THE SOAPBOX REAL TALK CREATOR JOINS THE TRIBE
Paul is someone who practices what he preaches. He knows first hand, about the issues he talks about. Coming from a background where he was likely to be selected by the authorities as someone they might ‘make an example of’, he now helps mostly young, black males avoid being in that position.
He talks with them directly, offering guidance and keeping them on track. He helps them realise their potential, in the tottenham area and beyond, and to exceed expectations. He also has a healthy approach to parenting, communicating with and encouraging them to be accountable for their children.
My name is Paul McKenzie, Tottenham born Haringey always lived, currently living in Enfield. 25 years veteran of youth work, working with mainly troubled youths trying to reintegrate them back into the community.
Young peoples potential
My role in the community is to realign the young people with the services and opportunities that they are currently missing. The majority of young people now especially young black boys in these areas, and it’s not only Haringey it’s areas like Haringey which are dotted around London are very similar in the sense that they have a massive cohort of young people that don’t know what to do with their lives. So we and other youth workers like myself interrupt these patterns that they have because we believe that young people all have opportunities and that just by virtue of being young, you should have a different outlook on life but we’re finding that many of these young people can’t see past their 18th birthday and that’s always worried me. We’ve worked with young people for 25 years I’ve seen their whole attitude towards life change, I’ve seen young people and have worked with young people who are now parents themselves, because they had that outlook on life where as the young people we’re working with now have low outlook on life and so it kinda begs the argument about how this current behaviour is being fuelled. one of my core beliefs is that young people do have potential.
Photography saved my life
If I wasn’t doing youth work at the moment one of the things I would have pursued is a career in film. Which I am still doing now but just not enough of it but I will always love photography I always find it fascinating and in fact it was one of the things that actually saved my life because when I was 15 I was going down exactly the same route as many of these young people nowadays. The only difference is, is that I had somebody who paid and active interest in my outcome. So, I was given a question and that question was; when you get out of this prison cell what are you going to do with the rest of your life? I instantly chose photography and the strangest thing is it was always inside of me. It just needed somebody to ask that question and I’ve been doing it ever since and I actually do love it. So if I wasn’t doing youth work I’d be spending much more time behind the lens.
Jail was the start for me
When I was in prison, when I was locked away for my um I wouldn’t say my upbringing but because of my behaviour because a person is never their behaviour. I was exhibiting behaviour at 15 which in reflection now warranted being locked away because, it’s a strange one because most people say going to jail is the end but actually for me going to jail was the beginning of my life because it enabled me to actually see what I wanted to do with my life. And one of the things I never wanted to do with my life again was to go back to jail. So, from the age of 15 I was fortunate to be ones of those ones who took on board the advice I was given and it helped change my life.
Always show respect
So what really worries me about young people is this, and the perception of youth nowadays is that all youth are bad. I go in shops, markets even corner shops and the way that young people are being treated you know. An example is that I was in McDonald’s two weeks ago and the security guard in McDonald’s started shouting at about 10 youths who were actually buying food and they way they were treating them like they were animals. They were in school uniform (audio cuts out) yeah the security guard treated them like absolute animals even though they were in there buying food and that got me so upset. I’m sitting there with my two sons and my wife I got up and I spoke to the security man and I said to him; how do you expect them to behave if you think they’re animals. Look if you think they’re animals you shouting at them to get their food and get out the store, you’re making them feel like they’re animals, you’re making them feel bad. They’re their school uniform coming from school having a laugh. And so, for me to get up and speak to the security guard and actually try and school him in the sense that you would not like if I spoke to you like that. You have to show some respect. So for me when I walk in a place and I see young people, I always show respect and that the only way you’re going to get respect back, is when you show them respect. The important thing is this, not all young people are bad. It’s a very small percentage of young people which display challenging behaviour, not gonna call it bad anymore, but what we do as a society is we paint all the young people with the same brush and that’s where this issue of knife and gun crime in this capital is going wrong because now the average adult looks at young people, any young person as a potential murderer and for me about showing respect in order to gain respect. When young people see that you’re showing them respect they’ll give you respect back it’s as simple as that.
