Youth Violence Solution? Authorities Should Stop Ignoring Activists
London and Philadelphia -- Over three thousands miles and more than forty years in age separate anti-violence activists Bilal Qayyum and Noel Williams, yet each advocates a similar solution to ‘the problem’ they seek to solve in their respective cities located on separate sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Qayyum, 69, of Philadelphia, Pa and Williams, 25, of London, UK each see employment as the critical tool needed to counter violence among youth and young adults living in low-income communities.
“In all my years of working to reduce violence, it’s very clear to me that jobs are a major solution to reducing violence in low-income communities,” Qayyum said, speaking about his roots in violence-reduction efforts dating back to the 1970s when he was an anti-gang worker.
“Jobs, well-paying ones, give people a strong feeling of worth. Poverty breeds violence.”
Sadly, Williams and Qayyum each see the same roadblock on violence reduction: the persistent failure of public sector authorities on both sides of the Atlantic to fully engage community-based persons with the front-line experiences required to effectively resolve the "violence problem" that authorities proclaim they want to solve.
Williams, an ex-gang leader in southwest London turned university student, said, “Who comes to me and asks for advice? I know gangs. I know how it feels to be shot and how it feels to walk down the road feeling oppression from police.”
Williams bristles at the fact that authorities continually employ persons with no life-connection to violence as paid staff to lead violence-reduction initiatives.
“If you want to help people who’ve been to prison, why is it that people who’ve been in prison are never hired?” ex-inmate Williams asked.
“Yes, you need academics and people with college degrees, but you also need people who understand,” he explained.
Williams, who works with youth while attending a university outside of London, said, “Authorities are polite at meetings but they just don’t listen to us when it comes to the policies and programs they do.”
Both Williams and Qayyum said greater private-sector involvement is essential to reverse the crisis in unemployment among youth and young adults.
“Corporations have to buy into solving the jobs problem,” Qayyum said.
Connections between London and Philadelphia extend beyond William Penn, the London native who founded the American city in 1682.
Philadelphia has the highest level of poverty among America’s ten largest cities. The city’s poverty rate of 26.9 percent is statistically the same as in London, where 27 percent of the residents of that rapidly gentrifying city live in poverty.
In London, unemployment among 16-24 year olds is 2.5 times higher than among persons aged 25-64, according to the “London Poverty Profile” released in October 2015. In Philadelphia unemployment among 16-24 years olds is slightly less than twice that of persons aged 25-64.