Story and photo: Ian Clifford
Applause reverberated around Verdon Street following the speech by Professor Gus John at the Peace and Reconciliation meeting organised by Rob Smith and the African and African- Caribbean Committee (AACC).
Leading black intellectual and former Chief Education Officer at Hackney Council, Gus spoke of his sadness at recent events and that Sheffield was amongst the growing number of cities mourning young dead from guns and violence.
Gus condemned the increasing tendency in society to see the phenomenon of young black people killing each other as somehow genetically restricted to the black community.
Referring to his own background, with parents who had high aspirations for their children, despite being illiterate, Gus condemned the elitist education system in the UK that historically considered the high aspirations of those from the Caribbean as inappropriate. He went on:
“Black young people are now an underclass in fear of one another and at odds with society and there is no evidence that this is being taken on within the school agenda. We need to look behind these incidents at what characterises the condition of being young and black in British society. These issues are not being addressed either systematically or structurally by the system.”
But Gus also had words for the community, stating that: “an antilearning culture has gripped young people, who harass those young people who have high aspirations. We don’t spend enough time talking to our young people about this.”
Referring to those who carry weapons, Gus said: “These timid young people, who are acting in such a cowardly manner, don’t deserve to be called gangs – parents need to take more responsibility. In Manchester, there are grandparents who go to church holding guns in their attics for young people and who know the buildings where guns are stored. Nobody can tell me that we don’t have the capacity within our community to deal with these issues. We have no right to live in fear of these cowardly young men.”
Discussion followed involving representatives of the police, education and other services. The meeting closed with the AACC promising to continue to debate these issues. For more information, contact Rob Smith on 07825 943 187.