At a surprise birthday party in Lagos, spirits were high as three children told a congregation about their family history. Two proud parents looked out onto their creations with admiration and joy. This happy scene was interrupted by a health issue that would result in the migration of a family from Nigeria to London.
This is the story of how a young boy named Damilola Taylor began his life in the UK. The familiar name takes us back to a time when parents were reminded of their greatest fear. The BBC produced a show which documented the life of the Taylor family as they moved into a council estate in South London. It demonstrated the love and will to do whatever it took to keep the family strong. Joyful scenes showed Damilola rejoicing that he was finally able to leave Nigeria and go to London where his parents and siblings have been before. To him, the attractiveness of the big smoke was glamorised by television and his love for football.
Unfortunately, for those young people who grew up living in London, the traps and dangers were all too familiar. The brick walled estates which seemed to be a place of adventure to Damilola held within something sinister that would cut his life short.
I grew up in Clapton, Hackney. One of the poorest boroughs in London. After school, I would race home to do my homework so I could I go out on the block. Surrounded by my friends who would break conversations to answer one of their many phones, I saw a life that I didn’t want to be part of.
Fortunately for me, I had the Pedro Club. Established in 1929 by Baroness Harwood and was revived in the 1960’s with the support of Dame Elizabeth Taylor, the Pedro Club was where I spent most of my time. Whether it be playing basketball or playing computer games, everyday, I would ask my dad for 30p to pay for my entry to the club. Young people would gather around whilst budding DJs and MCs would play garage music and spray bars. Others would play pool while people queue for their turn on Street Fighter. It was a great place to be. Of course, in the ends, there are people with egos. Rudeboys that would come in and take the controller out of your hand and dare you to do something about it. But that would be stopped quick by a tall man named James Cook.
James Cook MBE was a local resident. He also happened to be a former British Super-Middleweight Boxing Champion. So when you saw him coming, you fixed up and looked sharp. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to these guys, which wasn’t hard considering his size. He earned the respect from the troublemakers and his presence kept them outside. The Pedro Club was very welcoming. For those who were on the roads living life dangerously, the club was a oasis. A place where they kids could actually be kids and put away their facade of manhood. I can confidently say that if it wasn’t for the club, I would’ve fallen victim to the things that my friends were burdened with.
The death of Damilola Taylor was tragic. In the BBC screenplay, written by Levi David Addai, a scene which showed forensics walking out from the shadows with a bag containing the bloody silver jacket was particularly moving. Having your worst fear confirmed visually will be something that would stay with you for the rest of your life. Having lost close family and friends to knife crime, I have borne witness to the pain that is brought on by someone’s fatal mistake. These situations were what kept me in Pedro instead of following some of my friends.
As I moved from Hackney to other boroughs in London, I quickly realised that the opportunity to join another youth club was a hard task. Funding was being cut and centres were closing. This resulted in more young people being out on the streets with nothing to do. Kids jammin’ outside of Tesco Metros annoying shoppers and causing problems for shopkeepers.
In the BBC television drama; Damilola: Our Loved Boy, Richard Taylor, after going back to the scene of his son’s death, met with some kids on the block. After showing them attention, albeit a stern one, the boys showed a level of respect for a strong male presence. Richard then set on the path to create a safe space where kids can be kids. A community meeting served as the catalyst which resulted in Damilola’s father using the generous donations to build the Damilola Taylor Trust.
Richard Taylor wanted do what he could to enable kids to learn, play and interact with others without the fear of confrontation and violence.
Since Damilola’s death, 204 teenagers on London have died as a victim of knife crime. There are various factors that have led to these results but I feel that having a place where young people can feel free to be themselves can go a long way to improve things. Being on the roads, you find yourself keeping up the identity of a strong heartless character. Most of my friends came from single parent homes where their mother or father worked long hours to make ends meet. Because of this, they didn’t have a curfew like I did. They didn’t have to report their whereabouts or make sure that they were actually doing something if they were out of the house.
When my dad worked late, he knew that I was in the local youth club doing something productive or simply having fun.
To quote the late Whitney Houston, I believe the children are our future. We need a place where they can feel safe and be in a positive space under the supervision of trusted adults that have kind hearts who genuinely want to help. If the government was really about what they say and want to put in place preventative measures, then investing in youth clubs across the capital would be a major talking point. Putting people in positions to create a platform for the next generation to be contributing members of society.
And government? Fuck government / N****s politic theyselves - Jay-Z, Where I’m From
Even if we take the government out of the equation, there are many fortunate people who came from these impoverished places that can come back to the ends and setup something to help the people. It’s easy for me to sit here and say, “hey, rich guy, build a youth club”. But I can imagine that if someone really wanted to buy a building and create a space, it wouldn’t be too hard. The problem comes with the lack of time they’ll have to see it through. This is where they could possibly look into the active members of the community and create something for them to manage to help young people.
Look, I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is, my youth club, the Pedro Club, helped me communicate with my peers, improve my social skills and showed me something bigger than the life on the roads. I will always be appreciative of that. The BBC drama, made in the memory of Damilola Taylor, has prompted something within me to write this. I was happy to see the high quality production of the drama and it showed that there is a portion of the BBC’s budget set aside to tell the story that shouldn’t be forgotten. It has been 16 years since a young energetic boy who was full of potential, bled to death in a Peckham housing estate and captivated the nations press and the public’s emotions. Maybe the decision to show the programme on prime time television will spark minds and result in something substantial for communities across London.
Rest in Peace Damilola Taylor & Gloria Taylor