Blogs & what we have been doing

Why we took a knee

Jayden Bunting-Rolston (age 17)

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As a young black male with everything that is going on, I am joined in solidarity. What is happening is not just because of what happened in America, the killing of black men happens in the UK, it is happening everywhere. 

It is sad to think that people are still so narrow-minded and small-minded. It’s sad that people are so racist that because someone is a different skin colour they think that we are not as good as them or that we can’t do and achieve the things that they do. That sort of thinking should not happen, we are all human. 

Seeing an unarmed black man being killed, murdered for nothing made me angry. He was unarmed, he allegedly forged cheques, and it’s alleged because we really don’t know if he did it. He probably didn’t, but even if he did, he should not have lost his life. Prison time is there as punishment and that’s fair enough but someone losing their life over something as small as a forged cheque is sad. That hurts me, because to me that’s my people. How many years have we as black people been going through this? How long have we been thinking that as soon as we get some where we get pushed right back down to the bottom again. It hurts me, it hurts me to even think and speak about it.

There are numerous people trying to justify it. Some people were saying that if he didn’t break the law he would not have gotten killed. But he got killed in cold blood. That can never be right.

This hurts, my siblings are also hurt! My 7 year old sister said that she feels angry about George Floyd being killed. She said that she is angry because “they killed him for no reason just for being black”, she says that she wants them to stop because it’s unfair because they don’t do that to white people.

My younger brother said “It’s disgusting! Killing people because of their race when there are white people doing school shootings and killing innocent kids and those killers do not get the same treatment. He said that “George Floyd was a black man and he was killed for a small offence, and even if he did do fraud he should have been punished according to the level of the crime, not killed”. I agree with my siblings. They need to stop killing black people.

According to my brother “Governments need to change things. They need to put in laws and systems to stop the unnecessary killing. Police must not kill at all. They must stop using race to kill people. Stop hurting people and stop using unnecessary violence. The police need to be taught to use their voice, and use other less lethal ways to apprehend criminals because that level of violence that causes a man to die is never necessary”.

My siblings and I feel very strongly about issues that affect black people, and that is why we took a knee.

Growing up in a White Neighbourhood

Jayden Bunting-Rolston

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As a young black individual living in a predominantly white neighbourhood it comes with pros and cons. For a teenager it can get boring at times as there aren’t many places to go but if you have your friends with you it really isn’t that bad.

Sometimes I feel like I am seen as a minority. That is because of stereotyping due to my race because where I live there aren’t as many black people as there are white people. There are times when I walk down the road on my own and older white people in their 40s, 50s and 60s think that I’m intimidating, but the older ones in the 70s and 80s don’t seem to care. Why are people so judgemental? 

Sometimes I will open the doors for people and they will not say thank you, but when my white mates do it they get a thank you. I know that some of the negative reactions to me are because I’m young and not always because of my race, but there are times when I know it is definitely because of that. Why are they being so judgemental?

Because of stereotyping people assume that I am a bad youth – they judge me by the way I walk, the way I talk and the clothes that I wear, but if they speak to me they will realise that I’m not a bad youth. I am not bad. I know that there are people who assume because I am black and wearing a tracksuit that I am not intelligent but that annoys me because I am educated, kind, and caring. 

I am a lanky black kid over 6’ tall so they say that they find me intimidating especially the middle-class people around here. Why are they so judgemental? They can ask me things if they don’t know, and stop being ignorant. I had an incident when a white kid was teasing me saying that I was Nigerian, when I told him that not every black person is from Africa he threw a banana at me.

It’s not all bad, there are also many positives to living in my neighbourhood for example it is relatively crime free and I believe that it is a safe place to be brought up in. It is also visually very clean it is a nice place to be and it is closer to the countryside than the city.

Overall in my opinion living in my neighbourhood has its advantages and disadvantages but it is generally a good place to be even though there is mild racism.

WE ARE TIRED: Racial Battle Fatigue and Trauma -

Dr Yansie Rolston

We have all read and heard the news over the past two months about the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting Black Asian and Minority Ethnic people (BAME). To BAME people the huge gap in health outcomes was always evident, but to many others the disparities only became obvious by the numbers of BAME health care workers, bus drivers, and other key workers who sadly lost their lives to COVID-19. 

The shocking statistics led to a vast number of conversations, panel discussions, meetings, surveys, one-to-one chats, webinars, texts exchanges, interviews, workshops, blogs and social media postings. Yet, the Government considered it acceptable to censor the Public Health England Review ‘Disparities in the Risks and Outcomes of COVID-19’ omitting key sections including the voice of those people with lived experiences, and recommendations made.

BAME people already know that structural discrimination and racism exists, so attempting to exclude those facts is fooling no one. It only serves to reinforce what we know already – that institutional racism is like a nylon thread woven through the very fabric of society, and that there are people in positions of authority who are afraid of tugging the nylon. 

Recent events in America has pulled the nylon. It is unravelling. Witnessing the heart wrenching images of the final moments of the life of George Floyd – a Black man who was murdered by police sent shock waves throughout the world. Police mottos are “To Protect and Serve” but the vast majority of black people have no faith in that motto because there are too many instances of police officers not protecting or serving, but taking lives and telling lies.

