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Temi Mwale: Young, gifted and giving back

BATTING FOR PEACE AND PROSPERITY: Temi Mwale

FORMIDABLE TEMI Mwale, a law undergraduate at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), was this year named one of Britain’s top black students for juggling campaign work such as supporting the family of Mark Duggan with her legal studies.

The Voice reporter Ade Onibada caught up with founder of Get Outta The Gang to discuss how this 19-year-old continues to push the issue of youth violence up the agenda.

For her efforts, the north Londoner has received a Cosmopolitan Ultimate Women Award, David Cameron’s Points of Light Award and named Peacemaker of the Year. Here, she talks about her vision for the organisation and passing on the torch to the next generation.

What is the motivation behind the type of activism you do?
I set up the organisation because I didn’t really feel like there was a space for young people and that’s important in relation to gang culture and what we call youth violence. We have veterans who have been doing ‘gang work’ for a long time – not to belittle their efforts – but, for me, one of the first things that I felt as an issue is that it’s one that is continuously evolving and adapting. We need to make sure that our approach is adapting and I feel that young people who’ve experienced gang culture and youth violence in its most recent form should be at the forefront of efforts to tackle it. Without a space for us to say what’s happening on the ground now, it’s going to be very difficult for provisions to be put in place that are actually effective.

What was the defining moment that made you committed to fighting gang violence?
I would say it touched me most personally when my friend [Marvin Henry] was killed in 2010. I had always been interested and kept up to date with what was happening, but nothing really prepared me for someone that I grew up with to be on the front page of newspapers. Some people will never truly understand that kind of trauma and grief unless they go through it. There needs to be more to try and understand the culture and how it affects our community.

Do you ever feel like you are underestimated?
The young people I’ve worked don’t really question my authenticity. I would say me being a female working on what is seen as a predominantly male issue did lead to me being underestimated but that’s always something that happens initially then tends to go out the window when the work starts getting deep.

One of my most recent experiences was during the last Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into gangs and youth crime that took place this year. I was very disappointed with the whole experience; I didn’t feel like the chair, Keith Vaz, utilised our experiences – what we brought to the table was youthful, raw and true. They weren’t as open in listening or taking seriously what we had to say as we thought they would be. Keith Vaz continuously spoke over us as if we were government ministers being held to account. As young people with personal experience regarding this issue, the way he spoke to us I found to be very rude and it didn’t make us feel like we were being heard.

What role do you think women play in the conversations on gang culture?
I think young women’s voices have gone largely unheard and we’ve always been categorised into this idea of being sexual exploits of gangs and that is really not the full female experience. It doesn’t cover all the roles that women play within this culture and all the ways in which it can affect them so that’s one thing I try to bring to the table. If we only see young women as being sexually exploited by gang culture we’re never going to offer the correct provisions for those young women who do exhibit violence and in some instances the mums whose children are involved and female siblings who are made to do particular things. The female experience should not be limited.

What have been some of the proudest moments the campaign has achieved?
I would say it’s always the work on the ground and the awards that have been won. I think it shows that people appreciate the work that’s being done and we’ve run so many workshops and work with so many different collectives. Our grassroots mediation that allows us to bring together potentially rival groups with a long history of violence to unite for a common goal is a big accomplishment.

What are your long-term ambitions for the organisation?
Looking at the bigger picture, one of our core principles is about it being youth-led. That’s where the authenticity lies and as I’m getting older I don’t see myself being at the forefront of it for that much longer.

I’m so committed to working with those younger people who are passionate and who I can confidently pass the baton over to and they won’t have to start from scratch. Especially in our community, we talk about the shoulders on which we stand. I’ve put in a lot of work to get it to be a place where somebody else can come in and say ‘you’re getting old, we’re ready to continue the work’. I’m happy to take a backseat one day and let the young people lead it in whatever direction necessary.

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