Guest blog: Doc Brown
The rapper, actor, comedian, and former youth worker attends a discussion on the opportunities available to young people.
Below are the throughts of Ben Bailey Smith, aka Doc Brown, who attended our most recent Activate Roundtable.
The meeting brought together 20 organisations from the public, private, voluntary and community sectors.
Discussions centred on the key challenges and barriers which constrain the opportunities currently available to an estimated 3.5m children living in poverty across the UK. And how organisations like Peabody can make a difference.
"Having been a young person who grew on an estate in North West London, community and ambition is important to me.
When I was 15 years old I heard a quote that would profoundly change the course of my life and my understanding the world around me.
It was a fellow kid — by the name of Lamont Coleman. He was a teenager from a notoriously crime-ridden and deprived district in Harlem, New York and was better known by his stage name as a Rap artist, Big L — despite being very short with a high-pitched voice. I think that was what you called ghetto irony.
His songs were packed with graphic, descriptive commentaries of the area of Harlem he dubbed "The Danger Zone". What struck me immediately was how much humour he was able to bring to the tragedies he was relaying.
He openly rapped about how a combination of family breakdown, substandard housing, peer pressure and abject poverty coerced his bad decisions.
In one particular couplet he summed up the desperation that poverty can bring to young people, whilst simultaneously displaying the capacity and potential those same young people have for good humour, imagination and creative flair.
Having worked with young people myself for 13 years pre-showbiz, I’ve long held the belief that a child by their very nature is hopeful and positive — it’s their circumstance that lets them down.
After listening to Big L’s lyrics, the estate I was born became irrelevant to my progress. I was going to be a writer of witty, clever rhymes and be the greatest rapper in the world… Didn’t work out that way... but it led me directly to even greater creative professional successes than I ever could have dreamed.
After his passing, "The Danger Zone" launched "The Children’s Zone" programme which believes in strength in numbers — the essence of community. And their influence or inspiration is visible in the work (since 2002) of the Peabody Children’s Community, in my local borough of Hackney.
The gap between rich and poor in London is growing every single day, so too has our sense of community dissipated. The Peabody Children’s Community aims to reconnect that community on all levels.
What I like about the programme is the joined-up thinking. It’s not just about Early Years, or indeed any singular stage in a young person’s life — it’s about addressing all the key areas that can affect a person from cradle to career and beyond: housing, affordable childcare, after-school provision, family literacy, higher education, employment — the whole journey.
Through their cohesive partnership approach, they will be able to pinpoint and identify the support individuals need to help them grow and reach their potential.
The vision is an ambitious one, but it’s bursting at the seams with hope, potential, positivity and possibility — all the things my favourite rapper had within him, instinctively.
Together, bringing back the ethos of real community, let’s connect with those instincts, and make "The Danger Zone" a thing of the past.
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