All of this takes its toll mentally, physically and spiritually. Black people are tired! 

We are tired of negative press, tired of health inequalities, tired of micro-aggressions, structural and institutional racism, tired of being asked where we are from or why our food smells the way it does, we are tired of having to explain Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter, tired of waking up in the morning worrying that someone may accuse you of a crime you didn’t commit, tired of being the only black person in the Board room, tired of comforting our black children and grandchildren because someone called them the N word, tired of being stopped and searched, tired of being by-passed for promotion, tired of being told to “go back to your country”. 


Black people are struggling to cope with Racial Battle Fatigue and Trauma (the symptoms are similar to PTSD). Racial Battle Fatigue and Trauma causes deep emotional and psychological distress and many people are in need of support, but this is where the health inequalities raises its head again, because black mental health and wellbeing is not mainstreamed, and culturally appropriate service provision is lacking.

Black people are tired – From the moment we are born to the last breath we take we are having to fight for equality. To those allies who posted a black square on #blackouttuesday I ask you, what next? What are you going to do to address some of the issues that are making us tired, sad, scared and hurt?

The Rites of Passage – Black to the Future 1

A community child – Black to the Future (BTTF) A Sankofa Exploration of Youth Work Project was delivered after a planned pregnancy and an 18 month gestation period (I have profound empathy for female elephants). Eighteen months sounds like an eternity but that just goes to show the amount of work that went into achieving the project deliverables.

In March 2017 the parents and extended family from Germany, the Netherlands and London (with roots across the African continent) gathered together and agreed that the time was right for the fertilisation process of this truly international baby to happen. The seed was planted, before you know it the baby started to become a real thing. This meant that a birthing plan had to be developed and some support systems put in place.

From its conception there was no doubt that this baby would be nurtured and raised by the entire community, and that the younger members would be as equally involved at every stage, sharing responsibilities for its development. But come on, let’s be honest, raising a child is challenging at the best of times, and this one had some added complexities such as managing intergenerational relationships, dealing with international travel arrangements, prioritising work commitments, and all the other day to day problems that will arise when trying to create something new. So it was no surprise that some of the extended family were not able to stay the course. However, one of the great things about a community raising a child is that the smallest input can have a huge impact.

When some of the family took time off or left for whatever reason, every single bit of their input, conversation, discussion, debate, suggestions and advice was valued, and played a part in the BTTF child’s development. The village raised this child and though sometimes the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” came to mind, this child epitomises Ubuntu – “I am Because We Are”.

In September 2018 at the end of the 18 months, the parents and close family from the three countries got together for the weekend long coming of age transition. The funders (Erasmus+) end of project requirements what guided those activities, and to be honest, some of it was challenging. On the agenda were topics such as: The evaluation report; the tool kit; digital map, data entry; budgetary compliance, lessons learnt and ‘what next’. But it wasn’t all work – we time fun and laughter over breakfast and dinner, and managed to fit in a quick visit to Cambridge City Centre.

That coming of age weekend was one of self-exploration, allowing the family to do some deep introspection, and while we all acknowledged that some things could have been done differently, we felt that this community child deserved a sibling. The sibling would gain from our benefit of hindsight and from the considerable amount of informal learning that happened along the way – Collectively a vast amount of knowledge was shared such as blogging; using social media; principles of Sankofa and Ubuntu; the art of journaling; digital mapping; undertaking evaluations; intergenerational interpretations; appreciative enquiry; world café; valuing diversity; managing conflict; developing a toolkit; and a powerful session on “To Us Africa is Home”. That’s not all though because the family were also very fortunate to visit spaces and places in Europe that engage with the topic of Black Youthwork.

The delivery of this child is by no means the end, so if you are interested, watch this space because Migrafrica – our project partner in Germany has submitted a follow up application for BTTF2 to explore Youth Work Practice in Rotterdam, Wales, Munich, and Lisbon.

INCUBATING OUR NEW BABY – The Preparation Process

Migrafrica, Ubele, Stitchin Interlock and Providers of Social Response to Development (PRSD) are delighted to announce the incubation of another beautiful baby BTTF 11. A much needed sibling to our community baby- BTTF 1

This new offspring will be delivered in March 2021 after a 24 month gestation period, and for those involved in BTTF 1 it feels like we are gluttons for punishment. The first one had an 18 months gestation, which seemed like an eternity, so how we ended up committing to a further 24 months is anyone’s guess. But having that extra time does mean with careful planning we will be able to avoid the frantic last minute rush to complete the Erasmus reporting requirements. Plus, because this time around we are not only going to be exploring youth work practice in Portugal, Germany, Netherlands and England, the time will come in handy as we take on the ambitious task of building a network of Global Diaspora Youth Work connections to share knowledge, expertise and undertake research from the perspective of the diaspora.

The incubation process was kicked off by a working weekend of the project partners at the Wolves Lane Horticulture Centre in Woodgreen, London. If you have not yet had the privilege to visit, I urge you look it up online and attend the next open day. I promise that you will be pleasantly surprised by this wonderful little-known oasis of flora, fish and food crops that sits in North London.

