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Young ambassadors who are making a difference

POSITIVE IMPACT: Despite gun and knife crime, some young people are turning their back on crime

LAST MONTH an email arrived from the officials who run the Equalities and Achievement department at Lewisham Council in south London.

The headline was stark, clean and clear.

It said: “ENJOY. ACHIEVE. CLEBRATE. INSPIRE. This event is for all ages, primary and secondary pupils, parents, teachers, the whole community.”

The event was organised by students from Lewisham schools and there was much more that they said about themselves. They are agents of change.

I had never seen or heard of the Pupil Ambassadors before. This was indeed a bolt from the blue. Even so, I had some historical connections from the distant past.

Almost to the day, 49 years ago, I arrived to join that south London community in Lewisham to begin a new life as a Caribbean immigrant. Years later my eldest child, a girl, fell from the comfort of her mother’s womb at Lewisham Hospital.

Some 10 years after she was born I began teaching at the South East London Technical College (SELTEC) on Lewisham Way. The subject – General Studies.

The students, almost all black, were preparing for the world of work. They were in fact apprentices.

At about the same time the National Front chose to march through Lewisham Way, teasing and taunting the black community. It was a Battle Royale. Much later in time in 1981, a party held at the home of the Ruddock family in New Cross was firebombed and 13 black children were murdered, some of them from the borough of Lewisham.
Weeks following this incident 15,000 marchers, a huge slice from Lewisham and its surrounds, joined the Day of Action. They were ambassadors in the making. It is in their DNA so to speak.

The invitation from Lewisham Council did not fall from the sky. In December last year the Equalities Department dragged me through a snow storm to deliver a lecture to local folk active around the issue of education. The choice of topic was left to me. I chose the following: I Was Once a Child. It was a successful evening which prepared me in part for the Lewisham Pupil Ambassadors and their evening on July 7th from 6 to 8pm.

There was much more to come. On a fateful day in May a national newspaper ran the following headline: ‘A 15 year old boy killed in a south London after a fight between two sets of rival gangs’.

They must have been pupils, the opposite it seems to the Lewisham Pupil Ambassadors.

On July 2nd another headline appeared: ‘A 16 year old boy knifed in the streets.’ One witness said he watched the boy’s life ‘slip away’ as he lay on the pavement.

Then another! At 6.30pm on July 7, the day before the event a 16-year-old boy was stabbed by two others of a similar age in Bonfield Street in Lewisham.

As I ambled long to the grand theatre I could not erase from my thoughts the blood and hellfire which the Lewisham Pupil Ambassadors had the task of calming and undermining. The dulcet tones of a school steel band welcomed the mighty throng. And from then on the theatre buzzed in song and dance. The Pupil Ambassadors had organised the event on their own. The programme was theirs and theirs alone. They displayed on the stage about a dozen young boys and girls who would attend universities throughout this green and not so pleasant land.

A Nigerian voice mesmerised the audience with a jazz song. Lo and behold a young black boy captured the audience with a fine execution of modern dance.

Two worlds clash within our black communities. Lewisham is but one example and I know which side I am on. I’m with othe tiny kid who dances with confidence and great skill. I rename him ‘Man dancing’, the opposite of ‘Man Killing.’

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