By Alex Augustine

Less than a year after being released from prison, I received a phone call from an old school friend, one of the co-founders of MAC-UK. He let me know what it was all about. It sounded like an opportunity to try to make amends for the life I lived growing up, and to do something positive that I might be good at. 

I ran workshops on how to engage young people in gangs, or at risk of joining gangs. I was also part of a team that went into schools, prisons and youth clubs. We used music as a platform to engage with the young people, a form of Street Therapy. Street Therapy is about speaking to a young person in an environment which is comfortable for them. We looked and sounded like the guys they looked up to, the guys they see on YouTube. Because of that, it was a lot easier for us to get their attention, teach them things and be listened to by them. Our aim was to reduce negativity and guide these young people down the right path.

We looked and sounded like the guys they looked up to, the guys they see on YouTube.... [so] it was a lot easier for us to get their attention and be listened to by them.

In my role as a Peer Researcher for the Centre, I attend the Up My Street events and capture every little detail that helps to affect that day, people's moods and people's mental health, whether for the better or worse. I might take notes on certain individuals who have more of an influence over the group than others, the subjects being spoken about. My job is to capture that event, talk about what's going well, what isn't going well, what's the underlying thing in an incident.

At the events, it just feels like everyone in the room has love for each other. Everyone agrees that mental health in black culture needs to be spoken about, that young black men should have these platforms to get together, hash out their frustrations, and empower each other. The UMS project has affected the mental health of young black men in a positive way.

The perception society has of black boys and black men isn't always true. I've been lucky enough to be in environments where I've seen the other side, people getting along. There's none of these postcode wars, everyone's working together, laughing together.

I didn't foresee how much an effect being involved in the project would have on me, how much it would inspire me and give me hope

I didn't foresee how much an effect being involved in the project would have on me, how much it would inspire me and give me hope, which is really quite powerful. It's made me resilient. I've faced a lot of adversity in my life. Being asked to evaluate these events, the effect that the bonding on the day has had on me, has given me the strength to get through my own personal problems. I can always think back to an event I was at, and smile to myself and feel strong. I can know that, somewhere, something much bigger than me exists, which is that positive energy, all those young black men in a room, having love for each other and wanting the best for black culture.

In my predominantly white neighbourhood, I'm always aware of the looks and the tension as I'm walking down the street. But the involvement I've had in the projects has given me a different mind frame than I would have had before. So I just take the looks as a positive, I feel empowered by them, rather than anything negative. Another young black guy moved into the area; he's constantly defending himself and feeling negative about the tension that's around. You can see how racism and racial tension affects the two of us. Being involved in these projects gives me the strength and the resilience to walk down the street and feel confident and happy and smile, even though I'm surrounded by a lot of negative feelings and negative eyes. I can see how it affects young black males, I've experienced it, but I've chosen to take it as a positive.

Learn more about our work with young African Caribbean men here

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