THE AMOS BURSARY DINNER AT HOUSE OF LORDS.
A recent report showed that of all the diverse and disadvantaged groups and communities across the UK, young black boys are the most oppressed and given least opportunities in society. The underachievement of black boys is well documented and much academic research has focused on the negative outcomes of their schooling. This persistent deficit model reinforces negative stereotypes and adversely affects the expectations of these boys regardless of academic performance, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Research shows that good grades have failed to get boys from the African Caribbean Community to top universities and have not opened up the same career opportunities that are available to other students. They have been identified as the most underrepresented in higher education and the professions. These students have achieved academic success but have limited opportunities; financial limitations; families without a strong tradition of participation in higher education; limited knowledge of the post 16, University and recruitment process. All of which contribute to limited confidence and self-belief, critical for success.
Fighting to redress this balance are many great organisations who sweat blood and tears to give these young men a more equal playing field. One of these is a project by Valerie Amos.
I was invited to the Amos Bursary Dinner at the House of Lords on February 26th. The dinner was an opportunity to raise awareness and ultimately important funding for the Amos Bursary which was established by Valerie Amos, or as she is more often known ‘’The Right Honourable Baroness Amos, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs’’. Now that’s a grand title that we should aspire towards having eh!
Baroness Amos and her sister Colleen established the Amos Bursary to help realise the ambitions of young men of African and Caribbean descent from London Schools and Sixth Form Colleges. The Amos Bursary supports these men through the university experience, and gives them access to opportunities which help them develop in preparation for their chosen careers, and as future leaders and role-models in their communities.
The drinks were in one of the House of Lords grand rooms, which was adorned with beautiful paintings capturing historical icons and moments. In the room I spotted my old boss Lord Waheed Ali, footballer Sol Campbell, Apprentice star Tim Campbell, Simon Cowells ex Sinitta, businessman and entrepreneur Alexander Amosu, June Sarpong and many more.
The dinner was in a long marquee set up adjacent to the River Thames with full glass wall and therefore spectacular views across London. The evening began with the pomp one might expect, with a liveried House of Lords Master of Ceremonies announcing after a pounding his gavel on the lectern call to order ‘’my Lords, ladies, gentlemen, guests …blah blah’’
During the evening Baroness Amos welcomed and introduced former young men who have been through her programme, and are now doing amazing things with their lives. A few young men also spoke about how the bursary had changed their lives for the better by simply showing them options of a better life and instilling confidence in them, with work placements and introductions to their mentors.
Valerie Amos also explained to us how her bursary began ‘’the story of the Amos Bursary is of the love of two incredible people. My beloved parents died within 9 days of each other. We wanted to pay tribute to our parents, who were both teachers and had a passion for using power to change people’s lives. As they were teachers it was essential for them that education had to be a central feature of anything honoring them’’.
Baroness Amos continued ‘‘after research, we learnt that African Caribbean boys don’t have the same career opportunities as others. So the Amos bursary was born. We wanted to show their potential could be realized, that they are fully informed about university options and work. In six years we’ve gone from just seven students to many, many more so we’ve demonstrated that our model works’’.
The strength of the Amos Bursary lies in its ability to identify academically able British young men of African and Caribbean heritage (age 16), from London’s schools, ensuring they are fully equipped to make informed and appropriate choices for their futures, preparing them for university, work, and to become “real” models in their communities.
The Amos Bursary empowers the next generation with the skills they need to achieve economic independence and security. They invest money, time and skills in activities that harness the individual creative talents of their diverse group of students, and facilitate a model of student learning and development that is unique to the Amos Bursary.
Tim Campbell made a highly passionate speech near the end of the night where he stated that this wasn’t about charity, but opportunity and that’s the strength message I left with. Lets give everyone an equal playing field and ‘’opportunity’’.
BIGGA FISH FOUNDATION LAUNCH DINNER.
To show just how much is happening out there for young people, I was next invited a few days later to the impressive sky scraper building of Clifford chance at canary wharf where the BIGGA FISH Foundation was being launched at a dinner.
On the 30th floor we were greeted by a lovely drinks reception overlooking breath-taking views of London. Guests included many key influencers and successful agents for change like former Radio 1 DJ Spoony, inspirational you leader Sonia Meggie, former Sony BMG top don Mervyn Lyn, singer Ms Dynamite and more.
After the usual welcome speeches by Bigga Fish founder Nii Sackey and Patrick from Clifford chance we were asked to take our seats at the tables which were all named after the Bigga Fish departments like ‘’street teams’’.
On my table, they explained to me, they didn’t have this many youth orgs and charities when you were a kid cos we used to have state, private sector and charities, then in the eighties most state stuff was privatized, and so youth clubs and more were scrapped, so its left us in this huge privatized urban cesspit where young people and disadvantaged people are left to flounder.
Once again, throughout dinner, many of the young people couldn’t wait to grab the mic and tell us all about how Bigga Fish had changed their lives. I loved hearing from a young man called Soloman who was supported by the organistion and now runs Brixton Soup Kitchen. What a great example of giving back! All the young people spoke about how their lives had changed and how Bigga Fish had that difference by using….opportunity.
After dinner, Ms dynamite performed three songs for us. One remix of her anthemic classic ‘’ms dynamitee’’ and two new songs, which were amazing. Her voice is stronger than ever and the songs were really catchy earworms. After performing them acoustically she told us all how Bigga Fish has helped her ‘’at 15 left I came from a home where I was angry and upset and had trauma in my childhood. Similar to many that are here this evening and continue to do so. I felt misunderstood by my school and society and didn’t see a place for myself in the world. Initially music saved me. The impact that Bigga Fish had with me was because I felt a family vibe there. A lot of us are experiencing hardship on so many levels. Economically and personally. For me, I am here tonight speaking to you all asking u to invest in something that’s priceless. You’re investing in the future….Bigga Fish founder Nii Sackey is one of God’s angels on earth”.