In the tradition of Sankofa which in Twi (Ghana) translates to “Go Back and Get It” the first thing on the agenda was to do some introspection on BTTF 1. It was very helpful to revisit the vision and mission of the partner organisations and to catch up on what everyone has been doing since we last met in September. We revelled in the successes of what worked well, reviewed the challenges, recalled some of the stories and the moments that held us all in awe and wonderment, and exchanged thoughts on the realities of undertaking this new BTTF 11 project. Time was spent exploring a number of key areas of concern amongst diaspora young people, sharing organisational and personal strengths, and focussed on collaborative ways of working. Equally important, we socialised as a team with a delicious meal at a local restaurant and even introduced some of the partners to the delights of Nando’s.

As it turns out the most time consuming task over the weekend was trying to set the dates of the next 5 transnational sessions. That is because we are a team from 4 different countries with diverse working patterns, but we also had to take into account issues such as avoiding peak travel periods, potential child care arrangements, exams timetables, other project timelines, bank holidays, and the opening and closing dates of places, spaces and activities we consider engaging with. Thankfully, we got there in the end and will be heading to Munich in October 2019; Rotterdam January 2020; Lisbon May 2020, Manchester September 2020 and back to Lisbon for the project evaluation meeting in February 2021.

Look out for further announcements as the project progresses and don’t forget to find out more about the Wolves Lane Horticulture Centre.

Black to the Future - A Sankofa Exploration of Youth Work Practice. Developing the Workbook

Dr Yansie Rolston

It’s Thursday 10th August, Michael, Yvonne C – who gets the extra letter to distinguish her from our other Yvonne who is Yvonne F, and I are having a skype meeting.

We think, we ponder and wonder what should be included in the workbook, we are not yet sure how we want it to look, but spend time working out the content.

We have seen some examples – some good, some excellent, and some were definitely mediocre but they have all been useful guides on how we want to proceed. We must be creative and innovative so that our time is not wasted, the task is to create a tool others will use, that is helpful, insightful and informative.

We begin with History!! Yes, history because after all, the whole premise of Sankofa is about going back to get what was taken. The Black to the Future Project is based on looking backwards at youth work practice in order to move forwards from a position of knowing. Therefore we need to document what happened in the past, and use that knowledge to shape the future. So yes, history will is the key that weaves in and around everything the project explores.

Enquiring minds will wonder about history in all the project activities, History will be included in the visits made, in workshops delivered, even in the meals we eat, yes history will be grounded in everything we do.

And then there is Social Change. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know who was steering youth work practice before? Who were the key players then, and equally interesting who is coming into youth work now – what drives them, what motivates them, what keeps them engaged in it? What do they get from it? Those are just some of the questions we are seeking to answer.

But, what else should be included in the workbook? How will it look?

How about Identity and Identity politics? Maybe others want to know how black youth engaged with LGBTQI+ spaces, or maybe how religion and faith influenced those engagements. We know from experience that it was only later on that black youth could feel engaged in some places, and it was not easy for them to be accepted, so how difficult would it have been with sexuality as a dimension?

And what about Gender, what’s the knowledge around females and youth clubs. Were the youth club activities gender biased? What was the gendered make-up of the youth workers and of the participants.

There is so much to learn about the African Diaspora youth work experiences in Europe. Do we know what models were used, how they were developed, and who were and are the key players in that arena? We wonder about the issues that are experienced by the migrant communities, issues such as navigating the terrain as a refugee who does not speak the local language. How does that play out in terms of youth work practice, what are the experiences of having to learn a second or third language.

There is so much we want to cover in the workbook, but most of all we want it to be engaging, visual and interesting.

Black to the Future - A Sankofa Exploration of Youth Work Practice. Dear White HVA

2nd March 2018

Dr Yansie Rolston

“It’s there, it’s that building over there” says a voice belonging to someone who is showing signs of hunger and tiredness. Weary feet rush into the doors of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences /Hogeschool Van Amsterdam aka HVA, and thankfully the cafeteria is still open for service, so we can refuel our engines. The menu choices are limited because lunch time has long gone and I am a fussy vegetarian with a deep loathing for mushrooms – they smell awful, the texture is revolting and the taste is vile – A word of warning to mushroom lovers, don’t even bother wasting your time trying to convince me of the deliciousness of that ghastly alien thing. So with little choice I settle for Heinz spring vegetable soup (other brands of canned soup is also available).

After being fed and watered we stride up the stairs purposefully. Eager to find out what the session is about the door to the classroom is pushed open with gusto, and immediately I come face to face with an image of a young woman her mouth gagged with tape with the inscription  “DWHVA”. It’s not what I expected, actually I am not sure what I expected, but that image certainly wasn’t it so I was taken by surprise.

What is the context, what’s the background story – I start conjuring up snippets of narrative about the ongoing refugee crisis; domestic violence survival; anti-racism protests. Who is she, is she ok? A quick scan of the room reveals that she is present in the space. Phew, she’s alive and well! But the question remains – What’s this about?

The title of the presentation is  Dear White HVA and I immediately assume there will be a parallel with the series on Netflix “Dear White People” which is a satirical drama about everyday racism in America. But what is the connection?

