Conversation with…Donna Sinclair, Chief Executive Officer, Options4Change

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Options 4 Change (O4C) works with disadvantaged children and young people, their families and local statutory and voluntary organisations to change minds and lives for the better.

With young people, O4C uses one-on-one mentoring techniques and coaching to influence positive peer engagement, and community programmes designed to provide alternatives to dysfunctional lifestyles. The organisation also runs activities to help adults develop parenting skills and holds community seminars to raise awareness of the impact of exclusions on academic achievement.

O4C was founded over 13 years ago by Donna Sinclair. She is a regular media contributor and discussant on the issue of the disadvantaged in London.

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Why was O4C founded?

The organisation was founded 13 years ago in response to the failing social care system, particularly in Lambeth. Our primary purpose is to advocate for the marginalised in society.

For some, it’s difficult to understand that there are so many people in need in the capital. What’s the extent of deprivation in London?

The thing is there is a ‘hidden world’ that we just don’t see. You have a sub-population of individuals who are destitute with no recourse to any form of assistance. Often people with fixed-term leave to remain may or may not have recourse to public funds and as a result they live here without being able to afford their basic needs like accommodation and live a life of destitution.

They are often the ones that will do any kind of work to make ends meet too. This kind of situation makes people extremely vulnerable. For example, you will have those that have no legal status in this country; though they may take steps to change that, they simply cannot afford the astronomical sums they are charged for the process of legalizing their stay.

The question on everyone’s lips: what is the reason behind this crisis of violence in young people of colour?

There are so many factors. Children and young adults involved in gang-life  and dysfunctional lifestyles are often failed by multiple support systems including parenting, education, social care and housing.

What do we do?

As a community, we need to start seeing all of these young people as our children. When we do that – we develop a true sense of responsibility that drives us to take and demand action. We are paying taxes in this country so we have a right to ask that our needs are addressed.

Next, we must make children feel safe. We also need to bring people together, families together. We can put on family days. Get families out in a park so they just connect and enjoy each other.

The church must also be more visible. They could lead in making a public statement that we recognise what is happening, that we are hurting and that we acknowledge that hurt. After that, the church can start their own programmes to support the community.

We must all do something because enough is enough.

For more on Options4Change go to: http://www.options4change.org.uk/

Contact:

info@options4change.org.uk

55 Leigham Court Road

Streatham

SW16 2NJ

 

 

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I am an immigrant, and here’s why I supported England at #World Cup 2018

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FBL-WC-2018-ENGLAND-JERSEYI am an African immigrant, one of those that has been vilified by the British government long before it was open political party rhetoric. I may not have come on a boat or escaped war and may have a life 100x more privileged than those who did, but I am an immigrant nonetheless. And several times over at that – born on the African continent and raised in 3 different Caribbean countries before coming to England nearly 30 years ago to continue my education. When I got that education, all 7 years of it, I thought I’d go back ‘home’, though looking back I don’t think I really knew which home I was referring to. Other immigrants will understand this; I felt as if I had one foot here with the other foot kind of flicking between Zimbabwe and The Bahamas, occasionally straying to Jamaica.

This year, 2018, was the first time England had made it this far into the World Cup championship since 1990. No one can forget that day, 28 years ago, when England faced Germany in the semi-finals. I was 2 years in by then and had reluctantly accepted that England was not all roses and cheery skipping through lavender-filled fields in the countryside or eating daintily-cut sandwiches and cakes washed down with tea at 4pm. Not for us immigrants anyway – it was cold, hardly snowed, rained a lot, and the British, who I had only known to live happily in our sunny climes, didn’t really want us in their temperate ones. There was always one who woke up with the sole intent of making that very clear to any passing brown-skinned person.

The conflicting existence of immigrant life

Anyway back to World Cup 1990 – Italia90 as it was called. That was also the year that Cameroon was the first African country to dazzle on the  world football stage. No matter where you were from, once you were black, you supported Cameroon. When they were knocked out, you supported any other team but England. The history of the dysfunctional relationship between the colonial land and our homes was very much alive and coupled with the way we were still being treated in the 20th century, it would have been high treason on all levels to support England, especially in the North of England where I was, where racial tolerance was, well, not tolerated.

It was during that ill-fated semi-final match that I had the first of many lessons on the conflicting emotions of the immigrant life. I didn’t want England to win but it wasn’t because I wanted Germany to win. No one liked Germany. But as an immigrant, you just could not support England.

