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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Time to Do Something

To read the sensational headline that London now had a murder rate higher than New York City (NYC) was shocking. And sensational it was, because that statement actually pertained to the last 2 months of 2018, bearing in mind we are only in month 4; in February, London recorded 15 murders whilst NYC recorded 11; in March 2018: London, 22 and NYC, 21. Were these really margins that warranted the screaming headlines across the front pages and our TV screens? When you look back over the last 3 years at least, London’s murder rate has been well below 1/3rd that of NYC’s, and London still remains a lot safer than a whole load of other cities around the world. So what really is the significance of this statistic?

Well, the significance has been hotly debated in the last week…again, and that is that 35 of the 48 murders so far have involved stabbings and pretty much all of these stabbings have involved young black men. By the time you read this, the figures 35 and 48 will be out of date. We have been talking about knife crime perpetrated by young black men for at least the past 5 years (and behind closed doors for much longer), but each year it just gets uglier and uglier and hurts more and more. I ask myself why it hurts so much, because obviously the vast majority of young black boys are actually leading the lives of normal teenagers, supported by loving families and friends.

The situation is significant and we debate it because no child deserves to die, especially violently, no matter their race or background. With each and every young person that is denied their potential, we are compromising the future of our society. That one death impacts not only that child’s family, but also their peers, their teachers and anyone who has worked to prepare them for their life ahead. Whether we feel it or not, a little bit of society dies with the death of a child.

 

Why do something?

We also debate it because it raises some pretty ugly goings-on in our world: the life of ‘the hidden’ who have no status and are exploited not only by a particularly vicious type of criminal that preys on vulnerable youngsters but also by legal agencies that should provide protection; dysfunctional or non-existent parenting that in some cases is wilful, but in most, is a legacy of the long-standing decay in family life that actually pervades across social strata – some simply have no idea how to parent, and not just black parents either; community politics that has transformed into career politics where politicians work for themselves as opposed to working for their electorate; a society increasingly devoid of empathy for the ‘have-nots’ and which takes great pleasure in marginalising those ‘have-nots’ along racial and social lines.

I think we have debated the issues long enough to know that the situation we find our community in has been borne out of many factors. We’re pretty much past pointing fingers and apportioning blame now though. We can still point if we want to, but it’s probably time walk up to the problems and simply deal with them. Forget the ones we can’t control for now and start with the ones we can do something about. A start may be to just seek to understand the way in which our world has evolved to land us in this mess. Even for those of us that live a ‘cushy’ life where none of these issues ever enter our sphere, whenever children are dying, we must make it our business to engage.

Like many parents of a young black boy in London, I am increasingly aware of how he is already perceived by those around him, many of whom won’t even know him. Whilst the saying goes, ‘what people think of you is not your business’, in this situation, it is our business because the consequences of those skewed perceptions can lead us down a path we should not have to tread. And even if I or you may not be the one that treads that path, either of us may have to take that walk with someone we care about. And trust me, I know, it’s not a stroll in a lavender-filled meadow. That thought alone compels me to engage and do something and surely that must go for all of us, whoever and wherever we are.

 

What is your something?

My something is words – putting them together to tell a story. My other something is connecting people. My other, other something is seeking knowledge. I am going to put together all my somethings and throw them out there under the guidance of the Spirit. One thing that has consistently come up in the many conversations I have been a part of in the last week is that there are many individuals and collectives who are doing so much to address many of the problems that have come to the fore. And, there are many who want to do their something. So why not bring everyone together?

Over the next few days or weeks or however long it takes, I will connect those who are doing with those who want to do. When the idea came to mind, I realised that actually, many of these folk are already in my contacts list. So this was pre-ordained! Starting tomorrow, I will share stories of the many good works that some amazing individuals are already doing, and some of the eye-opening conversations we have had. If you think you can help them in any way, I urge you to do so. If it inspires you to do your something, even better!