With age, so it’s said, comes wisdom. While I’m not sure this is always true, I do know that with age also comes a creeping inability to know what it’s really like to be a young person today. This is particularly maddening, most under-24s will tell you, when they hear themselves and their issues being aired in the public arena by politicians, policymakers and commentators twice their age.
Working on a special youth edition of Society Guardian, the overriding feeling shared by the young writers involved was one of frustration at the stereotypical view of young people (and if this sounds like a plaintive teenage whine of “no one understands us”, it wasn’t; their complaints about misrepresentation were more valid than that).
So it’s not surprising that in three years of campaigning and going to conferences, seminars and workshops on youth crime, activist Eliza Reberio, 17, says she feels “the research findings and the observations made did not always convey the reality… nothing that was being done or said was making the changes that were required”.
Which is why Reberio and her young peers at the London-based anti-violence campaign Lives Not Knives are planning a youth-led conference, aptly titled Putting the Record Straight, which they want to hold at the end of March.
Reberio explains: “We think it is time that the young people of London had their chance to speak and in fact put the record straight to significant policy makers and make sure not only that their voices are heard, but the right changes are made.” LNK sends peer mentors into schools to share experiences of gang culture and reduce its appeal.
Eliza Reberio explains the aims behind her Lives Not Knives campaign
The government recently announced £18m for tackling knife crime and gun and gang culture following a report into the issue by former EastEnders actor Brooke Kinsella. Kinsella, whose 16-year-old brother, Ben, was stabbed to death in 2008, was appointed as a government adviser on knife crime last year.
Compared to the high-profile Kinsella launch – welcome as it is – Reberio’s has a more grassroots feel to it. She launched LNK in 2007 at the age of 14 because, as she explains, “the toll of teenagers being stabbed due to youth crime and gang culture made an impact on me and others around me.” Expelled from her school for disruptive behaviour, Reberio realised that she was accepting knife crime as nothing out of the ordinary: “I heard about friends being stabbed and I thought it was normal..I would get texts saying someone had been stabbed the night before and I wasn’t shocked. Then I looked at my friends’ little brothers and sisters waking up to those texts and I wanted to change things.”
Printing and selling t-shirts emblazoned with the words “lives not knives” to family and friends, Reberio used the proceeds of the sale to hold a DJ night in her hometown of Croydon, south London, “for youth to have fun without violence” attended by 150 young people.
The campaign mushroomed and corporate donations lead to a booklet written and drawn by young people, depicting their experiences of knife violence and gang culture – thousands of copies were distributed to Croydon schools. LNK now has a 20-strong team of mentors including those who have either lost a friend, been a victim or perpetrator of violent crime or are ex-gang members. Reberio has just won a Diana Award for her work and the project is part-funded by Croydon council, which has made her a local ambassador.
Last year, the young campaigner was picked to feature in the Channel 4 project, Battlefront, which follows a group of 14-21-year-olds as they turn their issues into campaigns.
Now, Reberio’s plan with the youth conference is to work with other community youth led organisations and show organisations such as the police, youth justice staff, politicians, policy makers, adults, parents and teachers “how life really is for young people on the streets of London, how youth violence is affecting our lives and the real changes that need to be made to make London a safer place for young people”.
The young campaigers are now looking for a central London venue and help with everything from organising the event to identifying contacts – young people as well as youth-related organisations – who might benefit from the event.
Anyone who can help or advise should email Reberio firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on this page.