Mahutin Awunou, Sameha Bouhalhoul and colleagues introduce themselves and give context to the session. Dear White HVA is a collective of concerned, passionate and determined staff, experts, and students working to co-create responses to the challenges of racism and discrimination within the education system. They are unapologetic about tackling issues such as White Privilege, and spoke openly about  the ways in which the institute disadvantages minority students. Their determination to find ways to ensure the college is culturally inclusive is evident, but according to them, addressing systemic, institutional discrimination within the education system can elicit raw, hard hitting discussions that can be hard to swallow. They explain that the focus in only about talking with and empowering others, but ensuring that inclusive education is part and parcel of curriculum development, that teachers, educators, and students are culturally aware and able to contextualise the experiences, behaviours and language in relation to diverse cultural backgrounds. They are also challenging the continued portrayals of Zwarte Piet aka Black Pete in which Dutch people black face.

The group share some of the methodologies they use for example Peer to Peer Education programmes based on the Train the Trainer Principles where the year 2 students pass on their knowledge and experience to the 1st years.  They also host documentary afternoons and open discussions where others are invited to “Come and listen to the experiences of others”.

They are also involved in Urban Collective – The Black Archives which as it happens, we had visited a few hours prior meeting Jessica and Mitchell and learning about the valuable work they are doing in logging and archiving black culture, history and knowledge of the black experience in the Netherlands.

Our participation in the interactive poll was an eye opener and showed the stereotypes many people have about Amsterdam. It reinforced the need for the work of Dear White HVA as advocates against discrimination and inequality in the education system.

Black to the Future - A Sankofa Exploration of Youth Work Practice. A traitor in the midst – visit to Tottenham Hotspurs Foundation

October 2017

Dr Yansie Rolston

In British culture football is everything and for many it is as important as religion. When else do you see men from all walks of life publicly expressing their emotions, shedding tears of joy or sadness without fear of being judged. Loyalty in the game is important – When Ashley Cole left Arsenal he was called “Cashley” and “Judas” and fans even waved fake £20 notes at him, and when Emmanuel Adeboyor left the club, first heading to Manchester City and then to Tottenham Hotspurs, he was subject to all manner of abuse.

You should know that an Arsenal supporter going to Tottenham Hotspurs football ground is not the done thing, so the guilt I felt as I passed each security checkpoint was real. I felt as though there was
a stamp on my forehead saying ‘Traitor’ in spite of knowing that the purpose of the visit was not football related. So what is it that got me to ‘cross the line’?

As the BTTF project is about exploring youth work practice I thought it would be a great idea for the team from Amsterdam, Germany and the UK to find what is done at the Tottenham Hotspurs Foundation which is the football club’s award winning charitable body. Truth be told we were all excited to be visiting the Spurs grounds.

We found out that the Foundation does some very amazing work locally, pan-london, nationally and internationally from Health and Wellbeing, Education, Employment, and Community Outreach which is the project we were visiting. That team is made up of a core of 10 with roughly 25 casual workers, and our excited group of BTTF members were warmly welcomed by Richard Allicock, the Community Development Manager – a black man from the local area who is determined to do what to can to support people from the community.

We spent a few hours in the company of Keiran and Omari both Development Workers, and Jayden who is training to be a football coach. They were all incredibly open and honest about their life
experiences, and explained how being involved in the Foundation kept them safe, gave them discipline and direction, helped them to explore their talents, and shaped their careers. They explained in myriad of ways in which they are passing on the knowledge and skills to other young people in the local area who are disadvantaged, socio-economically challenged, or at risk, to help them get a sense of purpose, and achieve their potential.

You only have to say ‘Tottenham’ and for many it will evoke thoughts of either Spurs football team, the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985, or the 2011 Summer riots. But it’s a shame more people don’t
know about the positive, and in some instances life affirming projects such as the community enterprise, and employment and skills hub being delivered by the Tottenham based Foundation.

Just in case you wanted to know, let me tell you about some of the structured and un-structured provisions delivered by the Foundation. They do School Mentoring programmes, apprenticeships, and the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. They also do Coaching Qualification courses, and work with gangs, children in the care, in the prison system or in hospitals ,and take up some of the slack of the Council who are lacking the financial and manpower resources to provide the level of services required. Their strong commitment to workforce development is evident in the 1500 jobs
undertaken by local people.

Jayden the confident young man we met is a beneficiary of the services and explained how his own involvement in the foundation began when he was introduced to the football sessions at the age of
7. He is still there after 10 years supporting other youngsters.

But what about the females I hear you ask, well it turns out that the ‘Spurs Ladies Football Club’ which is one of the biggest clubs in London is also involved in the Foundation ensuring that there is
female participation in the projects.
The visit was worth every moment of being a traitor in the midst.

Thank you Richie, Keiran, Omari and Jayden for giving us of your precious time, for your openness, ensuring we were fed and watered, and for the Spurs merchandise – mine is now the prized
possession of the only Spurs supporter in the family. (comment: COYS – Alan, her husband!).

Ubele Initiative's - Black to the Future: A Sankofa Exploration of Youth Work Practice

The Coming Together – 16th May 2017

Dr Yansie Rolston


We meet, we greet, we stand, we sit, we eat, we drink,
We stop for a second to take it all in.
We were in a circle but now we are not.
We are learning about each other, but we still don’t know a lot.
What are we meant to be doing, why are we here?
Who is missing, are they coming or not?

