Teen music project wins Philip Lawrence award

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The Independent Online

Yemi Akinfenwa was once made painfully aware of music's potential to spread negative ideas about violence and disrespect for others when he wandered through his native Tottenham. But the experience also led to the realisation it could be a force for good too.

"I was watching this 12-year-old-boy who was reciting negative lyrics from his favourite garage acts. I thought what a powerful influence music had on the younger generation. Then I thought that if they listened to positive music this could have a real impact," he said.

It was upon those ideals that Let's Be Positive was born. The musical collective from the Seven Sisters area of north London has now recorded three albums and helped thousands of youngsters see the positive side to life - a side that does not glorify gun crime and misogyny.

Instead the songs - written, performed and produced by the youngsters themselves - promote self-empowerment and encourage their peers to engage with social and political issues from the effect of the 7 July bombings to the war in Iraq.

The group was one of eight to receive a Philip Lawrence Award from the Home Secretary John Reid yesterday. Set up in memory of the popular headmaster murdered outside his London school 11 years ago as he attempted to protect a pupil, they celebrate outstanding citizenship by groups of young people aged 11 to 20.

Mr Lawrence's widow Frances, who attended the ceremony at London's Bloomsbury Theatre and was on the judging panel with broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald, launched an impassioned defence of the nation's youth.

"If we believe everything that we read in some newspapers or watch on television you could be left with the impression society is hurtling towards destruction and very often young people are the cause," she said.

"I wish that every single person that moans about the youth of today could be with us here this morning. If they were they could not fail to experience the positive spirit radiating around this theatre and I think they would feel a lot more optimistic about this country."

Now in their ninth year, the awards were given to groups dealing with a range of issues from disability rights to bullying, racism and teenage pregnancies. All were set up and run by the youngsters themselves

Mr Reid said the awards showed "many examples" of good things that young people were doing.

He said: "If we brought here today every young person in the community who is doing something good then this theatre would not be big enough. In fact, every theatre in London would be too small for the tens of thousands of young people who contribute to rather than take from our society."

Winning youth groups

* Let's Be Positive: North London youth music collective seeking to promote positive thinking

* Aldbourne Youth Council: Raised £7,500 to build a BMX racing track after council ordered their impromptu circuit be dismantled for health and safety reasons

* Gateshead Young Women's Outreach Project: Launched Drink Safe campaign after learning of a young woman whose drink was spiked

* It Happens: Burgess Hill-based group of teenage mums who aim to make youngsters aware of the financial and emotional costs of having a baby

* Nang! Magazine: Topical magazine based in east London has gained interviews with stars including Sven-Goran Eriksson. Plans to launch a website

* Soul and Fame: Sheffield-based group seeking to build the confidence of young people with learning difficulties and challenge ignorance of disability issues

* Truancy Awareness Project: Former truants from Luton who seek to persuade other youngsters of the benefits of staying in education through drama

* Venue: Flintshire church group has raised £6,000 to help Bulgarian orphans suffering mental health problems and also runs a youth club

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