My Life and Times of poverty, drugs and crime

So I watched the documentary last night about Pilton and Muirhouse, the scheme, the community where I was born and raised. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy watching because knowing the guy Garry, he was gonna talk from the heart, and show the truth behind a lot of issues. I often get really angry or conflicted feelings in life about where Im from and where I am now. I live in London now and having worked on government policy and in the youth sector, I see EVERY DAY people talk about kids who are vulnerable, families who are “troubled” or “broken” and the scourge of drugs, crime, violence and social exclusion. But I too often feel the majority of these people who talk about these issues just don’t get it.

Garry’s honesty and bravery in the film I admire so much. A lot of the stuff he talks about and exposes I can connect with on a very personal level. Every second or third shot I knew someone who lived in one of those houses or can recall a memory from one of the street corners – many good, many bad. I hope Britain has watched this documentary because too often the media and politics and ‘general public’ judge these communities when they don’t have a clue. There is so much heart ache, so much invisible struggling and complex social issues that go on in areas like Pilton and Muirhouse where Garry and I are from. So why write us off or try somehow hide these issues? The hardest part for kids in my view isn’t just knowing there are the gangs fights and territorialism on the street, or the bulldozer approach to regeneration where local people aren’t truly empowered, or even the vandalism, street crime or run down estates (i.e. the bits people see.) The most damaging and unsettling part for kids is when the chaos is at the other side of the front door. Thats when you feel truly trapped and vulnerable. When you grow up with no one ever going to do a days work. Drugs are as common place on the coffee table in the lounge as coffee, or violent and abusive family members under the influence keeping you in a state of constant fear. This is the DAILY REALITY for too many people still.

And as Garry says, I still think the system keeps these people, my people, poor and excluded. Whether they continue to force your parents to stay on methadone as an easy solution to ‘helping you’ or force you into financial dependency on benefits, or allow elected members or senior officials to decide whats best for your area, there is a constant sense of being disempowered. People aren’t encouraged to develop self confidence and pride and have a voice. One bit in this film that really hits me is when Garry found somewhere he liked, a family he could be safe and happy in, but the “system” grabbed him away.

As he said “we are products of the system.” People feel total unattached from the main world. People don’t travel ,they don’t have routines, they don’t go holidays, they don’t eat fresh food, or have meals as a family, or plan leisure activities. People are living to get by daily, Surviving. You have no choice but to duck and dive. People don’t get that. How can this be acceptable when we have a world of such riches and resources? Greed, thats why, inequality and ghettoisation. I use these words not as lazy cliches, but as the truth. Let me be honest. Im probably middle class now – and quite often I am exposed to very upper class life – whether working in Parliament, travelling the world, posh meals or whatever. I have seen life on both sides. And you know what, neither side truly understands the other. There is no cultural appreciation. The lack of social mobility is awful. In Britain, if you are born poor, you are likely to stay poor, and if you are born rich, you will probably get richer. Now don’t harp on to me about the recession or GDP or that stuff, its nonsense. The poorest areas like North Edinburgh didn’t really see a genuine difference in the good times. We don’t benefit from a growing economy. It just maintains the same. But in ties of recession it seems the poor and young and sick that are hit hardest.

What we need are solutions. But solutions not just from the ‘uber educated’ or distant offices, but also from the streets themselves. What worries me about Garry’s film is that people only dwell on his ‘difficult story” or shocking images and offer sorrow or emotion, that in my view misses the point. He is showing solutions. He talked about ambition and dreams and determination – particularly in the darkest times. But that can be hard when you have so much shit on your plate on a daily basis. True. But the fact is we must dig deeper to succeed. I have always felt this and this video has helped me formalise my views. We can’t simply maintain a victims mentality, we need to just accept that we must work harder and prove people wrong if we want to be successful in life. And we can.

The solution is in our young people and in our attitudes. When we are faced with the worst kind of negativity, we must stay positive and remain resilient to our dreams. We must really promote a good education and access to good civil society groups to help develop the skills and capacity to change our lives and those around us. Many people in the ‘system’ or public services have good hearts. I remember getting psychologists, social workers, teachers, doctors and police officers who were all great. But it was there job.
This is our life.

Garry has turned his life around through a passion to help other kids. I share exactly the same passion – thats what Dare2Lead is about. If I can go from a 14 year old who watched drugs and crime and violence in my community and home, and 10 years later be running my own company and writing about these issues as a chapter of my past, then I genuinely believe ANYONE can. I have travelled the world from Australia and Africa to Washington and Asia, I got elected as Chair of the Youth Parliament, I have spoken to Heads of State, won a telly show, bought a house, been able to provide for my family and been able to make friends with people from all backgrounds. The point is if we are willing to work hard, be positive and dream big you CAN do it. We just need to reach that bit harder and higher. But you know what when you do get there its worth it. I haven’t forgotten my roots. They define me. My family are still there. Living such a different life and if my story or Garry’s story or anyone can inspire even one other kid its worth it.

So my message to everyone is stop pointing a finger to our areas with the deepest social issues, and lend a hand. There are so many amazingly loving, clever and positive people in these areas, There is so much good stuff that does go on, and thats what we need to show more. I for one am so proud of you Garry my man and I just hope everyone realises that you are not just a sob story mate, but a bloody inspiration and leader.

You can see My Live and Times here on the BBC :
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01l5fvn/My_Lives_and_Times

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