What are we meant to be doing – That what is causing some anxiety, That what is causing excitement, That what is the journey we decided to take together.

We have come together to look backwards, inwards, forwards and outwards, to strip, to critique, to congratulate, to contemplate, to acknowledge, to twist it, and turn it and work out ways to make it better. But who is the WE, and what is the IT?

The We is a collective of youngsters and older than youngsters – some may choose to call us elders but I choose to disclaim the title because the energy in the room is vibrant and youthful. The We is an eclectic mix of youth worker, youth leader, youth work tutor and student from the university, former youth project funder, those who attended youth clubs and those who set them up, all coming together for a common purpose – to work on the IT.

So what is the IT? – The IT is a Key Action 2 Erasmus+ funded Black to the Future Project that takes an inter generational Sankofa approach to Youth Work Practice within African Diaspora Communities in Bonn, London and Amsterdam. The IT is a project using ethnographic type research to find out how first, second and in some instances (such as in London), third generation youth workers, understand the experience of African Diaspora migration, resettlement and integration and how that is developed within youth work.

The We came together on the 16th May with the purpose to start the ball rolling because in 18 months the collective are committed to have produced:

  • a Digital Map – that places the information such as photos, interviews, links to other websites, and stories from youth workers and older than youngsters to a geographical location;
  • a tool kit – a users guide targeted to a diverse audience in terms or race, ethnicity, culture. A guide that is visually engaging with a clear methodology and purpose; and
  • a report with clear objectives, recognising people’s individual and collective experiences, that looks at the differing perspectives, and acknowledges emerging patterns.
  • The We will embark on a series of transnational study visits and training opportunities to help in the processes of collecting and documenting good youth work practice developed by African Diaspora communities. The first of which will be to Bonn, Germany in June hosted by the MigraAfrica Project.

The We decided that the project journey will involve digital mapping; story telling; recording; artistic interpretations; oral story capturing; creative approaches; and engaging with young people and older than the youngsters in Europe.

It will involve visiting libraries to collect experiences; identifying places young people can go to learn about history such as the Black Cultural Archives and the V & A Museum in the UK, and that it would identify migration points and the stories from the other European partners – Stichting Interlock and MigraAfrica.

But the coming together also brought up memories and the We noted that young people have developed an increased sense awareness of the issues going on around them and they are become more radical and critical in their thinking.

The coming together reminded us of the New Cross fire that occurred during a house party south-east London where thirteen young black people died in the blaze and one died by suicide two years later,

It reminded us of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in a racially motivated attack and the mishandling of the case and the institutional racism that prevailed at the time and still does,

We remembered the Battle of Lewisham when 500 members of the far-right National Front attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham and the counter-demonstrations,

We spoke about Linford Christie wining gold and becoming the first man in history to hold the Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles in the 100 m, and

We reminisced about the late Muhammad Ali who has continually been recognised for his humanitarian efforts and achieving 56 wins throughout his career.

The IT is taking shape by the WE coming together and starting the learning journey on Youth Work to find out the what, why, how, when, who, where, and why.

Cote d’Ivoire to hold 2018 J’Ouvert

Tuesday, July 4 2017

THE Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts together with Brooklyn’s Borough president Eric L Adams supported the JouvayFest initiative – a collective of expert carnival creatives from the Caribbean, USA and Europe– in launching Africa’s first J’Ouvert experience in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire scheduled for March 2018.

A JouvayFest group recently travelled to the West African country where team members met with and presented snapshots of the proposed J’Ouvert/Carnival performance. Witnessing the presentation were officials of Marche des Arts du Spectacle Africain (MASA ) Market and Festival for African Performing Arts; the director general of the Palais De La Culture; the commissioner general of the town of Bonoua; the director of culture, sport and tourism and the professor of sociology at the University of Cocody.

Director general of MASA Prof Yacouba Konata said: “I like the fact that JouvayFest are from the diaspora and want to come to Cote D’Ivoire to showcase the Trinidad and Tobago culture. We are committed to make this happen.” This sentiment was echoed by Madame Prof Toure Diabate- Tenin, Knight of the Order of Merit who said: “This is a great opportunity to build a sustainable cultural relationship between Cote d’Ivoire and Trinidad and Tobago.” Award-winning pannist Dane Gulston together with Dirk Harewood – percussionist and assistant musical director, performed selections of their repertoire which completely mesmerised the dignitaries and audiences who all exclaimed that it was absolutely magical, said a media release.

Gultson said: “Being in Africa was a great spiritual experience that will stay with me forever. I’m an excited musician and can’t wait to carry my talent and Trinidad culture to the people of Abidjan.” At a press conference hosted by Radiodiffusion- T?l?vision Ivoirienne, the Head of Alliance Francaise Zie Coulibaly said: “It’s the first time I have ever seen and heard a steelpan.

I would love for it to be introduced to our schools, and strongly want the Trinidad and Tobago Cultural Ministry to help bring steelpan to Abidjan.” The Ivorian Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has invited JouveyFest to be a main feature at its Caribbean Day celebration.

