Black boys 'need role models not rappers'
By Sarah Womack, Social Affairs Correspondent
10 Aug 2007
Black youngsters need a new generation of role models, drawn from the legal profession, business and education, to counter under-achievement and involvement in crime, a Government-funded report has said.
Too often the role models for young black men are celebrities and rappers who glamorise crime, guns or gangs, the independent Reach report said.
It came as a charity boss claimed that Britain's inner cities were starting to resemble American ghettos and that a lack of money was to blame.
"We need to create a society which does not leave our young people behind as the few become richer," said Chuka Umunna, a trustee of the 409 Project in Lambeth, south London, which helps youths aged 10-17 involved in crime or at risk of offending.
Involvement by black youths in gang-and-gun crime has taken centre stage in the wake of several high profile murders of black children, including 15-year-old Jessie James, who was gunned down while he cycled through a park in Manchester last year.
His mother, Barbara Reid, told the inquest into his death that her son had been murdered for "disrespecting" local gun gangs by his refusal to join them.
In London, 17 teenagers have been murdered this year alone.
An estimated four in 10 young people in gangs are reluctant members, joining under peer pressure or because of fears for their safety or the safety of their families.
Figures in yesterday's report, which was written by 20 experts from the fields of education, youth justice, the voluntary and community sector, law enforcement and business, set out the future economic costs of failure to promote equality of opportunity for black boys.
It estimated that tackling under-achievement among black boys and young men could benefit the economy by £24 billion over the next 50 years.
The figure includes the costs of the impact of lower educational achievement on labour market outcomes, schools exclusions and involvement in the criminal justice system.
Clive Lewis, the director of The Men's Room, a charity working with black young men, and the chairman of Reach, said that organisations tackling under-achievement needed support in applying for Government funding and that schools must be more consistent in closing the academic gap between white pupils and black pupils, especially boys.
He also said that black youths need better role models: "Black boys and young men desperately need a greater diversity of images and portrayals, showing that black men can be, and are, successful in a wide range of careers including business, teaching, the law and health care."
Uanu Seshmi, of the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation, said boys need self-confidence to reject gangs.
"A lot of young boys have been brought up in a toxic environment … where they're being taught to become victims," he said.
"And I believe in order for us to solve it, peer mentoring is a good one, business is a good one, but essentially, we need to teach young people to have a positive relationship with people."
Tim Campbell, the winner of the first Apprentice TV series and the founder of The Bright Ideas Trust, which aims to support entrepreneurs, said he would like to see money spent on education and business opportunities for young black males.
"The emphasis on role models is just a small aspect of addressing some of the issues, particularly with black boys in the community," he said.
The Government will give its official response to the report in three months.
• Two men have been arrested on suspicion of the murder of 15-year-old schoolboy Jessie James. The men, aged 20 and 21, are both in jail.
They were named as suspects after a witness came forward during the inquest into Jessie's death yesterday.
Police described the development as a possible breakthrough in helping to solve the murder inquiry.
* Calls for a structured National Role Model programme for black boys and young black men.
* Creation of a national umbrella body to provide support to voluntary groups that face "significant barriers" to Government funding.
* Stronger relationship and engagement between parents of black boys and teachers and schools to promote educational aspiration.
* Communities and Local Government Department should appoint a task force that will drive forward the Reach recommendations, reporting to a Minister for Race.
* Ofsted must provide greater consistency in the way schools are inspected to ensure schools close the academic gap between black and white pupils.