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Embracing Black History Month

23rd October 2015

We spoke to Patrick Davis and Oliver O'Donohoe, Merton & Wandsworth Boys & Young Men's Project Workers, about their service and how Black History Month is important for the young men they work with.

Tell us about your service, what do you offer?

Patrick: "METRO's Boys and Young Men service offers a bespoke combination of 1-2-1 sessions and targeted group work in Wandsworth and Merton to enhance young people's sexual intelligence. The project is aimed at vulnerable young men on the periphery of social exclusion with chaotic lifestyles and involves joint work with all associated professionals. The project also works with schools, colleges, youth clubs, pupil referral units, alternative education providers and through outreach work. Topics covered in group work include Positive Sex and Relationships, Fatherhood, Attitudes around Gender and Masculinity, Sexually Bullying, Condoms and Contraception, Communication and Domestic Violence."

Oliver: "There is now much research into how young men best learn and absorb information, particularly with regard to the sensitive and taboo issues we are dealing with. As opposed to directive teaching, we are often delivering using kinaesthetic and visual learning techniques, knowing that young men in particular are much more physical and reactive in their response to the world than young women. In addition, creating teamwork exercises aid in breaking down barriers that young men often hold up in front of their peers."

Tell us a little about yourselves, what are your interests?

Patrick: "I am avid reader, primarily science fiction, reading is like food to me. I have been working with young people and adults in one capacity or another for the last 20 years in various settings, primary and secondary schools, colleges, social services, youth offending service, Connexions etc. I also consider myself to be an adult in training because there is so much to learn and experience; hopefully I'll be able to get through my bucket list before I de-materialise from this wonderful planet of ours. I'm really looking forward to becoming a grandparent, my daughter is expecting her first child next year - whoop whoop! "

Oliver: "Music has always been a strong passion of mine. I've pursued production and performance in various capacities as well as studying and working within the commercial music industry for several years. My creative leanings are now channelled in to critical thinking and emotional and relational development as a trainee psychotherapist. This training when integrated with my 2 years of experience as a sexual health youth worker for METRO, contributes vastly to the work I now do with boys and young men. With this work, which never fails to surprise and inspire, I wish to explore how best to not only direct and inform our young men in the most effective way(s) possible, but also how best to listen to and understand their often complex needs. Plus I've just taken a leap and started learning Italian! Ciao."

Many of the boys and young men you work with have BME backgrounds. Does Black History Month feature in any of your work?

Patrick: "I try to incorporate it in group sessions where the opportunity or need arises, highlighting the importance of Black History Month for young people is vitally important as it gives Afro-Caribbean young people and adults a sense of identity, purpose and belonging. For those who are not Afro-Caribbean a better understanding of the journey we have undertaken and the mutual contributions added to our multi-cultural society which we love."

Oliver: "This question sparks many things for me. As Patrick rightly observes, a recurring theme in our work (one of many) is the cultural and ethnic minority demographic of our young men. As a white gay man, I wonder how clear is the message that the agenda for something like Black History Month, or even Gay Pride, Trans Pride, or any aspect of the feminist movement (to name a few examples), is for both those who belong to those groups AND as importantly, for those who do not. These are all fundamentally existential issues, and as with the protection of children being everyone's responsibility, why is discrimination protection against any minority not worthy of the same attitude - besides whether there are laws that prohibit that?"

How do you support your service users to address their needs?

Patrick: "The use of our BASK assessment assists young people to address some of the issues they are facing, exploring safely the complex world of sex and relationship. I generally adopt an appreciative enquiry approach which helps the young person discover assets and skills which they may have previously been unaware of. By staying away from the more usual deficit model commonly used by statutory agencies, gives us an edge when working with our future - young people are our future."

How can we refer people to the service?

Patrick: "Currently the service operates in Wandsworth and Merton, we will happily take referrals from these boroughs. Most of our referrals currently come from statutory agencies but we are open to self and internal referrals as well as other community organisations working with young people. Our hope is the service will expand!"

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