The ministry has formally asked the group to return to tutor the youngsters in Abidjan in all things carnival, thereby taking the cultural expression full circle from its original African roots to the Caribbean, North America, Europe and now, back home to Africa.

For more info:

Black Male Mental Health

Given that suicide is a serious public health issue and male mental health is in crisis, it is refreshing to see an increase in the numbers of discussions on the topic. However, the deafening silence on black male mental health is disturbing.

There is over representation of people from the African and African-Caribbean diaspora in mental health services. They are also more likely to be admitted into psychiatric hospitals and experience restrains, so if we are serious about improving mental health equity for all men the discourse needs to be steered towards the specificities of black men’s mental wellbeing.

Mental illness is subjective, and it is the society that comes up with the boundaries of what is considered acceptable behaviours or deemed disturbances. It also shapes the attitudes to those behaviours and reactions to them. Hence taking a one size fits all approach is unhelpful as it inevitably neglects the cultural impositions including identity politics, and the social structures and power relations that impact on the lives of black men.

The body is the site through which meaning based on cultural expressions and prevailing ideologies is evolved. Therefore, the way people experience their reality, and how they respond to their lived experiences, are in some ways rooted in the cultural configurations that been informed by historical legacies. It is not hard to understand how the disparity in racial equality, political empowerment and state justices will impact on black mens’ experience of mental health.

So why is it that the all-important demographic characteristics and the overlapping and interdependent intersectionality are so often missing from the discourse on male mental health. Issues such as race, social stratification, gender, sexuality, and religion all have differing meanings when ascribed to the black community. For example, sexual orientation and gender identity challenges notions of black masculinity and in black communities homosexuality is less tolerated. This engendered undermining of black men and the internalised oppression due to the inability to fulfil the ideology of black masculinity contributes to declining mental health (Lemelle & Battle 2004).

Shouldn’t those meanings be applied to the social relational understanding of mental health?

Credit is due for the effort being put into addressing male mental health, especially because suicide is the number one cause of death of young men under the age of 35 and that 72% of the male prison population have two or more mental disorders (Men’s Health Forum). However, the disparity in the lived experiences for black males requires further exploration that goes to the heart of the intricacies and dynamics of intersectionality. That will then allow for a greater understanding of the negatively constructed other which contributes to the over representation of black men in mental health institutions.

Discussions on black mental health ought not to obscure the legacies of colonialism and imperialism. The historical social construct of black masculinity for men who were forced to resist the powers of domination and renegotiate their identity is one of stoicism and fortitude in the face of adversity – protecting oneself by not showing vulnerability and seeking support. This intergenerational dilemma is still currently being played out.

The socioeconomic antecedents of poverty, criminal justice, housing, education, employment and physical health also play a part in the experiences for black men. While they are not mutually exclusive to black men, the way in which they are experienced and lived can be unique.

The call is for an integrated approach to mental health which expands the conceptual frameworks to effectively recognise the intersectionality of black men, and the cultures and sub-cultures that influence their lived experiences.

World Mental Health Day

Recently Yansie was invited over to Trinidad & Tobago to talk about mental health on World Mental Health Day. It turned out to be a busy schedule, with an in-depth TV interview, two radio interviews and articles in two national papers.

Yansie speaking on CTV

The TV interview can be seen here.

Making the mind a priority
Making the mind a priority

The article in Newsday on “Making the mind a priority”, can be found on their website by clicking here.

Terrence Higgins Trust - Shaping our future

On the 24th September the Efficacy team were pleased to be able to help the Terrence Higgins Trust by organising and chairing their “Shaping the Future” event.

The free workshop explored issues affecting the well-being of women of all cultures, especially black and minority ethnic (BME) women.

Topics included:
• faith, culture and family
• domestic violence vs healthy relationships
• career networking
• emotional resilience
• female genital mutilation (FGM)
• what is HIV?

Shaping our Future Event

A call to be mindful, T&T

2016 June 29: Trinidad Guardian:– Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media practitioner with over 30 years of proficiency. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and is pursuing the MSc in Public Health (MPH) from the UWI. Write to:

When we got together in St Ann’s two weeks ago at the Talk & TEA (Think, Explore and Act) event our aim was an intimate conversation among people with a vested interest in the necessary national tolerance of, and compulsory interventions for, mental illness in T&T.

talk and tea posterJune 18, 2016, St Ann’s, Port of Spain, T&T

With a vision of the road ahead, we were looking to partner with a multidisciplinary team of professionals to begin to work collaboratively on an holistic approach to mental health and mental illness in T&T. We hoped that together we could begin to engage in formulating a national culturally appropriate response to mental illness, given the ever-increasing incidents of economic, social, and political challenges.

Facilitated by Dr Yansie Rolston, a leading international disability and mental health advisor, renowned psychiatrist Gerard Hutchinson, The UWI professor in psychiatry and I, the programme also provided for participants to share the experience of Jillian Scott, who told of her son’s, and indeed, her family’s struggles with Bipolar 1 disorder.

Johann Mohammed, rehabilitated and renowned jewelry and fashion designer and owner of the African Ark label, also gave a first-person account of his struggles with substance abuse. Recognising substance abuse as mental illness, he shared his resolved position to be well with a determination that established him among us as a wellspring of hope for those in the struggle.