For me though, having been exposed to so many cultures – yes, the Caribbean countries are very different – yet raised with the utmost African pride, I was inclined to be tolerant. At university, I had friends from all over the world including all 4 countries of Great Britain. I was curious about and wanted to enjoy this country. I wanted to feel a part of it, explore it, taste it, in the same way that I had done Guyana, Jamaica and The Bahamas, and in the same way I would do with Zimbabwe as an adult.  Even though England really didn’t care much about having me here, I, all of us immigrants in my circle anyway, still wanted to be part of English society. What all that meant was that I did empathise with the frustration that the English felt over not having won the cup since 1966 where they’d also faced Germany. When that 1990 final came to a penalty shoot-out where Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed their shots, ensuring England’s misery for another 4 years, I felt a tug in my chest, but the immigrant rule was that you never supported the coloniser. You just didn’t. Period.

In the months and years after, we all watched the fall from grace of several players from that squad, we all mocked the decline of English football and we all lost faith in the England team ever winning anything, ever. Six years later, at the UEFA Euro96 tournament, it was another semi-final, another penalty shoot-out in another match with Germany. This time, the penalties went to sudden death and this time the protagonist was Gareth Southgate. His public slaughter by us all and the media that was tragic. Apparently even his own mother asked him why he hadn’t hit the ball harder. But, here is the first reason why 28 years later, I supported England in the semi-final World Cup match against Croatia – #GarethSouthgate.

All hail #Gareth Southgate

 

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Image courtesy of GETTY via http://www.express.co.uk

When he was appointed manager of the England Team, I silently applauded him. And to learn that this wasn’t some random selection was really inspiring. He had nursed himself back quietly and deftly, had clearly worked hard and was smart. He’d led the Junior England team to U-17 World Cup victory in 2017 after all. You see, we immigrants  know about being smart, working hard, quietly and deftly – we do it all the time, with our eyes closed, so we appreciate it when we see it another.

Besides, who doesn’t like a come-back? And Gareth’s is the mother of all comebacks. Because really, no one should have survived that battering he got after missing that penalty shot 22 years ago, yet he did. It’s a mother of a comeback because he not only dared to get an English squad back to where it was all those years ago, but also journeyed back to look his demons square in the face. On the face of it, to go back where you seemingly failed, is a kind of courage we don’t see much these days. But he is of that special generation, the 70s babies. We are a special breed because we hold on to our old school values but not so tightly as to let them limit us, continuously harking back to the past. We use them to quietly and deftly make sense of the chaos that seemingly reigns in today’s age; we use them to help guide the generation after us as they navigate through their chaos; we use them to go back to basics when faced with challenges, yet are still able to appreciate and utilise the new rules and tools of 21st century society; and we use them to go out on a limb, take chances because sometimes you have to do things differently to get a different result.

The rehabilitation of English footie

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Image courtesy of: https://wdef.com/2018/07/11/world-cup-2018-england-vs-croatia-semifinal-odds-lines-expert-picks-and-top-insider-predictions/

And here is the second reason I supported England in the World Cup semi-final. #GarethSouthgate went out on a limb. One thing that we immigrants are acutely aware of and have experienced at one point or another is being passed over for that job or promotion when you are more than qualified, all because you don’t look right. We will all tell you that one reason England has performed so poorly over the past 28 years is that the managers didn’t always pick the best players – and many of the best players are black. There was a time when the English squad simply looked ridiculous as it nowhere near reflected what you’d see in Sunday leagues up and down the country – diversity. On top of that #GarethSouthgate chose players from some real underdog clubs, like Leicester City, as opposed to those from the big guns, the likes of Chelsea et al. He chose players he knew could play well, were hungry and truly represented the best of England and that was all that mattered.

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Image courtesy of http://edomshow.com/england-vs-croatia-world-cup-2018-live-updates/

In a way he has rehabilitated football and allowed us brown people to be a part of it. In 1990, you’d never see us in a pub, at a bar, or any public congregation to watch football. You’d be watching it safe and sound at home. But in 2018, we’re actually venturing to watch it outside of our living rooms! I had to run some errands for the first  30 minutes of the match, so at a traffic light, I shouted out to a bunch of people outside a drinking hole, asking for the score. Who shouted it back at me? A Nigerian man having a cigarette break, whilst an Indian man, also puffing on a fag, was hurriedly making his way into the pub to get stuck in. That would not have been possible 30 years ago, so thank you #GarethSouthgate.

