiety order can also affect you physically as well as mentally. I’m constantly tired, during the night I wake up every few of hours, I often feel weak, some days I can literally feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, and often times even taking the deepest breath does not make me feel even the slightest bit relieved; these are a few amongst other symptoms.

Not to mention the lack of motivation to do anything – even the smallest task of cooking, struggling to get up each day, and the inability to stay focussed on one thing for more than five minutes without zoning out.

Anxiety disorder and depression affect every aspect of your life from relationships with family and friends, to working with people, to carrying out tasks. It can leave you feeling isolated, alone, and misunderstood because initially you feel that no one understands what you’re going through and you feel embarrassed and stupid telling people what’s going on with you, especially when it’s hardly a fatal situation that you’re going through.

It’s even harder when you don’t understand what’s going on with yourself. You often feel ashamed for feeling so weak and helpless in regards to controlling your emotional and mental well-being. Although everyone deals with their depression differently, this is definitely something that I experience.

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

A lot of people I know who find out that I suffer from depression and an anxiety disorder are normally surprised. I’ve heard “you don’t suit the depression type”, “you’re so bubbly though” to, “but I thought you were so confident”.

But who exactly is the “depression type”? I refuse to become the “depression stereotype” – someone who stays in their pyjamas all day in the house, who sits in the dark not doing anything, walks around alone in a daze looking teary eyed. However, I do not judge anyone who does decide to deal with their depression in this way.

I won’t deny that I’ve had dark days when I’ll cry on and off, when I just want to sit on my sofa and watch TV, listen to music in bed, felt suicidal etc, but I also love to laugh, support my friends and see them happy, hang around family from time to time etc.

Basically I do enjoy a distraction. I just don’t deem it necessary to showcase my mental disorders and thrust my mood on those around me. However, having these disorders has inadvertently affected the way I behave with those closest to me, although I do try my hardest to stop when I realise that I’m letting this illness get a hold of me. I especially do not want or need attention from people, and having them pitying or feeling sorry for me.

Depression and anxiety disorder do not define me, but it’s something that I deal with daily. I do admit it’s changed me, but in life what doesn’t?

To all of those who suffer from any mental disorder, do not be afraid or ashamed to speak out. Don’t suffer in silence. This isn’t a life choice, it’s an illness. Acknowledging that is your first step to recovery. Don’t be afraid of your battle. Feeling this way does not make you weak or below anyone else. Opening up and letting someone in is all the strength that you need.

Rhianna is a 19-year-old from Croydon, who is working towards becoming a therapist in the mental health field.