THE EASTSIDE Young Leaders’ Academy is based in Newham, London and was formed by Ray Lewis in 2002. Ray is a former governor of a young offenders Institute who detected a causal link between academic underachievement and criminal activity amongst young black males, who are six times more likely to be excluded from school than their white counterparts. Ray used his savings to set up EYLA which aims to ‘nurture the leadership potential of young African and Caribbean males, empowering them to become the next generation of successful leaders’.
EYLA works with disruptive black boys from the age of 8 who have been excluded from school or are on the verge of exclusion. In their work with the young boys, EYLA operates with the belief that the most disruptive pupils often have innate leadership ability. Their faith in this idea has been justified by a research report on the work of EYLA which said that the most impressive individuals who attended the Academy had entered it as the most troublesome figures.
There are several core elements to the EYLA programme:
-Tutorial Programme: after-school sessions to raise academic performance
-Saturday Academy: to develop the social and leadership skills of the boys
-Holiday Programme: activities to broaden horizons, 5 days a week in school holidays
-Community Service: 3-4 hours volunteering each month for the elderly, other charities etc
-Mentoring Plus: mentoring from inspirational role models, visits to and from businesses
-Family Support Network: parenting classes focussed on supporting the boys
On average, boys will spend twenty hours a week at the Academy. In all aspects of the programme, EYLA’s emphasis on early intervention, respect and self-worth are inculcating a culture of hard work, academic excellence and community involvement amongst the boys. This is supplemented by essential and appropriate parental support.
The programme has resulted in vastly increased attendance at school, improved academic results and greater civic involvement from the young leaders, who completed over 4000 hours of community service in the last year. EYLA achieves its fantastic results by building the academic and interpersonal skills of its boys, instilling in them a self-confidence that has been lacking and unlocking a creativity that is often hidden. Visits to corporations and places of cultural interest build the soft skills and cultural capital of the young leaders, who have never accessed such worlds before. The transformation in the boys is so startling that visitors frequently find it hard to believe the boys could possibly have behaved the way their initial referral form suggests. All of this is done at a fraction of the cost that is required to keep a child excluded from school.
EYLA’s core aim is to have all of its boys complete at least two A-levels and then have at least three quarters of them make successful applications to university. Indeed, a focus of EYLA’s work is to put the boys in as strong a position as possible for making university applications as, at present, there are two black males in prison for every one at university. Visits to universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are a key aspect of EYLA’s extra-curricular programme and are having a huge impact on the attitude and aspirations of boys. Currently twelve young leaders have gained full bursaries to Independent schools including Rugby, Wellington and Eton. EYLA’s success has resulted in strong interest in replicating the model across London and other cities in the UK.
Below is a testimony from one of the students.
"My name is Paul and I’m 15 years of age. I was born and raised in East London and I live in Waltham Forest. I’m writing this letter today because I feel people need to know the truth about the Eastside Young leaders Academy’s mentoring programme and the Mayor’s mentoring scheme. Over the years I have seen many of my friends and school-mates stabbed, imprisoned and even murdered. They were all boys like me, who started off with great hopes and aspirations, but then slowly got sucked into urban life. Some people call it an alternative economic system, but it’s about more than just earning money, it’s about status and respect.
My life was typical of others - raised by my mum, I did very well in primary school and was set to do well at secondary school too. Then the influence of others began to sway me - it’s easy to become involved in petty crime, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. What rescued me was the influence and strength of a guy called Kwame Asante.
Before Kwame I had no real experience of smart, strong, black males who don’t give up on you. And because of him I didn’t give up on myself. You couldn’t describe him as sympathetic or ‘luvvy duvvy’ but he does understand and listen, and he taught me a culture of no excuses. I met him through a mentoring organisation and he and I meet once a fortnight. When I meet with him we just do ordinary things. It’s not a counselling session; I’ve had those before and they didn’t work for me. Kwame has helped me by doing three things - firstly, he gave me some of his time, on occasions I would even join him at work. Secondly he was no-nonsense and didn’t believe in excuses. Thirdly he made me accountable for my actions and helped me to see that my future was what I made it. His voice was louder and more distinct than others.
I guess you could say he was a mentor although to me he seemed more like a big brother or father. He gave me permission to be great.
I’m still on a journey but thankfully it’s in the right direction. I’m at college now, I’m not making the same mistakes I did in the past and I’m no longer irresponsible. I believe in the Eastside Young Leaders Academy mentoring programme and so should you. It has made a massive difference to my life. It is a vital programme that has expanded rapidly, driven with the enthusiasm and support of Boris Johnson and with his support programmes like this have and will make, an amazing difference across London.
Paul Ridout – 15 years old – Eastside Young Leaders Academy