‘Our lads done good’

The third reason I supported England in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia is one that must be a wake-up call for all of us – our children. My son is a Londoner, born and bred. He is proud of his triple heritage, but this is his home, regardless of where mummy and daddy are from. Like a true Brit, he eats, sleeps and breathes  football – he’s getting ready to be vice-captain of the school team, plays for a local club, plays it on his Xbox and plays it on his phone. He collects football boots – literally all his last birthday vouchers were spent on them. He lines them up perfectly and reverently nearly every day.

His boots

He collects football kits; on a family holiday to Portugal his only objective when shopping was to get the full Ronaldo No 7 Portuguese kit. He asked the taxi-driver from the airport if he knew Ronaldo (incidentally he did, because his brother-in-law worked in Ronaldo’s restaurant, and so the theme for the 1h drive was set).When he goes out, all he really wants to wear is one of his kits or a tracksuit. He hates the Spanish football team because they are mortal enemies of the team – Portugal – of his favourite player – Ronaldo. He can’t walk anywhere without kicking something to show off his skills. He loves the French team because they are really good, and probably because he adores his au pairs – all of whom have been French. But England is his team because this is his country and he plans to play for them one day.

So could I really support Croatia as I would have done if it was 28 years ago? No. Did I want to? Honestly, a part of me nearly did, out of habit, but today, it wasn’t about me and my immigrant loyalties because the rules were different, the air was filled with hope, the stars were aligned for victory and the stakes were higher. As immigrant parents of children born in the diaspora, we at some point must put aside our conflicting emotions about our dual existence for the sake of our children. We must also work to reverse the intolerance that they will at some point have to face. This means we arm them with the tools to stand up squarely to that intolerance, no hesitation, no apology because this is their home. It also means we appropriately help them affirm their position and their rights to be a part of British society, a society into whose fabric football is tightly woven. It therefore made sense, whether wholeheartedly, symbolically or sympathetically to support their national team, our national team.

So ‘you done good lads’, ‘you done us proud’. ‘Engerland, Engerland.’

Now bring #Euro2020 home!

 

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Image courtesy of inews.co.uk

 

 

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In the week where the world remembered the mass kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria, as the savagery that is ISIS and the murderous tendencies of US police simmered on in the background, we were hit with a side-blow – xenophobia: South African style. I’m just going to think aloud on this one, as an outsider not privy to, or fully cognisant of the intricacies involved in the evolution of this nation:

We all like to think that when Nelson Mandela was freed in 1994, to declare SA a ‘rainbow nation’, all would surely be well. But in reality nearly 21 years later, South Africans, black, white and every shade in between, are basically just breaching through the perimeter of the misogynistic bubble that is apartheid. As xenophobia again rears its ugly head in SA,  the wide-reaching ramifications of this system again come centre-stage; this is just one of many chapters of the story of the rebirth of a broken nation.

When apartheid was ratified by law in the 1940’s, racial segregation was already woven tightly into the fabric of SA’s society. The Dutch had kicked it all off in the 1700s, with the British duly perfecting the regime in the 1800s. Legislation in 1948 was a mere formality for a totally irrational system where Filipinos were classified as black, because whites worked out that they were…well…black. And yet Malays were classified as ‘coloreds’. Television was only introduced in the 1970s, and when it was, it too was segregated. One cannot believe how ‘nuts’ that system was…and is.

Apartheid means literally ‘the state of being apart’ – and the system not only kept the races within SA apart from each other, but also kept South Africans, especially black South Africans apart from the rest of Africa and the rest of the world. The concept of pan-Africanism is foreign to a significant proportion of black South Africans. Apartheid led to the evolution of generations who knew and still know very little of the great continent to which they belong. My own experience is that this ignorance and insularity is not limited to black South Africans alone either. I have a vague recollection of a conversation with some white and ‘colored’ South Africans soon after 1994, during which it became apparent that these seemingly enlightened individuals couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of the countries neighboring theirs – not a thing. You could argue the same about a lot of other people, but at least Americans could tell you that some Canadians speak French, and the English could tell you that the Germans speak German, and Indians could tell you how Pakistan became separated from India. These South Africans were totally blank when it came to anything about neighboring Zimbabwe, Botswana or Mozambique.

