Empowering one of society’s forgotten voices

Ceylon Andi Hickman, head of social action for Football Beyond Borders (FBB), explains how this educational charity re-engages children in their education through sport

In 2017, young people turned up to polling stations in their masses. Those between the ages of 18 and 24 made up 10% of the votes in the snap general election – a surprisingly high proportion, given previous elections. The moment was capitalised on by musicians, sportspeople, and politicians, while sparking what can only be described as a moral panic in mainstream media: young people were angry, and they were here to claim a stake in their future.

Two years on and that youthful idea and sense of urgency seems to have disappeared from public conversation. For the media, frustration, a word that may well come to define the period as we clumsily lurch towards Brexit, is no longer owned by the young. Instead, we have seen a reversion to lazy stereotypes which define our young people as being apathetic and disengaged about politics, society, and their future. They are simultaneously excluded from political discussions and criticised for a lack of input; and our society is poorer for it.

Working with over 700 young people weekly who are part of Football Beyond Borders (FBB), I am continually impressed and invigorated by the passion, purpose and power our young people possess.

FBB is an education charity that uses the power of football to engage with young people who are passionate about the game but disengaged in education. We work in schools across the country to support young people with their behaviour and learning, reigniting their passion for education using a football-themed curriculum, therapeutic support, reward trips, and of course, time on the football pitch.

But it is much more than that. FBB isn’t just a service-delivery organisation that is drafted in to help tackle a problem. It’s a social movement. Our staff, young people and volunteers are on a mission to create an inclusive society where no young person is excluded and everyone is supported to reach their potential.

Part of how we go about achieving our mission is through our social action scheme of work. ‘Social action’ might be a bit of a buzzword in policy circles but its essence is one that I fundamentally agree with. According to a government statement: “social action is about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve the problems that are important in their communities.” In other words, it’s caring about your community and wanting to do something about it.

Young people within FBB have jumped at the chance to engage in these projects. We are fortunate enough to be living in the same generation as Raheem Sterling, a man inherently committed to calling out injustice and discrimination by using his platform to highlight the racist sports media while also providing opportunities for young people. Our project starts with Raheem. He is the perfect role model, demonstrating that one’s voice is a weapon and it can be used to change the world for the better.

After learning the core principles of social action such as assets, community and platforms through Raheem’s story, it’s the young peoples’ turn to decide what the issue is that they want to tackle, and how they are going to go about it.

We’ve had:

  • 12-year-olds creating photography exhibitions to demonstrate the importance of nature conservation and its positive effect on mental health;
  • 14-year-olds collaborating with Amy Druquer, founder of This Fan Girl, to challenge the ‘angry black girl’ stereotype through a series of co-created images; and
  • 16-year-old boys in a pupil referral unit choosing to challenge permanent school exclusions through powerful speeches highlighting the detrimental effects to a young person’s education and later life opportunities.

It’s difficult to see how these young people could ever be labelled apathetic.

If we allow young people space and time to define their community, identify the assets they possess and talk openly about the issues that impact on their lives, we will be reminded how fortunate we are to share a classroom, and society, with them. As educators, we have a duty to support young people on this journey of discovery of not only injustice, privilege and disadvantage but also themselves. Reminding young people that they are the ones with the power to change the world is imperative for our future.

Football Beyond Borders are hosting a workshop for students at this year’s Aspirations Show in July. Read more about the event designed to raise aspirations in students.

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