Impacting on many over the years
So really working with so many young people over the years it’s been challenging but it’s one the best times of my life, this is what I’ve been cut out for. I’ve worked with almost 600 young people so you know I’m going from being a full-time mentor to being a street youth worker, an outreach worker somebody that goes into the street and just speak to young people and over the last 25 years I’ve probably affected 600 young people. And what’s really beautiful about that some of those young people are really old people now and they come up to me and say “sir do you remember me?” and I say oh yeah, because I always try and remember every young person I work with. I never do though because there’s so many of them. The whole point is this, is that they remember you and they remember that you had the time for them when they needed it most. People never forget that, they use those same values to go on and become adults and I’ve come across, in fact quite recently I came across and young man that is now mentoring and has a youth organisation and he said to me that he started that from a single talk that we had in his classroom and that to me is not only profound is just amazing to think that young people do listen. Nowadays I don’t think young people have the input they used to have, 10 years ago they withdrew all the mentors from schools. If you look at the age groups of the young people who were committing these so-called crimes nowadays 16 to 20 year olds. Those were same young people that were those primary school child at that time who had mentors in their life who had that additional support, they were affected when it was reduced. So for me to continue mentoring is the most valuable job in the world because young people need those role models
“Don’t be too hard on them, they will be pushing us in wheelchairs soon”
My way of mentoring
For me the process of mentoring anybody a child an adult involves pretty much listening as much as you can and offering you know, its non-judgemental process. And what young people find is that they are being judged for everything, especially now young people are being judge for everything that happens and so they start speaking the same language. If you listen to the average young person speak now, they’re speaking as if someone has already judged their life and that’s where it goes wrong. But for me mentoring somebody means to listen and to help them on their journey. So if you get somebody that comes to you and they’re finding it difficult to handle being in school on that day, the mentors role is to process that, is to listen to that and then to offer a solution which is going to work for that young person and that step for me is that’s what mentoring is. It’s a person that’s there and what young people do is once they know there is a mentor there, they come and talk to that mentor about their issues. And like I keep going back nowadays they got schools no mentor they got no support for these young people who are having challenging tines int heir lives. And so there is a void in the community for mentors and people that are actively in their life that’s outside of the family home. So for me mentoring is always going to continue. They is one really great word called loco parentis, that’s kind of my fundamentals is somebody that’s there for your child in your absence.
A feeling of belonging
For me growing up in an area like Tottenham being surrounded by crime, drugs and failing families, I found it very difficult to maintain any sort of focus at all. The main challenge for me at that age was finding love. At very early age my mum and dad divorced and there was a lot of domestic violence I was growing up into. And so for me it was finding a family, finding love, finding someone that accepted me, finding a group that accepted me. and so it was really easy for me to get involved in taking days off school, getting involved with who I saw at the time were the popular children and actually getting into a life of crime it was the easiest thing ever. It was a simple choice but that choice meant that I was included in almost a new family and so for me when I work with a 15 year old now, I know exactly what page they’re on because it’s all about feeling that you belong somewhere and it’s challenging when you’re growing up. Most these young boys are not coming from households where mother and father are there, they are coming from households where its single parent whether its mother or father so they are really looking for that connection that thing that kinda bridges the jigsaw. And a lot of young people I work with now find it very difficult to reconnected with their parents especially their dads because their dads are not playing an active part in their lives and so in reflection it’s pretty similar to when I was growing up. However like I said before I was given a choice and I listened very very intently and carefully and made a decision to actually change my life around and I don’t think a lot of young people now have that confidence that I had at the time because they feel the need to be more involved.
One of the really important factors at play here is that, for me, you know I had one or two different role models in my life people that I could look up to that were outside of crime and I kinda mirrored their values and used their values and they worked for me. Whereas young people now their role models are the same people that are telling them to commit crime. It’s the exact same people they look up to, these are their new families they’re mirroring the behaviour of their new mentors or their new role models and so it’s really obvious what’s happening is, is that they’re just following suit. They’re just following on to you know, my mentor says go out and rob, my mentor says what I should be doing is carrying a knife; my mentor says at the age of 16 I need a fast car, I need diamonds, I need a Rolex watch. And so the challenge is now is that young people and their role models, there needs to be a significant disconnect and there needs to be a reintroduction of a role model that’s non-bias in a sense that they’re possibly older, they’re more experienced and they can offer young people different outlook on life. But young people nowadays have got a single outlook and that single outlook is to get rich or die trying.
Family protects me
So for me family is everything. I’ve grown up with my step fathers’ values, which enabled me to pass those down into what I am doing now at the moment I’m a grandfather now and I’ve got 5 sons and also 5 sisters so for me values are everything, values are what keep my family together and I worked really really hard to make sure those values are in place for my children because I understand the importance of it. So for me a really really rounded family is what protects me, protects my children because they know that there’s support all the way. They know they’ve got uncles and aunties that are there to support them and they love them. For them to make that choice to go out into the streets to and commit crime it’s a really really big choice for them to make. However, like I said for me the main part of my work is that it’s almost like what I want for every other family is what I’ve got. It takes damn hard work but it works so for me when I go out into a family where there’s a single parent and they haven’t seen dad for a long time and the boy’s really angry with his dad. My job is to try and reconnect with that father and show him why his son needs him and show him why he needs to be there for his son and actually just play an active part in your child’s life. Cause I understand it from a young age and I use the values I understood in order to maintain my present family and it works really well.
