Almost 28 years ago to the day, I trekked across London with my mum to buy the wedding dress of my dreams. Neither of us had been to Eltham before and we were not even sure where it was, but I’d seen the dress in a magazine and found out that a wedding dress shop in Eltham sold it. I was not to be disappointed.
A few days later, Eltham had become international news. Teenager, Stephen Lawrence had been violently murdered in a racist attack by a gang of youths. As a black child growing up in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s, my brothers and friends and I were used to being called names (or even worse) because of the colour of our skin. Our parents protected us as best they could, but they couldn’t protect us 24/7. So, we learned how to deal with it. Sadly, in some instances lives were lost. Stephen Lawrence’s murder, in the Diocese, was tragic on so very many levels, which is why we honour him with a special day – 22 April. His murder not only meant a family lost a beloved child to the racism that was rampant on the street, the bullying, name calling and vicious attacks, but the work of the MacPherson Enquiry highlighted the racism that was also embedded in our key institutions, like the Metropolitan Police.
Now in 2021, I worry every time my 19-year-old son leaves the house. Only a few days ago, on Saturday 10 April, there was a fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old in Sydenham, south London. In March this year, two young men bled to death on the same street in Croydon. In London alone, 73 lives were lost to knife crime last year and since the beginning of the year, around 10 young people have died in the capital as a result of incidents involving the use of a knife or other bladed article. Sadly, the statistics show that youth violence remains a depressing reality, in our diocese and nationwide. Serious Youth Violence is a problem that affects every community.
The Metropolitan Police are working collaboratively with community groups to try to stem the violence, the serious injuries and the deaths. This past week has been National Youth Violence Prevention Week. As part of an awareness raising initiative, the Met recently launched a campaign called “Hard Calls Save Lives”. The campaign is being led by five mothers who have lost their sons to knife crime. One of the mothers, Yvonne, said, “Calling with information about knife crime may feel hard, but there are harder calls.” Like being called to be told your son has been murdered. The fear of a call like the one Yvonne received is every parents’ nightmare. To mark this important awareness-raising initiative, we sent out a press release encouraging people to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 to report information on knife or violent crime. Find out more about Yvonne and the other mothers’ stories in the link.
The Diocese of Southwark is committed to supporting campaigns like Hard Calls Save Lives. The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, Bishop of the Diocese of Southwark, stated in the press release, “Southwark is the Diocese in which Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor were murdered in 1993 and 2000 respectively and many other young lives have been lost as a consequence of youth violence. We are determined to work with our community and civic partners to end this appalling violence and ensure that everyone values and cherishes the lives of young people and their families.” The Rt Revd Dr Karowei Dorgu, Bishop of Woolwich, added, “In youth crime all the families involved become victims.”
As part of our commitment to alleviating serious youth violence, the Diocese is a founding partner of the Synergy Network, a coalition of churches and para-church groups and Christian agencies working together to end serious youth violence in Britain and Ireland. The Synergy network website draws together a range of activities happening across the UK to stem the tide of youth violence. We can all do our part in making this happen. Report knife crime if you see or hear about it, mentor young people in your area, sign up to the Synergy Network, create safe spaces for young people to be themselves and share, dream, learn and build each other up. My prayer and hope is that youth violence will one day be a thing of the past.
The vast majority of young people have no connection to gangs or violence. They may be in the wrong place at the wrong time or look at someone the “wrong” way, or be a friend, sibling or acquaintance of someone involved with a gang. I believe that the voices of young people should be encouraged and listened to, and I am very excited about the work of the Diocese’s Woolwich and Croydon Area Youth Forums. They exist to provide a place where the voice of Christian young people (year 9+) in Anglican churches can be heard by senior leaders in Southwark Diocese. Last month they spoke to the Diocesan Synod about their thoughts and experiences of racism in the Church. To say that they are our future leaders is doing them a disservice, many have already taken on roles of responsibility within their churches and communities and making a huge, positive difference. They need our encouragement, protection and prayers.
My hope is that we will hear more from our young people through blogs like this one and other platforms. If you know a young person or are a young person yourself, and would like to write a blog and share your experiences, please get in touch with [email protected]
Visit our events section to find out how the young people in your church can get involved in the Woolwich Youth Forum and the Croydon Youth Forum. A Kingston Youth Forum is in the process of starting. Check our website in the coming weeks for more information.