It’s about breaking the negative cycle – Hoxton success story on helping youngsters follow suit
- Credit: Archant
Teenagers from Hackney are often stereotyped, but author, lecturer and youth worker Emeka Egbuonu says people have the wrong idea about our youngsters – and he should know.
Emeka, 29, is a product of Hoxton. He saw peers end up in prison or involved in drugs and violence, but he took a different route. And from a young age has been helping others succeed too.
When he’s not lecturing at Barking and Dagenham College, or writing a book (he is currently penning his third), Emeka is back at The Crib youth project passing on wisdom he received as a teen.
“I first went [to The Crib] in 1999 when it opened,” he begins. “It offered motivation – making sure everyone who attended went to school. There was teenagers going down the wrong route of selling drugs or violence.
“At that age you had to make a choice of which route you wanted to take. The Crib played a big part in that for me. I had a strong family background in education but many people still get influenced outside their families. Having that network was crucial.”
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At the time Emeka was best known to his peers as an aspiring footballer, but injuries put a stop to that. He began coaching kids just a few years younger than him at Gems FC – a lot of responsibility at a young age.
After studying computer science at the University of Bedfordshire, he moved back to the area and began volunteering at The Crib.
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“I was seeing things a bit differently and hearing some of the conversations the young people were having,” he says. “They sounded so familiar.
“People I knew had ended up dead or in prison and I wanted to help these kids with the struggle and break the negative cycle. I started working full time.”
Emeka swapped one of the social nights at the club for a debate night. “We would tackle serious issues; peer pressure, violence, broken homes and ambitions – if you don’t have any, why not?” he adds.
He left in 2013 to become a lecturer, finding the transition – “informal to formal” – easy.
“It’s all about relationships with young people,” he says. “I chat to them outside of class and set up a session for students on the verge of being excluded. Now they have to come and see me for a chat.”
Hearing that someone he has helped has succeeded in life is the pay-off in Emeka’s work. But it can go both ways. He has also mentored youngsters now in prison.
In 2010, a close friend of Emeka’s was gunned down at 16 after getting caught up in a Hoxton gang feud.
“She was well loved and helped me set up my debates. I decided I needed a different medium after that,” he says.
His first book, Consequences, was a collection of all the topics discussed in those debates, and earned him national attention. It also got him involved in public speaking.
“Initially people wanted to hear about the book,” he says. “But I started speaking to the networks that support the young people. Sometimes it can be demoralising and you think ‘what’s the point of what we do?’ I can go into a school and speak to young people for one day, but out of 100 only one might take action. But if you motivate the networks around them they can continue the message every single day. It’s more powerful.”
Last year’s novel Ambitions of the Deprived aimed to tackle the negative stereotypes attached to Hackney’s youth. “Usually you hear about drugs, gangs and the like, but for the vast majority that’s not the story,” he explains. “Most want to be successful.”
But he does sense a hopelessness among youngsters at the moment. “Young people are getting stabbed and people are carrying knives,” he explains. “It’s always been there but now feels like more can happen out of nothing. It might have just been fists before, but now it’s knives.”
But that won’t stop him trying to break the negative cycle.
Emeka wants to hear from young writers looking for publishing help or advice. Contact him through kbpublishing.co.uk
For more on Emeka’s work and public speaking, visit emekaegbuonu.com.