Part One: By Kimberley Nyamhondera, 18 year old Gap Year student:
On Monday 18th November 2013, we gathered at the Free Word Centre for a debate which promised to take a closer look at the topic of ‘Trust and Authority’ from a young person’s perspective. After the last few years and the revelations that those holding positions of power and once synonymous with the words honesty, integrity and responsibility, being hit with embarrassing scandal after scandal revealing them to be doing just the opposite: Snowden Files, Banking Crisis, Phone hacking scandal, Cash for questions, Policy U-turns to name but a few, it seemed timely and necessary to discuss the issue of trust and authority in regard to young people. It was a platform to air some grievances and come to a level of understanding between both parties and to start looking at how we all might communicate better.
The evening started and ended with two specially commissioned poems by Young Poet Laureate London contender, James Massiah, around the topic of trust and authority. Both poems were a frank yet different take on the influence of those in authority over our lives and how the breakdown of trust in this relationship affects us all. They were both striking pieces and set the tone of the evening.
We obviously weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel in this one evening but it felt necessary to have and be able to take advantage of a platform that allowed young voices to be heard on this topic, because we have a lot to say, questions that need answering and feel that there are some barriers that need to be broken down. This sentiment was reflected in the voices that started to ricochet around the room, after a stilted start, where many shied away from the microphone, the evening’s atmosphere was electric and my personal favourite question of the night put to MP for Islington North– What did it feel like, before, when you had people’s trust?
It seemed like the sheer honesty of this question spurned others on and I found myself wondering if I could remember such a time and if it was really that simple?
The audience was made up of the often unheard voices, the voices that wouldn’t be part of Prime Minister’s Question time or any other Question Time or University Challenge type debate as these were people who wouldn’t be invited or entertain the thought of attend events like these.
The questions and opinions that eventually did make their way through the microphone found that their honesty and their words challenged, impressed and most importantly made many scratch their heads.
At this point I would like to hand the blog over to Fran Plowright, producer and co-curator of this debate:
We didn’t come up with any instant solutions, but we definitely started a conversation and found there was a lot of feeling and passion relating to some these issues as described by Kimberley, and not just “apathy, indifference and ignorance” which is often the criticism levelled at our “disaffected and uneducated youth”. There were genuine suggestions about how young people and our panellists might look at taking things forward and some creative solutions on how to open the channels of communication up.
The panel was made up of MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn, retired Police Superintendent Leroy Logan, 17 year old Young Mayor of Islington Jasmine Martins, Young Poet Laureate London contender James Massiah and Advisor and Youth Worker for Kids Company, David van Eeghen. The debate was skilfully chaired by ITN Broadcaster Charlene White.
The audience comprised 14 – 25 year olds from all over London as well as stake holders in education, youth services and the arts and media.
There was a lot of passion and honesty in the room and some very good points were raised: When it was revealed that the majority of young people in attendance didn’t vote, and might never vote when they reached the right age, one student from the University of Manchester asked When there would be reforms to the language used by politicians so that young people could better understand what was being said, and Community Arts Co-ordinator at a local North London Secondary School made the point ‘ this debate needs to be happening in secondary schools all over the country”. Trevor Blackman CEO of Ape Media wondered why we can’t educate young people in politics at school from a very early age, so that it is part of every day language and not something which is associated with debating societies in the private education sector.
The debate undoubtably unearthed the feeling that there is a very real lack of understanding and common language between young people and authority, making mutual’Trust’ virtually impossible to achieve. One audience member Kasey from South London wanted to know why those in power find it so difficult to use the channels of communication that young people use on a daily basis to make contact with them: social media, BBM’s, Facebook but pointed out angrily “You managed to do that during the riots of 2011 so why can’t you do this regularly not just when you’re trying to hunt young people down or to shut them up?!”
At the end of the debate, which really had only just got going, Charlene skilfully tried to draw some conclusions and look at some positive and possible steps forward and towards greater understanding with the question: “Where do we go from here? One positive suggestion from the MD of You Tube youth channel Grime Daily put to MP Jeremy Corbyn was whether he would consider being interviewed on the channel alongside some of the stars of these networks like rapper Giggs, to see if he could access the audience of stations like this and start a conversation and let them know about the good work they he does for young people in the community. Mr Corbyn accepted, so watch this space for more info on that and performance poet and Mentor James Massiah talked about his project “A to Z” which is all about using words to empower ourselves to be able to pull up and question those in authority so whilst in some ways he agreed there could be some reforms on the language and less jargon used; his tip was about how to regain power : “My mission is to open up our ears and your eyes, and to make sure that myself and my peers have access to the same language that the messages preached on the radio, on the internet and in the media use, it’s up to us, we have access to the same dictionaries as they do and the internet is a powerful resource, so let’s use it”
He rounded off the evening with his poem on Trust “Golden Square” which looks at the very complex relationship we all have to the word trust with the last few lines serving as a warning to all of us not to be complacent or too judgemental about where we stand on the subject of trust and honesty “it’s funny how fast we let our values go once we let passion, lust and greed take hold”
The full podcast of the first debate in the Time To Talk series “Whose Voices are Heard – Trust and Authority” can be found here. There will be three more debates in the series at Free Word Centre in March, May and September 2014.