These young people will soon be supporting us
The interesting thing is this… we are seeing a significant rise in violence in young people and most adults are demonising young people; young people do this , young people are not worthy of this, young people should be locked up. But we seem to forget is that young people are the next generation, they’re going to replace us. So if we have an outlook on how London is going to be in fact how the UK is going to be in the next ten years, if we’re not thinking positively about this as adults then we may as well write ourselves off. Because the young people that are coming up now are the ones that are gonna be to supporting us in our old age. So its really really important for us as a community to rebuild that and what we should be focused on is how we can rebuild that as quickly as possible. It may take ten years to do it but unless we start doing it actively and young people can see that they are actually part of a community, the next ten years in London or England or the UK is going to be a challenging one; and it’s going to be a challenging one in the sense that young people they are not going to have the same values as us. We all know that it’s a generational thing – I don’t have the same values as my father, however I have aversion of those values 99% of those values are good. And so for young people now growing up without any value of life at all or values on money or how to earn, legally unless we start putting those values back in our community and that involves us walking our walk, it involves us getting out there and being the role models and mentors that these young people need. The next ten years in London in the UK is going to be a very challenging one, it gonna be a very challenging one in a sense that we’re already picking up the pieces from a broken generation. Unless we take a active stand right now as the older generation, young people are going to have no guidance whatsoever.
A joint community
I keep talking about how the community needs to get together and form some kind of a representation of what life needs to be like for young people and over these last 10 years I’ve come up against the same challenge all of the time you know it’s this youth and knife violence is nothing new, social media and mainstream media have made it the topic of the day. For me I’ve been seeing this for the last 10 years or so and the issue is this, is that every time I talk to the family of a young boy who’s gone to prison there’s never any accountability for that young person, it’s always the young person’s fault the parents are never able or never willing to be accountable and what we need to do as a community is to be accountable for our community. So that’s the main challenged I’ve faced over the last few years or the last 10 years is accountability. If you look at black businesses, if you look at the way we claim to support black businesses but the action’s always different and that’s just one example. You know a black business could be right on the corner of your road in your community and it gets the least support possible because we are not being accountable. But what we are very good at doing is outsourcing our money or spending with another community so I’m not taking this down the whole black route, I’m taking it down the whole support and accountability route. If we look at any other race the one thing that keeps their communities together is that they are accountable for each member of that community. And so for me that’s the key word, it’s been like this for 10 years it will be the key word for the next 10 years, is that we as a community need to be accountable for everybody in that community.
How I know I am alive
Ok every day when I wake up … I have an affirmation and it’s a really simple one and really works, it took me year to come up with it. It’s a really simple one and I put it at the end of my emails and its ‘Life is either an adventure or nothing at all.’ So every adventure I have it’s almost like Hey! You’re still alive. And so for me at this age now if my life is not a complete adventure, I mean I do something new every single day, and so for me if my life is not an adventure my life is nothing at all. One of the principals I work on every single day is find the adventure, find the adventure in there somewhere there’s no time to be bored, there’s no time to be disgruntled about the way your life has turned out because there is way too many adventures in life. So find one of those every single day and you’ll know you’re alive. Even when you get in you look at what you’ve accomplished that day and the adventure that you’ve taken on and mostly it the challenging things you know the things I’ve never done before always pushing in the right direction. But for me when I come in and sit down I think to myself, oh! Wow! I was able to do that today and that in itself is the blessing and that what keeps me alive, that’s what keeps me young and that’s what keeps my family young and you know it keeps us all in love.
Ok an adventure for me is… yesterday’s adventure was a good friend of mine called Quincy. He’s a comedian a really well-known comedian, he’s got his own show. He rings me up and says ok we’re doing this 10-minute slot on people that are changing lives and so as he talking I said well do you know anybody and he says well what I want you to do is, I’m doing a show on Sunday ( and this [call] was Saturday) and I want you to come on and talk to the audience about what you do. And so for most people they would have said ‘Are you mad? That’s never gonna happen!’ and so yesterday the event the adventure for me yesterday was to stand in front of 600 people and talk about what I do and actually use that opportunity to glue some of those community members back together. It was an amazing, amazing adventure for me.
3 words to describe me
Three words… ummm… ok… if there were three words to describe me it would be motivated, dependable and lovable.
3 words other would use to describe me
If somebody else was describing me it would be… reliable, trustworthy and dependable