Over the past four weeks, a group of Suffolk based young people from a wide diaspora have come together to work with Mark Straw and Kieran Manners from Ipswich and Suffolk Council of Racial Equality culminating in an inspiring session at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds.
The young people are exploring and identifying landmark moments in their journeys from birth to adulthood. At eighteen these boys become men, shaped by circumstance, experience, their personal choices and the choices of others around them; parents, guardians, ‘the system’. During the opening of the session, the group recaped the topics they have previously explored including ‘stereotype’ and ‘assumption’; themes that appear in the work of Joseph Barnes-Phillips’ Black Theatre Live production “Big Foot”, performed at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds in 2017 and around which this project has developed. The Black Theatre Live programmes goal is to affect positive and long term change in BAME communities.
What is ‘stereotype’? Mark asks.
“It’s what happened to me yesterday”, one charming, likeable and chatty young man replies, “When five security guards jump me as I walk into the shop and pin me down because they think I have something in my coat – a weapon.” This small frame boy in an M&M t-shirt is as likely to carry a weapon as Mickey Mouse, I think to myself.
What is ‘assumption’? Mark asks. A young man replies “I can’t answer that, my English isn’t good”. Then continues, “Never judge a book by its cover”, answering Marks question confidently and smiling quietly.
This bilingual young man is clever and astute, as are all the young people engaged in this program. So what has bought them to a project for young people out of education, employment or training?
During today’s workshop we continue to look at early memories.
- Navigating migration
- The care system
- Starting school with no English
- Welcoming new siblings
- School success
- School exclusion
- Relationships with motherland
- Family over seas
- Driving through the Autobahns of Germany in the fast lane – heading to Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Rumania
- Taking the plane to witness the last ports of the first slaves leaving Africa
- No relationship with family
- Learning to ride a bike
- Learning to smoke
- Learning how to drive – with or without a licence
- The “Feds”
- Baseball bats
- Entering into training
- Volunteering and committing to this programme under the guidance and expertise of Mark and Kieran – who these young men obviously trust and respect.
This group of resilient and inspiring young men have shared their stories, their personal journeys in life voluntarily, and entrusted them to Mark and Kieran. These stories are heading to Highpoint Prison and will be handed over to a group of ten men who are currently living there.
Todays workshop completed Phase One of this project. Phase Two will see prisoners respond via letter to these life stories which Mark has been carefully transcribing during the past month, keeping the content intact, unedited and ready to share with the men at Highpoint and Joseph Barnes-Phillips. Along with Mark and Kieran, Joe will lead sessions at Highpoint. Letter writing featured as a tool in his performance and Joe will bring this along with other tools of the theatre to the project.
These younger men’s stories are not dissimilar from the Highpoint men’s own stories. The men at Highpoint will be offering their experience and reflections with the aim of creating a dialogue, through letter, to have impact on these younger men in this crucial year where they transition from boy to man, eighteen and adults in the eyes of the law.
These two groups of men, younger and older, have a lot to offer each other through a reflective honesty and an openness that only shared experience can engender.
I am looking forward to Phase Two and seeing the outcome of this extraordinary relationship. I thank all the young people involved today for welcoming me to the session, to be a part of this experience and share in some of this journey.
Joined by Danusia Iwaszko, Playwright/Associate Artist and Karen Simpson Artistic Director.