The Rabbit Hole

Shawdon Smith, 25, London

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Mum I tell you all the time I’m not a follower and they’re just my friends. My mother used to always tell me “I don’t want you hanging around with the wrong crowd and those boys are up to no good.”

And I would always say, “Mum were just chilling there isn’t nothing wrong with that, but cool, anyways, whatever.”

How can we change our ways when a vast majority of our mother’s words can’t change us?

How can we change our mindset when the education system rearranges us?

How can we change our stereotype when the media blames us?

And then Her Majesty's prison incarcerates us.

We need change.

When I sit back and think about life and the environment I live in and the youth of today’s society, I have recognised a variety of needs that require immediate attention. It is clear to see that, support and development of the next generation is something we need to push in order for change. Albert Einstein once stated that "The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything."

Today I am here to make a stand, not just for my community but for the leaders of our next generation.

It is easy to point the finger at urban youth for the violence that has been going on, but the rabbit hole stems much deeper than what meets the eye. And the deeper it goes, the harder it is to climb back out.

Each young person has their own will but some may face circumstances which force them into a situation of the unknown. Leading them further down this hole, which only gets deeper with deeper actions and deeper consequences.

People within today’s society listen to the media and see the life of a young person through a double glazed glass window from the comfort of their own home, with no true understanding of their fears, their battles, their unacceptance and their pressure.

But here is a fine example of one of many young people from a deprived and poverty driven environment.

There is a 15 year old boy, a child of a single parent mother who feels as if she has nothing else to lose since the young boy’s father left home. She sits back day after day spends all the money she receives on her drug addiction leaving the young boy to fend for himself.

Each day the young boy comes home and open the fridge to find nothing. He has gone days without food, surviving on tap water alone. The only option he then has is to beg for money after school and if he’s lucky enough he can afford that chicken and chips.

All the money his mother gets goes towards her addictions. His clothes are old, his shoes are ripped with holes. He then has to go to school. This is where he becomes an easy target and is constantly bullied and teased due to his appearance. After school, he then walks home and is approached by an older and is told that he can take him out of them clothes and put food in his belly, if he sells this.

Do you yourself know this young boy? 

This is just one of many stories that young people will face growing up within our society. In these circumstances we are unable to see the negative factors that the young person has to face. But then as a society all we end up seeing a misguided and misunderstood human being.

I believe that my teenage years were the most important and delicate time of my life. I say this because this is was time where your peers, environment and education will either prevent or assist your success within the future. 

Throughout my teenage years I was not the greatest child in school, I would often get into trouble. Many of my teachers would claim that I was a smart student but always distracted the class. This is a line that a lot of young people face today in school. As I continued in college certain opportunities came my way, which took me out of my comfort zone and moulded my mindset. I took part in a summer programme, where we had to dress smart, lease with professional, work on our CV and prepare for interviews. This was a unique moment in my life where I was able to prove to myself that I was able, when my surroundings would often suggest otherwise.

But many others may not be this fortunate, some may not even go to school or college and therefore may never get that opportunity and therefore never change.

If we are constantly seeing cuts being made to our youth provisions and youth centres, how do we expect to see a change in the lives our young people? Our young individuals are now part of a lost generation where there is more negative than positive throughout their surroundings.

As a society, in order to break this cycle we need to invest our time into the next generation, aiming to provide our people with a sense of self belief and a positive mind-set.

Rather than buying supermarkets pre-packaged vegetables, we should be planting seeds in our own back yard which will sustain and develop our community for a longer time.

We need to provide the youth of today with alternative opportunities where they can gain skills, understanding and professional knowledge to help aid the development of a positive and successful mind state. This can start outside of education and within a place of comfort. Local community centres are meant to be the heart of a community, and they should embrace the younger generation as well as local residents.

They should therefore focus on the lives of their young people, and in turn work on both their confidence and self-esteem, finding out what it truly that they want to do in life. Then provide that first essential push.

Everyone deserves an equal opportunity and young people can now see the potential of being something big in this world. As they look on TV and can now see individuals just like themselves breaking through.

So what needs to change in order to make a change?

I believe that individuals from my generation, who can actually engage, advise and relate to the youth, hold the key to truly making a difference in their lives. And now is the time where we have to make a stand, unite with one another and reach out to more young people throughout all boroughs of London.

We are only as strong as we are united and as weak as we are divided.  

The youth are the next generation and we all need to play part in helping them. To all of the current organisations and community leaders working to help the next generation, we should now work together in order to make a difference. We all have a common goal and the same passion for our young people, so do we try and go at it alone?

And to those of you that have broken through and become successful, you really need to understand the impact and influence you hold in the lives of our younger generation.

I know nothing comes easy and you have all worked hard. You may have even climbed up out of the rabbit hole and opened the doors of opportunity yourself. But now is the time to guide our young people out of them same rabbit holes where there is nothing but closed doors.

Now is the time to point them towards those doors that you’ve opened. Now is the time to be the one to hold those doors open and encourage and influence them to see what is on the other side. You may not have seen that 15 year old boy in this lost generation but if you have then just remember that he is part of our future and deserves a chance at life just like everyone else.

Prevention is better than cure. And once we work together to make a difference we will see that unity is one of the most unique forms of power. Any evolution requires progress, and now it’s time for a change.

Shawdon is a member of our Young Leaders programme. The Almeida Young Leaders is a scheme giving young people with something vital to say the tools and platform to do so. Each young leader has been mentored by a writer and director to develop their ideas, structuring a speech and skills in public speaking.