I read somewhere that 65% of the black South African population, is between 15-65 years old. Many in this age bracket have grown up in a world no bigger than their townships, physically and mentally. And some of the harshest acts of mass violence against black South Africans was meted out in these same townships, when this group were children or young adults, a time when thought processes and reasoning are heavily influenced by one’s environment. And their parents also grew up in a world of violence and all sorts of other social injustices – substandard education, inadequate health services, broken family life, lack of cultural evolution. This mass chronic dehumanisation would surely have a disastrous psychological impact. And there are lots of studies about the way in which apartheid affected the mental health of black South African children – some of these same children who are now in that 15-65 age bracket. And forty percent (40%) of this group are unemployed, compared to, and get this, 8% of whites, 18% of Indians and 28% of coloureds. And that 40% unemployment rate eerily matches the 42% rate for education to high school level only.

Surely the great Madiba’s release in 1994 was going to relieve some of this misery. But really, can 300 years of brutality against the souls of a people be reversed by one man, in less than another 300 years? Especially when followed on by a government run by individuals, who despite putting on the right appearances, are products of the same system? I’m going to be controversial here, but this is where you can kind of see where the Castros of this world were coming from, in principle; after your country is liberated from oppressive rule and you inherit a glaringly unfair system where the disadvantaged tip the scales upside down, your first priority is to fix that imbalance pronto. Because isn’t that injustice the reason why you took up arms and got your butts exiled in the first place? So how can you now squander the opportunity to fix that which you fought for? The new SA government should have tackled inequality aggressively from the start. This was an opportunity to show us a new kind of African leadership. But I guess that would have come with too much sacrifice…of self-gratification, wealth and power.

So now you have a sizeable sector of the society that is frustrated and angry because there is no sign of any rainbow as far as they can see. Frustration and anger mixed in with all the other social and behavioural pathologies that apartheid created is a ticking time-bomb. Because SA is still so segregated along colour lines, most black immigrants, the majority of whom are from Zimbabwe, live side-by-side with black South Africans. These immigrants have left their homes with the sole purpose of making a better life for themselves and their families. No one leaves their homeland because they have nothing better to do; when they land wherever they land, they will work hard to fulfil that purpose. Right-wing rhetoric may have us believe the opposite – of course some do not abide by the law of the land and spiral into a treacherous underground of devious behaviour, but this is not representative of the majority.

The perpetrators of this current wave of xenophobic violence see these immigrants creating the life that they should have without realising that the ‘foreigners’ are using skills and education and drive that they, these black South Africans just never had the opportunity to develop. These immigrants never had their psyche bound by the chains of apartheid so they are not subject to the same limitations. Yes, they have their own problems in their own countries, but they are not fresh out of something as sinister as that regime was and continues to be. Unfortunately, living side-by-side means that the immigrants are right in the line of fire of all this pent-up resentment – a mild term for this in fact. The privileged, of all races, are too far away to target, because the type of perpetrator dishing out this violence doesn’t really venture out of ‘his’ immediate vicinity. No, their immigrant neighbor is easier to get to, a soft spot; and besides harsh lessons have been taught in the past about lashing out at the real oppressor: when you revolt against that system, what do you get – the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprisings…

Some have termed this brand of xenophobia, ‘afrophobia’ as a result. But you know, whatever we want to call it, it’s purely academic and just about semantics. What we are witnessing is just ugly and frightening and unbelievably tragic. Reactions have been largely based around calling out South Africans for being hypocritical, because many African countries took them in during their hour of need. That is true and we are free to point that out, but we cannot dwell on that because it will not stop the maddening crowd. The great majority of South Africans, black and white, do not support xenophobic crime – some may be racist, yes – but supporting these atrocious acts is another ball game altogether that they wouldn’t want to partake in.

Instead, it should be about calling out the current South African leadership to be aggressive in protecting the victims and anyone at risk, to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly so as to deter others from following suit; to speak responsibly and appropriately to their electorate so that there is no doubt as to where they stand on the issue of violence against ‘foreigners’; and to get pro-actively creative in addressing – no, fixing – the social and economic imbalance that is the root of this current evil. Apartheid and its creators are  where all this started – there is no denying that. But we cannot go back and undo history. Progress is about being focused on the now with a view to creating a new future that South Africa deserves…that Africa deserves.