Peace Mix: Ending gang culture through music

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The Independent Online
Uanjuma Joseph Thompson is the co-founder of charity New Day Foundation. In his own words he talks about growing up in Birmingham, why he helped set up the NDF and the charity's latest project Peace Mix. When I was young we used to go to our local community space in the summer: the Aston Villa Leisure and Sport Centre. There used to be events there all the time. You could go down there any day of the week and meet kids from Hansworth, Ladywood, Moseley, Hartley; young people from all postcodes having fun together. That was how I met most of my first friends some of whom have sadly passed away through gang crime. In our area of inner city Birmingham we all grew up together, even if we lived in estates away from each other and across town, we used to hang out in the same places and go to the same parks. There were always community centres we could go to which kept the community spirit alive. But as I grew up those community centres disappeared. They even tore down the apparatus in the park that we used to use. With nowhere to hang out and nothing to do, pretty soon one thing led to another: disenfranchised kids with no community centres gradually getting involved in serious crime - we see it all the time. When they end up to prison they have to get in with the right people to get protection and survive, this is how kids I know learn and adopt a gang culture. By far the biggest misconception about kids in gangs is that they’re bad kids. They’re loving and caring, if you give them a hug and you’ll feel the intensity and love from them. Inside of the circles they’re involved in you’ll see that clearly what they're really like but outside of that you won’t even glimpse it. They’re on the other side of an impenetrable wall. However things are changing again, community centres, a community spirit and big social projects are all happening once more. There’s loads going on for young people to get involved in but they now feel those places are not for them – they feel left out, alienated, uncomfortable. Seeing what was happening on the street, I got involved in the New Day Foundation (NDF) which is a grass roots organisation trying to give young people in Birmingham and around the UK an alternative to gang culture. Working alongside the foundation's CEO and my cousin Sharif Cousins, we started coming up with ideas for what we could do to help the community, how we could help with crime prevention and start to reduce gang conflict in the area. This year we wanted to hold an event over the Olympics. During a meeting between the NDF and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), which is one of our partners, someone said: “Why don’t we pass around a mic instead of a torch?” and from that Peace Mix was born. Peace Mix is the project we’re working on at the moment and it’s got two parts. We have a Mic Relay passing the golden mic around the UK at our music events, highlighting local, BIG and publicly-funded music studios. Then there's an online competition where young people can upload lyrics and music to a crowd sourced music track to win a chance to perform with Tinchy Stryder at the Roundhouse in London. Basically, we’re trying to get kids from all walks of life, including ones at risk of getting involved in gangs, to ‘stop making trouble and start making music’. We want them to get involved with the track and to see their local BIG and publicly-funded music studio as a positive space that they can use to be creative. Most importantly, we want it to be a meeting place for young people from different areas in their city and see that they’re not so bad after all. The NDF wants to show these kids that you can still be strong and be part of a team, part of a family but you can also part of something good and positive. You can still make money and express yourself. For more information about Peace Mix go to