What was the most compelling activity of the afternoon though, was listening to the perspectives of those of our guests who took time to share what they view/viewed as the leading issue in their area of expertise or service.

From among the group, there were expert contributions on child sexual abuse and the need for appropriate interventions for perpetrators who are minors, substance abuse in the workplace, juvenile substance abusers, employment opportunities for the mentally ill, safe spaces for treatment for intervention and care, and much more.

Jillian scottJillian Scott passionately told Alan’s story.

A common thread throughout was tolerance, which presented itself in what seemed to be accounts of pervasive ignorance about mental illness and the unfortunate consequence of discrimination, prejudice and isolation from families and institutions, including the workforce.

Advocate Nicole Cowie, a member of the organising committee, spoke to the labour and employment issue saying that for her, as for me, with our status being public we remain unemployed despite, according to her, “our qualifications, smarts and competence.”

Cowie commended Mohammed for carving out his workspace, suggesting, in T&T’s unending seasons of ignorance and misinformation, it is the only solution if those who are mentally ill and dare to disclose did not decide to “live on a disability grant.”

My colleague in public health, Dr Theresa Yorke Metzger, a dental surgeon, succinctly married ignorance with intolerance, when she posited that all of us understand something about physical illness but mostly are clueless about what we should do to make people who are mentally ill feel or be better. “So,” she said, “We hide them away and those who are ill also learn to hide their illness.”

That statement was in keeping with the contributions from Vision on Mission which spoke to the stigmatisation of the vulnerable in our society and how that behaviour promotes inequities and segregation, and produces dysfunctional organisations.

Scott’s telling of her son Alan’s painful story brought home the point about our lack of investment in care/healing for the mentally ill in T&T. Her family has had to seek therapeutic attention in the US in order to bring about the healing calm Alan needs.

But what of those who cannot access such interventions? And more so, what would be T&T’s position if we were to experience increases in mental illness – clinical depression, work-related stress, interpersonal violence, substance abuse, and so on – associated with our prevailing issues of austerity, and unemployment?

This dialogue reinforced our concerns as facilitators and heightened our commitment to changing T&T’s mental health/illness landscape. There is so much that must be done to impact on health overall, but especially psychosocial health/wellbeing. These interventions must be made in order to maintain the status of those who are well (prevention) and also to provide solutions for the mentally ill (treatment).

It’s a comprehensive intervention that speaks to our public institutions, as psychiatrist Dr Varma Deyalsingh suggested from knowledge of St Ann’s Psychiatric Hospital with which he has been affiliated since 1987. It’s about establishing private institutions: “safe spaces, “healing centres”, and facilities for alternative treatments, such as the Scott family has experienced in North America.

It is, foremost in the mind of Prof Hutchinson, “a need for our society to get rid of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude; a time to realise ‘they’ are just like us and that everyone can develop a mental illness at some time in their life.”

“Perhaps if we educate our government, our country, communities, workplaces, and families we may be able to find more empathy,” someone suggested, and I prayed silently that the nation’s watchword “tolerance” would be lived out and I would be here to experience it.

round up talk and tea

Nicole Cowie, from left, Caroline C Ravello, Prof Gerard Hutchinson, Dr Yansie Rolston and Johan Mohammed


Interpretations of Disability – Dr Yansie Rolston

Mention the word ‘Disability’ and for most people the first thing that comes to mind is the image of tragedy, incapacity, suffering, and body failure that requires pity as an appropriate emotional response. But disability is not a homogenous unitary concept – it is mired in a multiplicity of conceptualisations and constructs.

There is a moralistic assertion that disablement equates to victimhood and charity status, and that disabled people are all striving for able-bodiedness and social normalisation, with a desire or need for fixing. This reinforces the dominance of the medicalisation of disability and the preoccupation of health practitioners with the ‘making right’ of disabled people. The result is that many disabled people endure psychological and physiological intrusions to heal, cure or correct their impairments, even when there is little chance of successful ‘normalisation’. For example, someone like Lisa, who has undergone numerous painful operations to make her significantly underdeveloped legs aesthetically acceptable even though they will never be functional.

Such concepts also have more profound implications as they subliminally reinforce the notion that disability is an abnormality requiring professional interventions. At the same time it also undermines those with impairments by denying them the freedom to choose to accept – if they so desire – the impairments, any accompanying pains, and inconveniences as part of their lived realities This is not to say that there should be a denial of the positive influences of medical interventions, what I’m saying is that there should be less pressure on disabled people to conform to perceived social norms especially because impairments can be interpreted differently depending on the culture in which they are being experienced. For example, in some societies deafness is categorised as a disability, while others vehemently denounce the disability label and instead self-identify as being part of a linguistic minority.

The need is there for a refined approach that represents the lived realities of disability in the society in which it is experienced. In other words, the impaired body needs to be placed within the specific history, politics, culture and meaning, given the time and space in which the impairment is being experienced.

