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Hackney Council launches Young Black Men programme to stamp out inequality

PUBLISHED: 15:50 21 November 2017 | UPDATED: 10:58 22 November 2017

Deputy mayor, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, at the Young Black Men research symposium at Hackney House last week. Picture: Adam Holt/Hackney Council

Deputy mayor, Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, at the Young Black Men research symposium at Hackney House last week. Picture: Adam Holt/Hackney Council

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A major project is aiming to improve opportunities for Hackney’s young black men and tackle the inequality they still face.

Orlene Badu, headteacher at St Matthias Primary School. Picture: Hackney CouncilOrlene Badu, headteacher at St Matthias Primary School. Picture: Hackney Council

The Young Black Men programme is a 15-year, cross-agency initiative led by Hackney Council and championed by deputy mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble.

Work has been going on behind the scenes for more than two years but the project was unveiled at Hackney House in Shoreditch last week.

The idea is to tackle racial inequalities that blight the lives of young black men by bringing together the health, education and voluntary sectors, as well as parents and the youngsters themselves. The project will also look to improve media portrayals of young black men, and work with the justice system too.

One of the main issues is the disproportionate number of black boys being permanently excluded from schools in Hackney - with the council acknowledging they are more likely to experience worse outcomes than others.

Parnet and mother of four, Kome Awoasu, from African Community School. Picture: Hackney CouncilParnet and mother of four, Kome Awoasu, from African Community School. Picture: Hackney Council

Orlene Bady, headteacher of St Matthias Primary School, is on the panel of teachers working on the project.

She told the Gazette: “We are trying to tackle the existing portrayal of black kids and in education we recognise the earlier you start, the better.

“We know they tend to do worse academically and what we are doing is born out of hope we can change that for them.”

Black boys in Hackney achieve lower grades than their peers at all levels, particularly GCSE. They are also more likely to be NEET – not in education, employment or training.

Hackney Learning Trust’s re-engagement unit, which works with pupils with behavioural problems, deals disproportionately with black boys.

There are three areas the education team is working on to change this. The first is the transition from primary to secondary school and making sure the pupils maintain focus. Primary schools are smaller and therefore have closer relationships with families, and work has been done with secondary school heads to improve that side of things to give the children the best start possible.

The second is the multi-agency work. A pilot took place in three schools last year in which police cadets came in to speak to children.

“That really opened the relationship with the police,” Orlene added. “Lots of the kids didn’t even know the police cadets existed and some of them showed an interest in joining. It’s also about improving the trust between families and agencies that can support them. Schools have a key role in being able to do that.”

The third area is training teachers to be aware of different cultures and communities they work with.

“We know there is an inequality with school exclusions,” said Orlene. “This is about unpicking that and trying to change it.”

Mother-of-four Kome Owuasu, is part of the project’s parent team, and has been speaking to other parents about the issues their kids face.

Referring to the number of young black men turning to crime or anti-social behaviour, Kome said the lack of youth services was a factor.

“Parents say the boys don’t have a place to assemble and meet up with each other,” she said. “Most of them are from low income families that can’t afford to pay for extra curricular activities. Some say they would like their children to be involved to give them experience in different opportunities but they can’t afford to.

“This programme has no blame culture. It’s a way to help everyone and come together. How do we support each other and the black boys?”

Deputy mayor Cllr Anntoinette Bramble said: “Education, unemployment and health are still major areas of inequality for young black men in Hackney.

“Two years ago the mayor and I set out a bold vision that in 10 years we would want to see the outcomes for them to be the same as the wider population.

“We are at a time now when enough is enough; it is time to start saying we do not accept negative media portrayals and poorer outcomes for young black men.”

Mayor Philip Glanville said: “We want to see a closing of the education gap, more diversity within institutions across Hackney and beyond, more leadership from and for young black men and all levels of the council reflecting the diversity of residents in Hackney so we can bring about changes within institutions including our own.

“We need to see local businesses helping improve young black men’s job opportunities and we need housing providers to think about how their services work with young black men, treating them with respect as tenants and customers.

“There is a long way to go with bringing about systemic change but we will work towards the goals with commitment.”

Next week the Gazette will be speaking to one of the young black men on the programme.

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