UNITED BORDERS: A SOLUTION AGAINST GANG CULTURE.
United Borders aims to help the youth from two rival areas come together through music.
“My parents often say that if you were walking the streets in their era and saw somebody who was black, you’d instantly cross the road, greet them and walk together. To see somebody who was black was seeing safety. How has Brent and the majority of the UK in the space of two generations, now seeing the reverse? To see somebody who is black, who looks like you is now a sign of danger.” - Justin, Founder of the United Borders Program.
Justin is a well known local who grew up in the borough of Brent, in a diverse and unified area known as Harlesden. He refers to Harlseden as the Wakanda of the day due to its visible and prevalent Afro-Caribbean culture. Justin believes that there are many reasons which have led to the rise in youth killings and youths carrying weapons.
“I am an ex-gang member. Although, I don’t actually think of myself in that way because I didn’t have a road name or an official gang name but my movements were identical to what we are witnessing today. I’d bring harm to someone who brought harm to a loved one, but is that really a gang mentally? I sold drugs to escape an impoverished lifestyle not to enhance my mob.” said Justin.
Justin’s parents were originally from Jamaica but grew up in England. They grew up at a time when England wasn’t ready to accept their black counterparts.
His mum grew up in an overtly racist Bristol and his dad grew up in a white racist borough known as Brent. Both of them grew up in different cities but had a mirrored existence; Teddy Boys, National Front, racist policing, racist and sub-par schooling, and parents who refused to acknowledge the challenges their youths had to undertake in order for them to remain in that society. Eventually his parents got tired of running from police and teddy boys, and decided that it was time to stand up against the racism. They fought back, and fought so well that many groups beyond Jamaicans benefited.
“Indeed, the Jamaicans led the fight to racist white Britain in such a way that even Africans and other peoples from the Caribbean would forge a Jamaican accent because these blacks became revered by racist whites, Asians and other black groups.” said Justin.
This was the first time that a program like this had been done. Brent had given Justin his first contract which was based on him delivering the initiative to youths from both Stonebridge and Church Road estates. The program would start at Church Road in the mornings and move onto Stonebridge in the afternoons.
As always it had its doubters, who believed something like this wouldn't work. However, the program highlighted how difficult it is for some of these teens who are growing up in areas like these and that some couldn't take a bus at certain times or even walk down the high street in fear of being harmed.
When asked, “How did you come up with the idea of converting an old double decker bus into a studio? How long was the whole renovation process?”
Justin Replied, “The idea to convert a double decker bus into a studio came from a need to get my services to youths who had become cut off from certain colleges in Brent due to postcode violence. As we can now see, violence is being perpetrated to youth in secondary schools, colleges and university. I know too many youths who would not dream about attending Willesden college because they are from Stonebridge and crossing the Church Road divide would be seen as slipping and vice versa.
So I thought that if I bought a bus I could hold a number of students on board and offer music, mentoring and social media courses which is something most youths actually want. Providing more Maths and English to youths in gangs or those who are excluded from school didn’t seem like a sensible choice. Plus, this enabled me to lean on my links in the music industry and invite people to the program that would resonate with our youths. Thus, inspiring them to pursue their own endeavors.
Money is the qualification which ultimately holds value and unfortunately this era is experiencing this material expectation at an age where in my generation was still playing games in the park. It's unfortunate but this is where we are. So I want to be able to offer employment, not just an education. When you can put money into somebodies pocket you become the "plug". If I can show younger people how to make their own money then I’m helping to create tomorrow's solutions as opposed to maintaining the problem.”
The program has led to more youths from Stonebridge to visit Justin’s studio in Church Road to record music. “It's absolutely beautiful to be a part of this moment. We are laying down the framework which takes away ‘the ops or pagans’ mentality and shows people that it's another person just like themselves on the other side.” said Justin.
With parents and teachers losing touch with their children, The pressures of social media has led to these children to find role models in unusual places. Personally, I believe that there is no benefit getting police or older people to converse or influence change in a young person who is locked into gang activity. We need to give ex-gang members qualifications and employment to work with a very unique generation. This new generation is living through the ‘lens’.
“My reminders are in the form of killed friends and friends serving life, but there is no posts reminding me of who I was. I get to redesign my existence. This is very important but this generation won’t really have that separation point that many of my generation and yesteryear had. So we need the people who understand the unique times the young people currently face.” said Justin.
The youth believe they are being deprived of the opportunity to excel and that the educational system has failed them. Justin believes that the educational system hasn’t just failed our youth but has failed us as adults too because we are only churning out younger clones. The answers for tomorrow require a different value system from the system which has created the vast inequality we see today. We need an education which doesn’t value violence because we can profit from it.
When asked, “Do you believe Music and other creative activities can help fight against the rise in gang culture?”
Justin replied, “Music is the soundtrack for life. It doesn’t matter the age, gender, culture or environment. Most people utilise music to relax, escape, enhance or create and this is no different with our young people today.
In our program we give our young people free reign to create whatever they feel is necessary. It’s music therapy. The ability to express whatever is on their mind. Then we get them to question whatever it is they have just written and performed. In this reflection people can look at what they are doing subjectively. We don’t judge, we just provide a space of comfort and opportunity.”
"What is the next step for the program?"
“The next step for the program is a return back to what used to happen in my era. Brent used to pay for hundreds of youths within the borough to go away to an activity centre in the countryside.
We’d learn all sort of different skills, play a range of sports, make friends all throughout the borough and once we returned to our respective areas we could see the bigger picture. I could now venture in South Kilburn because I made mates there. So the need to become immersed in my area wasn’t appealing because I had friends all throughout the borough. Plus, this could help single parent families who face increased costs when half term arrives. There wouldn’t be a worry of children loitering on an estate, instead, parents would look forward to the half terms because their children would be safe and learning different things for a week.
If we could add a creche into that movement parents would be on a sort of holiday when their children are on holiday. That's our next step.”