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Young people breaking stereotypes and bringing change

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Post written by Steve Stanier, youth worker in Sparkhill.

When talking about young people in the inner city, we are often tasked with peeling away different layers of assumption and disregard.  The idea that they want to actively contribute to their communities is, for a lot of adults, not something that immediately is associated with them.   Very often we are quick to dismiss the zeal and passions of young people as arrogance, so when you have a group of them who defy the normal conventions you can be sure that it will be pretty amazing.

I’ve been working with a group of students from a local school who, over the last few months have formed a social action group called Youth 4 Change.  The first thing to know about these students is they aren’t so much a group as they are a movement.  A movement of young people who want to change the world … literally!

They focus on social action change in their school, their homes, their streets, their neighbouring streets, the country and the world.  You’ll be hearing more about these amazing youngsters over coming months..!

Thanks to our partnership with the Canal and River Trust, spending a lovely summer’s afternoon on the canals painting the locks and learning how this helps the canal users was a new experience for all of them.  They learnt why the locks are black and white, they saw first-hand the locks working, and they met other canal users from bikers to barge owners.  They discussed how their faith, cultures and beliefs impact them in wanting to help keep the canal clean and tidy.  They even helped to paint the locks which had been defaced with graffiti.

Imaan, a young girl in year 7 said, “If people come and graffiti on these locks, we’ll have to do it again…”  That point of understanding the impact on our community of people’s negative behaviour is part of the passion that drives this group.

We have planned to return to the canal project and keep helping to maintain it across the coming months.

When a barge approached the lock we were painting, the group learnt how to operate the lock, how it works, how the water give its’ own pressure to the opposing gate.  Our group had the opportunity to serve and help others whilst experiencing something for the first time.

“A lot of people, who use the grand union canal, tend to want to get through this stretch (inner city area of Sparkbrook) quickly.  It’s dirty, often unpleasant and there’s a lot of crime.  They’re not used to seeing people from a non-white, no middle class background here.  This work is breaking that stereotype.”

Why do young people care so much?  Why do so many adults doubt they do?  Why is their faith and culture central to the work we do with them?  If we understand that young people are adults in progress and that they are often living up to the ideals set for them by society, we’d see more clearly that they do care and do want to make a difference.  Their beliefs drive them, mould their aspirations and help them to learn focus.  If we give them our support, create a space for them to talk about these things and provide opportunities so they can contribute to the society they are growing up in, they will flourish.

In the heart of the urban inner city, surrounded by litter and graffiti, doubt, poverty they observed fishes breaking the water surface, they lay down and enjoyed the sun shining on them.  They commented that the sunlight glinting on the water surface looks like hundreds of diamonds falling…

Young people can, do and will make a change.