This article was written by two practitioners, Ciara and Pedro, after an incident in one of our FBB sessions in South London with a young person, KJ. Our belief is that anti-racist work is often relational work and we need to confront the issue at early age to combat it.
We first saw KJ after lockdown on a bus to school. When he saw Pedro he was instantly filled with light and joy. Pedro was equally moved to see KJ and he praised him for being an incredible leader over lockdown in our online school programme. During lockdown, KJ attended every virtual session with enthusiasm and passion.
After introductions and some lighted banter, KJ told Pedro that he will be leaving FBB because he is changing schools. KJ said it was too far and his Mum wanted him to go to a school that is closer to home. KJ was sad to be leaving FBB but seemed at peace with the decision. As we walked to school Pedro talked about his fondness for KJ and his pride for how much he had grown as a person during lockdown.
Over the next few weeks, KJ would come bounding into every session. He was the first to arrive and the last to leave. As the weeks went by, we learnt more and more about him and could see how much FBB meant to him .
One week, Pedro was doing his rounds through school when he happened to look in a lesson that KJ was in. Pedro instantly could sense KJ was not himself. Pedro asked him if he wanted to step outside and talk to him. KJ broke down. He confided in Pedro that he was not moving school because Mum wanted him too. In fact, he was moving school because he could no longer face the bullying and abuse he was enduring because of the colour of his skin.
KJ, a young man from Sri Lanken descent, had been picked on and othered nearly everyday. He had convinced Mum that school was too far away and he should go somewhere else. KJ didn’t want to worry his Mum and took the situation into his own hands. He looked up schools, found the right paperwork and had all the difficult conversations. Confiding in Pedro, KJ admitted that all he wanted was “to go somewhere where people look like me”.
As practitioners, and people, it was so difficult to hear a young person in pain, but it was harder still to learn that many of the boys that were responsible belonged to our FBB group. As much as we felt that we were developing their peer to peer relationships, empathy and social awareness, it still didn’t manage to overcome the discrimination that is so engrained and normalized in them.
Pedro and I decided to run an intervention session for the group. In the session, we made it clear that it was a serious and sensitive topic which affected all of us. Before we started we reiterated that FBB has a zero tolerance policy with all forms of discrimination.
Pedro spoke about his experience with discrimination and talked as a proud black immigrant about how his experiences had moulded and shaped him. We both felt that it was important to talk from personal experience and trust in the relationships we had built. We then played Jane Elliot’s famous social experiment and watched as the boys fixated on the screen.
It was important for us that we let them fail and make mistakes in a supportive and safe environment. We did not want them to feel shame or guilt but experience a learning moment. These young white men had never taken the time to think about their privilege. How as a society can we let our young people reach the age of 15 without talking about race? How can we have let KJ feel like his experience didn’t matter, that he had to change, move and adapt?
For more information on how you can support FBB during this time, purchase our new 2020 Beyond Lockdown Coffee Table book via the link below!