21st October 2020

We were joined by the 6 men behind United to Change and Inspire (UTCAI), Patrick Hutchinson, Chris Otokito, Jamaine Facey, Lee Russell, Troy Davis and Richard Pascoe. A business founded on the belief that we need to wrap our arms around Black youth and create a better path of opportunity.

So how did these 5 men come together in this mission?

They start at the very beginning. Jamaine explained that after the death of George Floyd in the states, he was moved by the volume of young Black people that wanted to speak out against generations of discrimination despite covid restrictions: “Covid 19 is supposed the be a deadly virus, but they saw that racism is more of a killer to our society and our people. They didn’t care about covid, they wanted to go out there to protect and protest against injustice. 

Jamaine recalled looking around during one of the early protests and seeing very young adults engaged in serious altercations with the police. He described being troubled at the lack of an older presence. Then came the call to arms from Tony Robinson of the EDL.

This spurred him to pull together a group of like-minded friends to attend the protest as “overseers, not partakers”. The men explained how they helped diffuse multiple situations that day as the police stood by “watching and filming”. However, one of those moments of the intervention was captured and became an iconic image from the protests.

This was the image of Patrick coming to the aid of a counter-protestor, pulling him out of a dangerous fight and into safety. 

It was at this moment, that their mission was created. This iconic image gave them a platform through which they could create meaningful change. What Patrick did, showed the best of humanity: humanity that exists in all of us. This image did not need to remain static, it needed to be something powerful and dynamic." This is the moment that UTCAI was born and four key pillars within it: education, mental health and wellbeing, youth development and reform.

The issue of stigma in the Black community around mental health and the particular pressure young Black men feel to be a “man” is Chris’ driving force. He drew attention to the fact that the Black community is disproportionately affected by mental health issues. There is a higher risk of depressions, anxiety, suicide, and higher rates of sectioning within this community. Racism is a significant contributing factor to this. He explained that the work he does through UTCAI centres on “shining a light and connection to an amazing group of people” who are already working in this space. They’re “not re-inventing the wheel” as he puts it...Providing access to mental health resources specifically for Black youth who encounter unique issues within our society is fundamental in the mission to drive change.

The difference between race relations across the country is something Jermaine touched on. His experience as a Brummy moving to London exposed to him how the police treat Black youth. It was his interaction with a police officer at a young age that ignited his drive to redefine how society engages with young people. He believes police require better training in how to engage and approach their communities. He recalls how only recently he was stopped by a young white police officer who was “probably scared” of him which speaks to the systemic racism that is rife in our society.

It’s clear that Lee feels passionate about older generations responsibility to younger ones. His focus is on youth development and spoke to how he didn’t grow up with a father figure, like many of the children UTCAI engage. He wants the organisation to provide the youth with positive role models that they might otherwise be lacking. 104 youth clubs disappeared in London, only leaving 109 in the capital. These institutions have been a core part of how communities have engaged with underprivileged youth in the past and Lee suggested that this gap is leaving kids with nowhere else to turn but the streets where they get into trouble. Alarmingly, children under 16 are more likely to get stabbed 2 hours after leaving school as they don’t have these safe havens to go to. When asked about the government’s responsibility in funding these places, he simply puts it, “you can’t give up on the youth”.

Patrick echoes this, explaining how intervention through, education and training is instrumental in the development and prevention of young Black people ending up in gangs. They need to see that people in society still care about them.

How then can businesses make a difference? Richard thinks that issues within companies such as unconscious bias and microaggressions stem from a lack of diversity of people within senior positions. There is a lack of challenge to the status quo in those key decision-making roles which has created a ceiling that people of colour keep hitting, before getting frustrated and then leaving. Which ultimately, damages the mental health of this talent.

What do these men want a future for their children to look like? Patrick echoes Dr King and says he wants his children and grandchildren to be “judged by the content of their character and not the colour of their skin”. Troy uses an African phrase to answer this. “It takes a village to raise a child. We all have a responsibility in our community if we see any children going astray, irrespective of their colour, to step and influence in a positive way what we can do to help them to grow.”

Finally, Chris answered a question on the need for Afrocentric education in building a more progressive society. He built on Troy’s point around it taking a village to raise a child: “corporate companies, senior leaders and places of worship, people who we look up to and have influence in society have a responsibility for helping us raise that child.” On the topic of how the Black community connects with their history moving forwards; he went on to say that “change also does stem from within and if we are a community that has been detached from our culture, our heritage, our ancestral values and we’re still suffering things like ancestral trauma… It’s going to be difficult to recover from that… Black history month isn’t only in October; it cannot be condensed into one month. Black history is a lifespan and it’s something we should be practising every day”.

Rewatch the “UTCAI” event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n3_t-1Tja0