Three Birmingham teenagers diverted from the fringes of gang culture by an innovative Youth Service and police project have taken lyrical inspiration from their journey – and are now set to star in a national poetry competition!
Girl group Sherika (16), Shanequa (17) and 16-year-old Anora hope their “raw urban” verses will impress judges at the up-coming Poetry Slam event in London.
The unlikely bard trio has been brought together by Birmingham City Council’s Youth Service and West Midlands Police’s Interventions Team which works with 100s of hard-to-reach young people to steer them away from street gangs.
Inspired by their own experiences and how they’re getting their lives back on track, the teens have penned lyrics they hope will strike a chord with others who find themselves slipping into a life of to crime and anti-social behaviour.
And in preparation for the 3-4 April rhyme rumble at London’s Southbank they’ve collaborated with acclaimed performance poet and former Birmingham Poet Laureate Giovanni Esposito – aka Spoz – to give their act a dynamic edge.
Detective Constable Amy Freeman from the Interventions Team, which was established in 2012, said: “By their admission Sherika, Shanequa and Anora had got caught up in anti-social behaviour, were on the fringes of gang culture and at risk of getting drawn into criminality.
“Working with us they’ve made huge progress and their futures are looking much brighter than this time last year…and now they’re going to represent Birmingham in a national event!
“Poetry Slam is helping them generate a sense of pride in their city…and if someone has a sense of belonging and pride in where they live they’re less likely to do negative things that could damage its reputation.”
The Interventions Team is currently working with around 800 young people across the West Midlands.
They work closely with alternative education providers – schools for children removed from mainstream education due to behaviour issues – help secure work placements, mentoring and activities to boost self-confidence.
The focus for many activities is Birmingham City Council’s Lighthouse Youth Centre – a state-of-the-art facility in Aston/Newtown launched in 2012 to offer a range of innovative programmes designed to keep local youngsters off the streets and boost their future prospects.
Birmingham City Council Senior Youth Worker Juliet Faulkner, said: “Poetry Slam shows how we can help young people to turn their lives round with fun and engaging activities.
“Staff at The Lighthouse are dedicated to supporting and encouraging the hundreds of teenagers who visit the centre and run all sorts of innovative projects to promote positive behaviour from cake baking to dance and drama.
“This latest partnership with the police and local poet Spoz marks another milestone in the centre’s creative approach to supporting young people. I wish Sherika, Shanequa and Anora all the very best of luck at the competition.”
Other success stories include the council and police working with 12 members of a fledgling urban street gang in Newtown and Aston that has helped most return to full-time education, training or employment…with only two going on to re-offend.
Whilst a project involving 15 girls at risk of sexual exploitation and gang membership – including an educational residential programme and mentoring – resulted in four going on to be mentors themselves and another named Birmingham Police’s Youth Ambassador.
DC Freeman, added: “We’re always looking for innovative ways to work with young people.
“Such events help us break down barriers between police and young people and give us an opportunity to hear their experiences and help them understand police procedures they may have encountered such as police bail and stop and search powers.”