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Patrick Vernon
The concept of a 'village raising a child' feels absent in 2014

I HAD the privilege to recently attend the launch of a new book entitled Letters to a Young Generation.

It is a collection of 13 'letters' from actor Hugh Quarshie, Commonwealth gold medalist Julian Golding, Olympic athlete Tony Jarrett, David Lammy MP and Gangsline founder Sheldon Thomas.

X Factor semi-finalists Rough Copy wrote the foreword to the publication, which is dedicated to a young man called Gus Allman who was murdered earlier on this year in Folkestone.

He was only 20 years old.

Each of the letters offers little gems and pearls of wisdom from these men sharing their experiences of love, hurt, pain, rejection, abandonment and resilience.

Each of them gives an insight in how these men realised they had to raise their game to achieve their potential.

The book is aimed at young black men aged between 11 and 19 years old.

When read together, the letters are powerful and I am sure will inspire other men to share and pass on the baton of resilience and teach the survival skills that we need to instil in the next generation.

The book's editor Amanda Wilson, who runs 9:10 Publishing, shared her vision: "My aim in developing this book was to... allow those who have grown up in the UK to speak to those who are growing up and let them know that they can be agents of change in this society.

"I am so grateful that the writers of these 13 letters didn’t hold back; they didn’t try to gloss over their challenges, or pretend they’d never experienced difficulties growing up. But at the same time, they’ve shown readers that making the right choices can make the difference between success and failure."

She now plans to do a similar book for young girls in 2016.

Letters to a Generation could form the basis of a national dialogue exploring issues of inter-generational dialogue, identity and trust sharing between different black men and women.

The African proverb 'it takes a village to raise a child' in the context of Britain in 2014 feels more like mythology when I compare my experiences growing up in the Midlands in 1970s.

Despite the racism and inequality that surrounded us, we had a sense of community spirit and supported each other.

Today it feels like we have abandoned the village and are more interested in living in our imaginary gated homes where we focus on self, personal advancement and gratification and not giving sufficient time and investment in your young people on an emotional, intellectual and financial level.

The book is a call to action for the different generations - from the Windrush Generation to the Mini Baby Boomers and X, Y, Z generation - to engage with each other.

The book has inspired me to write the following letter to young people about leadership and life choices:

Dear Young Person,

We all have a purpose in life no matter how great or small this might be, from raising a family, working in your chosen profession/vocation, starting a business, launching a social cause or turning an hobby in to a lifelong pursuit.

Your purpose in life will be your driving force in developing your aspirations as a leader.

Most successful leaders whether in business, politics, sports or entertainment recognise that they cannot be superhuman so they often build a team or organisations which compensates for their weaknesses or minimises the risk.

This also applies to you. Learn to identity your weakness but importantly focus on your strengths by being the best that you can be.

I know you may feel at times that no one understands or values you, but remember ‘no man or woman is an island'.

At times you need to reach out or people will reach to you whether this is family, friends, teacher, work colleagues, informal mentor even a complete stranger.

They can give you advice and feedback.

It is important to list your achievements to date and regularly update them along with developing your own affirmation statements or positive words of encouragement.

We live - at times - in a cruel, uncaring and competitive world where we are constantly challenged and undermine consciously or subconsciously by people and institutions.

Because of this we need to find our own inspiration and remind ourselves on a constant basis that we are special and that we are here on this planet to contribute and add value to the lives of others.

It is important to be authentic in how you communicate and promote yourself as most people will see through this and will perceive you negatively especially if you desperately or aggressively try and impose yourself.

Avoid being stereotyped or being perceived incorrectly as word of mouth or social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) can be powerful to establish or undermine you as a person.

Dress to impress at appropriate times as this is important as you feel and look good.

It is often easy to be a couch potato so it is important to build your energy levels and try and be conscious around your health and fitness.

It is important to learn about our history and heritage especially the contribution and the Black presence in Britain over the last 2,000 years.

Some years ago I created a websites such as Every Generation and 100 Great Black Britons to facilitate you learning more about family history and role models.

You may have come across various events and news coverage around WW1 and also every year we have Remembrance Sunday.

You may feel that you have no connection or relevance to these commemorations, but I need to reassure you that it's very likely that someone in your family did serve as in these wars, or does today, because they believed in a future generation based around freedom and democracy.

I was really fortunate to meet someone called Eddie Martin Noble some time ago who was like an adopted grandfather figure and mentor. I got to him know very well over the years before his death in 2007 at the ripe age of 90.

I learnt a lot from Eddie and I was able to make a film about his life called A Charmed Life in which Eddie shared his life story of challenges and opportunities growing up in the Caribbean in the 1920s/30s.

He served in WWII like 15,000 women and men from the Caribbean and over 150,000 from Africa.

Eddie settled in the UK after the war where he raised a family and contributed to the local community in east London.

I asked him once what advice would he give to young people based on his many years of living in Britain.

You may find some of Eddie’s tips below useful as you navigate your journey:

1. Be patient and tolerant to all people regardless of race, colour or religion

2. Remember you cannot compel people to like you, but behave in a manner that compels them to respect you

3. Be honest and truthful at all times, even if it means admitting to being wrong

4. Be proud of your race and colour, but never be arrogant

5. Respect your elders

6. Give help to the old and disabled whenever possible, if it is needed

7. Show respect for your teachers (supervisors) and follow their instructions, because they have had the training

8. Always remember that experience gained from living life quite often is more valuable than academic success

9. Always be thankful for the gifts nature has promised you with

10. Finally, remember one is never too old to learn.

I hope you will find this letter a help and a source of inspiration.

You have the permission to excel in your chosen career and enjoy life to the full but respecting others and their differences.

This is important as we need to entrust the baton of wisdom to you so you can write a letter to the next generation.

Patrick Vernon OBE

Some of the authors of Letters to a Young Generation will be discussing their work and debating what more can be done to support the next generation of black men on October 31.

For more information, visit

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