WE DAY UK.
I finished the week at Wembley Arena with other dreamers, positive-thinkers, and world-changers for WE DAY, which is now an annual fixture where thousands of school kids from 1200 UK schools attended with their classes, after having earned a ticket by making a commitment, to undertake at least one local and one global charitable act of their choice as part of a year long ‘’we-act’’ programme. The schools raised £353,946 to support local and global causes, and volunteered over 148,763 hours of service. So of course, to thank them, the Wembley Arena WE DAY celebration is free of charge to the students and teachers in attendance.
Attending this year were chart-topping artists like Award-winning English electronica trio Years and Years, world- renowned speakers and incredible young people entertaining the arena. Our hosts for We Day UK were fellow young high achievers Laura Whitmore, Yasmin Evans, Becca Dudley and Bluey Robinson.
On the external, sun-drenched, red carpet cupped within the famous Wembley arches, we also caught up with Hollywood legend – actor Martin Sheen, Singer and songwriter Shawn Mendes, Dutch singer-songwriter and rapper Mr. Probz , Singer/songwriter Conor Maynard, Social advocate, filmmaker, and grandson of President Nelson Mandela – Kweku Mandela, and of course the family affair that is Sir Richard Branson with his son Sam and daughter Holly.
South Sudanese musician, former child soldier, and humanitarian Emmanuel Jal was fired up ‘’ I was a child soldier. I was born in a difficult time, I became a refugee, and I was looking for opportunities, and so what Me to We and We Day does is create opportunities for children around the world‘’
Holly, who is also the Patron of Free The Children UK, Co-Chair of We Day UK, Trustee and Founder of Big Change Charitable Trust told the London360 crew ‘‘So, We Day is celebrating young people that have done great around the world for their local and global communities. They have raised money, they’ve volunteered and this is a day to celebrate young people and all the great work they’re doing. It’s about helping communities, helping people who are less fortunate than yourself, it just helps them and it also helps you. You learn so much about team-building and confidence, and you’re just putting back into your community which makes a real difference, and Sam, would you agree?’
Brother and philanthropist Sam jumped in to add to his sisters thoughts ‘’ ‘Totally, and I think seeing, and inspiring young people to engage in the world and ask questions, and get involved is the most inspiring thing ever and you can hear the voices of twelve-thousand young people wanting to make a difference in there and that energy is really contagious, and I think more and more young people are getting engaged in issues and there’s nothing to be gained from it but something positive.’
Daddy Richard added his thoughts too ‘‘Nothing beats the feeling of being back at We Day UK. The energy here is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. 12,000 teenagers in an enclosed space tend to have that effect! We Day gives young people the perfect opportunity to use their voice, and share issues they’re passionate about. The students here today have come together to motivate each other and inspire others to join them and make a real difference. Watch and learn from these young people – and their fellow 200,000 WE DAYERS around the globe – they’re changing the world!’’
Richard continued in earnest, ‘’young entrepreneurs like these young people are going to be building the Virgin’s of the future, we have a start-up scheme where loans are made to young entrepreneurs, and then we try to find mentors and help them on their feet. And so, if people have got an idea that they think can make a positive difference to other people’s lives, they should turn it into a business and get on and try it. And if they need a bit of a helping hand, they may want to approach Virgin start-up loans so that maybe we can help them. ‘I’m not sure that the challenges are any more difficult than when I started many years ago, I mean at least the word entrepreneur has been invented, and I think people know what starting a business is about, maybe more than forty or fifty-years ago. so I think that the main thing is: come up with a good idea that you think’s going to do positive things to society, find some good people to surround yourself with, maybe try to get a loan from somewhere and just get on and do it.’
Connor Maynard said ‘’I think it’s something you never really get to see, YOUNG PEOPLE DOING GREAT THINGS, you watch the news and you rarely ever see a young person getting interviewed about it, the media only turn to young people when its solely about young people’s problems, but at the end of the day we all live in the same world, so I think young people should have a voice in more than just things about young people, so it is very very important for them to step up and say what they think’’.
Poet Karl Lokko explained why We Day makes such an impact ‘’Young people are active, if you’re not active, then you’re not really heard, and if you’re not heard than you’re just going to be looked over, and if you’re looked over, you’re just going to be disenfranchised. So for me it’s just about getting stuck in, get things happening!’’.
Also in the house were Lord Rumi Verjee – Founder of The Rumi Foundation and We Day UK Co-Chair, Andy Barrow – Inspirational speaker and retired Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby athlete, Bars and Melody – British R&B and rapping duo, Creators and Stars of MTV documentary series The Buried Life, Professor Muhammad Yunus – Nobel Peace Laureate and Craig and Marc Kielburger – International activists and co-founders of We Day.
As ever Spencer West (Me to We motivational speaker) and Dennis Gyamfi (Social activist and speaker) made powerful speech’s that had the arena full of students cheering loudly for both of them.
Martin Sheen had the final word with his dreamy quote as he voiced his thoughts ‘’One of my favourite quotes is ‘be yourself, everyone else is taken’, so you have to have a sense that you do things, because it challenges you to be a better human being. You do it for yourself and then let the rest take care of itself. Sometimes we’re lucky to live in certain times and places, and certain people come through and they’re like comets and then people are astonished and it’s like ‘my God what is that?’, they’re here they’re together, they’re with us now, Malala is still with us, she’s still a child and she’s just been celebrated with the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a little girl they tried to silence because she wanted an education and she’s a comet now. All of these children you see today are baby comets. They’re showing the way, they’re lighting the future and it’s theirs! ‘Acting is what I do for a living, but activism is what I do to stay alive!’