Leaving Cultural Differences Behind

A youth project worker from Banbury firmly believes that the future of Britain’s mixed-race youngsters looks prosperous – as long as the pertinent support network is in place.


Jay Blades, along with his partner Jade Llke Erguvanli, run Street Dreams, a Banbury-based youth initiative that looks to provide opportunities for today’s disaffected youths.


Speaking exclusively to People in Harmony, he said: “I can definitely see mixed-race youths and children alike being accepted in mainstream society, instead of being ostracised as what’s happened in years gone by”.


Blade issued a number of reasons as to how a positive way of thinking and delivering can make the difference.  Firstly he stipulated that in order for today’s mixed-race youngster to gain acceptance they must adopt a pro-active stance to eradicate the victim stance that’s plagued them for many years: “To view yourselves like a victim is to take on board a victim’s stand point.  The victim is and always will be a victim until he or she decides not to be a victim anymore.  The only one who is the winner in this form of viewing is the viewer themselves”.


Continuing: “Instead of living by what everyone else views you as, you need to look at yourself and decide what and who you want to be”.


Studying similarities to his own upbringing, Jay’s life was anything but a cakewalk.  Born to West Indian parents in one of London’s poorest boroughs, life was tough.  It was this reason that drove him towards making a difference through further education, subsequently finding a direction that suited his credentials via the creation of Street Dreams:  “I grew up on the mean streets of Hackney.  There weren’t many black role models around, showing me the way forward, apart from drug dealers”.


“I wanted to put something back into the community but all I had to offer was my time and experience of escaping Hackney alive and free of drugs”.


“Initially, I gained a BSC in Criminology and Philosophy at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College.  Whilst studying I met Jade.  We soon started discussing how we could change the world, and before long Street Dreams was born”.


One of their most prominent projects happened in 2003: the Banbury-3-Gether project.  Financially commissioned by the Banbury branch of the Thames Valley Police, they were presented with the task of decreasing the racial tension between mixed-race, white and Asian youths in the area that were currently running at an average of between 4-6 incidents per week.


Instantaneously ascertaining low morale, Jay felt the hands-on approach was the best way forward: “At Street Dreams we use a theory called the contact theory whereby the more contact you have with someone the better you get to know them, as you have the same hopes and wishes in life; this consequently allows you to leave cultural differences behind and work together to achieve a shared goal”.


And it’s the cultural differences that were evidently conspicuous, especially among the mixed-race youngsters.  Having been enveloped by mixed-heritage children/youths for a number of years, Jay pinpointed the identity crisis they faced, which in turn elicited a multitude of exasperation and confusion:  “When mixed-race youths/children are raised by one race who may be bitter with the other race (for leaving them) sometimes the only one they can take it out on is the young person, and this is what I found working in Banbury”, he said.


He continued by saying:  “Without, say, a good black role model around them, you had a situation where mixed race youths were calling their black counterparts niggers and did not show the black young men what this expression meant”. 


“Therefore it is very hard for mixed-race young people to have a sense of belonging.  Some will say this may not happen until they are about 21-22, simply because they fit in life and which group they feel most at home with”.


Nevertheless, Jay vehemently feels the acceptance hurdle can be surmounted if both adults and professionals act as the catalyst, which certainly bore fruit where the 3- Gether project was concerned:  “After a few weeks everyone was cool with each other.  A previous powder-keg situation evolved into a positive ray of light because the Asians could ask the white/mixed-race young people questions and not be challenged in a way to make them feel bad about an issue they knew nothing about.  Suddenly mixed-race youngsters understood about Asian culture and vice versa”.


Jay also feels that Street Dreams along with other youth project initiatives must be afforded the necessary financial muscle to continue their life coaching, something he feels isn’t always forthcoming:  “Funding is always hard for everyone, but when we get commissioned to do work the funding in place.  The problems arise when we have to fund our own projects.  It can be hard at times and some projects don’t even start”.


Financial constraints may present a problem for one and all but that doesn’t detract Blade from those who can make the overall difference:  “We as professionals need to take the lead on all issues that face young mixed-race people of today, as many of the young people wouldn’t know about the reports that are written about them and how it effects them.  Therefore it’s up to us to break it down on the street and support them in getting the most from their lives”.


For further info regarding Street Dreams projects, log on to: www.street-dreams.org.uk


ã Copyright Graham Suppiah 2005