My passion for working with challenging and disengaged young men came about as a result of my own difficult school experience. Because of which, I made, and am now honouring a promise to myself, “that once I was free of this place, I will help those that remain’.
Though constantly told that I was academically able, my internal world (psychological and emotional) was in constant turmoil. I often felt like a fraud and failure during my schooling years. Outside of holding the title as being the best fighter in my year, I can honestly say the biggest fight I ever encountered was the internal one against fear, anxiety, unhappiness, isolation, self-loathing and perpetual shame.
Growing up the youngest brother in a large fatherless and mixed heritage family of 8, had its challenges to say the least. Not least because we grew up in a climate of racial intolerance which often manifested itself in facing a constant stream of verbal and or, physical abuse. Ironically, this abuse came from members of both the white British and black West Indian communities. (Our father was a black American and our mother, white and British). Thus, all members of our family, – including our mother, were labelled either the mongrels or the monkey lover, respectfully. It seemed almost inevitable that my 4 brothers and I would learn to defend ourselves from these threats and that our Mother encouraged us to take up boxing. However, defending ourselves left us with a reputation as being ‘them troublemakers’.!! This hurt like crazy and felt so unfair. Especially because I cannot think of one occasion when my brothers and I were ever the instigators of trouble.
Living this existence contributed to me feeling the need to adopt an external façade of being strong regardless my internal conflict. I remember a sense of desperately wanting to talk to someone, to cry with someone, for someone to unburden me from my fear of the world. I spent what felt like an eternity looking from behind a mask of strength for a teacher whom I could trust. I fantasised being able to let down my defences, take off my mask without fear of ridicule or attack and just be me. I needed someone – anyone, to help me!
Looking back, I now realise that my cry for help was purely a non-verbal one. To those looking on from the outside, I clearly had the ability to survive. I appeared confident and resilient and my attitude and performance around the school was a constant contradiction to what I felt inside. I desperately hoped that the contradiction between my academic ability, general good manners Vs my school performance, – classroom disruption, truancy, fighting, answering back and challenging the rules, would alert a potential rescuer into thinking something didn’t quite add up, that something was internally wrong. I visualised, being taken aside by a ‘caring’ teacher who ‘cared’ beyond their payday. A teacher who I felt I could actually trust. A teacher who would help me to understand, or at least help me to carry my emotional baggage. Unfortunately, my mask was too convincing and what I ‘appeared’ to be, spoke so loudly, that no one seemed willing or able to hear the words my mouth never had the courage to say out loud…. “Someone please help me”!
As a result of this inner conflict and it’s subsequent, I ended up getting permanently excluded from school.
My Story – Work
When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade don’t squeeze it in your eye…
I was 19 years old when I finally found the unconditional favour and positive regard I was looking for. After spending the majority of my teenage years squeezing lemon into my own eyes, my life began to finally take shape as a result to joining a local church group. For the first time ever I felt heard. I quickly moved through the ranks of Local, District, Regional and National Young People’s President. I gained experience in the mission field and along with other young people raised over £25,000, and became personally involved in the building of a church and preaching the gospel in the West Indies not long after hurricane Gilbert had torn through the land.
During this time I spent around 10 years working for YMCA Training delivering personal development programs such as The Princes Trust 12-week Development & European Challenge Programmes, Entry2Employment Programme (e2e) Life and Social Skills and the Summer Activities Programme for Disengaged and Offending young people.
Whilst designing and delivering these programmes, I was also asked to design and run ‘diplomatic’ and bespoke personal development sessions aimed at modifying behaviour in some of our learners. It was through this aspect of my work that the YMCA realised my deep passion for doing the jobs, or rather, working with the young people that others found too challenging.
In the process of time, a local high school in special measures approached the YMCA asking for help in working with a group of 15 challenging pupils who were all in immediate danger of becoming permanently excluded from mainstream education. These young people were apparently the “leftovers” from the more ‘workable’ students that had already been filtered out to external educational and training providers. Furthermore, this was the same High School that I had attended and from which I have been excluded. It appeared that my opportunity to honour my teenage promise, “that once I was free of this place, I will help those that remain” had presented itself! It was an offer that I could not refuse and what was supposed to be a one-day per week placement, became a five day per week placement lasting for two years. However, this experience, though very challenging, was cathartic and the point at which my work ethos evolved…
To Reach and Relate to another beyond a mere surface level, one needs to be willing to look behind the many masks of which they may be hiding.‘In order to make a positive difference in the lives of another, one have to be willing to go the proverbial extra mile.
Only once a genuine, unconditional and empathetic secure Relationship has been established with another, will they gladly accept our Challenges which are often necessary in the pursuit of modifying thinking, feelings and behaviour. I believe this approach is the vital imperative in the emotional Empowerment of all young people’.
In pursuit of this belief I started Community4’RCE Community Interest Company (CIC) = 4’Reaching/Relating to, Challenging & Empowering Young People)
Community4rce imperative code of conduct when commissioned to work with and for others.
- Stay in ‘Adult ego state’ and minimise embarrassment and hostility toward young people (Love)
- Be willing to earn, develop and maintain the respect of young people (Respect)
- Have the courage to exhibit a sense of humour (Be Real)
- Be firm, but fair, (Be Consistent)
- Stay calm (Be Approachable)
- Own and challenge prejudice, in oneself first of all, and then in the young person
- Don’t take or hold on to emotionally charged behaviour and or, comments from students personally.
- Don’t hold grudges (Forgive)
- Go the extra mile (Believe)
- Say sorry. (Be Genuine)
My Work Style – Process
Since 2012, I have been responsible for supporting young people through 1-to-1 and small group work sessions (up to 6-10 young people) at a High School in Essex.This support comes in what is primarily a therapeutic based approach towards developing emotional Competence, Literacy and self-awareness.
Much of the work ends up being primarily reparative in nature and is aimed at enlightening Young People too, and deterring them from making short-sighted choices.
Sessions initially take place in a 1-2-1 setting and may, but not always, evolve into group sessions too. 1-2-1 sessions enable the learner and to strengthen the working alliance before they feel safe/secure enough to ‘unmask’ in the presence of others.
Through using Person-Centered approach, being guided by the 3 core conditions of – Unconditional Positive Regard, Empathy and being Genuine my first goal is always to spend time building a working alliance with the student. Trust is built by reaching and relating to young people beyond a mere surface level. I do this through developing a therapeutic safe, secure and non-judgmental relationship in an environment in which they feel able to be themselves (Unmasking). This then becomes the foundation that enables a working relationship in which both the student and I can identify, challenge and modify inappropriate thoughts and feelings which are often the cause of their poor behaviour, self-doubt and negative self – belief.
Elements of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) framework, are used to explore Actions (triggering events), Cognitions, (negative automatic thoughts and inferences), and Emotions (feelings) the young person experiences. The stronger the relationship, the more the students are able to identify thoughts and feelings which drive their behaviour/actions. To the student’s surprise, these subtle feelings and unhealthy thought processes (not teachers, family and or, their peers as previously thought) are then identified as the main cause of their internal and external disturbances and conflict. From this point, work can begin on developing what we feel would be the best process, to improve relationships with others.