My curiosity on the intertwining of religion and disability led me to numbers of references in religious text where bodily impairments are underpinned by cultural values and affiliations, such as sin, shame, punishment, good and evil – The person with Leprosy is discriminated and ostracised “he shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease, He is unclean, He shall live alone, His dwelling shall be outside the camp” (King James Bible Leviticus 13 45:46). It therefore stands to reason that in societies where religious and spiritual ways of thinking are dominant, disability will more likely be perceived as punishment – but that is problematic. What about the individual who starts incoherent ramblings during the laying of hands in a church service? The interpretation will be that they are speaking in tongues which is an expression of a gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit; if the person was standing at the side of the road rambling incoherently, passers by will assume the individual was experiencing an episode of mental illness; and if the incoherent ramblings occurred at a family home where superstition is rife, the interpretation would be that they are possessed by an evil spirit – The same affliction but three different interpretations. Disability is therefore based upon a complexity of cultural paradigms, models of reality and value systems.

Sexual Oppression and Exploitation of Disabled People

There is widespread misconception that disabled people have no sexual attractions or urges, cannot perform sexually, are sexually irresponsible or are oversexed. This leads to a tendency to infantilise the disabled embodiment, denouncing sexual curiosity, and inadequate sexual health services. All of which indicate the deficit embedded in the social values towards disabled people and the false dependency notion that those with impaired bodies are incompetent, passive beings of whom things must be done for, and to.

Symptomatic of the way that the rights to full citizenship are denied for disabled people, is the widespread prevalence of sexual oppression and exploitation with disabled women being assaulted, raped and abused twice as much as non-disabled women, and the more disabled the woman the greater her risk of being assaulted (Cusitar 1994, Simpson & Best 1991, Sobsey 1998). Sexuality is the second most important human drive after survival (Owens De Than 2015) yet so many are afraid to speak openly about it. But as the incidents of sexual and intimate abuse are so prevalent isn’t it time for frank discussions and risk reduction actions on this silent taboo?

Below is just a snapshot of what some disabled people in Trinidad and Tobago have experienced:

Joyce a 21 year old with severe physical impairments was plied with alcohol and raped by a neighbour. The police officers refused to take further action because according to them “she can’t understand what happen to she, she retarded.” The only villager to chastise the perpetrator was Simon the parent of a disabled son.

Four siblings who had been raped were taken into a home for displaced youngsters. The matron found the 13 year old masturbating and relayed that she “beat the nastiness out of him and send him to bed without food as punishment.”

Carol’s family take her to weekly prayers. The Pastor squeezes her breasts and genital area because he believes she has a sex demon.

So who are the abusers? Perpetrators are people we know and trust, they live in and amongst us, are the people we work and socialise with – according to the Out of the Shadows 2011 Report, 97% to 99% of victims know their perpetrators.

The consequences of sexual exploitation range from unwanted pregnancies, to emotional distress leading to misuse of drink or drugs, destructive behaviours and suicide. It carries a degree of shame and guilt where some victims believe that they may have enjoyed the experience thus creating mistrust and in some instances destroys families. As a result, it is clear that more needs to be done to safeguard, protect, educate and support disabled people.

But try as we might, resisting the conversations only increases the vulnerability of our disabled population. Although Trinidad and Tobago is intending to ratify the UNCRDP shortly there needs to be widespread awareness raising in all sectors and robust sex education for the entire population that addresses gender stereotypes, cultural sexualisation leading to a cultural change that develops and promotes positive healthy sexual behaviours.

One perpetrator said he took advantage of the victim’s lack of mobility demonstrating that the sexual exploitation is also about vulnerability and opportunity. These can be done hand in hand with a number of risk reduction measures while simultaneously addressing the social ills that are harbouring the perpetrators.

Disability sexuality should be a specific theme within overall sex education, disability strategies, and crime and violence prevention processes together as part of a multi-partnership approach to the social and structural barriers that prevent disabled people from accessing services. There needs to be investment in accessible services that responds to the needs of disabled people, that includes quality sexual health care in accessible formats – easy to read, simple English, large print, electronic text, braille – and the needs of disabled people ought to be catered for in HIV/AIDS systems. There should also be independent scrutiny of social care institutional settings and robust reporting frameworks that ensure justice will be exercised and hefty sanctions imposed.

On a more individual level here are a few tips:

Be mindful of one’s own sexual behaviours. A group of adult women were seen gyrating on a young teenager while others laughed and joked about it.
Look, listen and take action.
Encourage consent and feelings of discomfort conversations about the body and touch, remembering the mouth is also an orifice for sexual abuse.

Do not compromise freedom and sexual autonomy but encourage safe, healthy consensual relationships and allow opportunities to share experiences.

This is a modified version of a paper presented by Dr Yansie Rolston at a conference hosted by The UWI Network and Outreach for Disability Education and Sensitization (NODES) and the Disability Studies Unit (DSU), UWI, St Augustine on April 23 and 24, 2015. The conference theme was “Towards Social Integration: Rights, Roles, Recognition of Persons with Disabilities.

Mental Health Matters

Efficacy EVA are providing strategic leadership and support to the A Team on the Mental Health Listen Up Project which is funded by First Steps. The aim is to co-create a Neighbourhood Plan and a dynamic Community Mental Health Network because many of the people with mental ill health in Haringey do not seek help or interact with mainstream services.

The process is in full swing and so far we have carried out consultations and one-to-one interviews with service users, their family members, carers, mental health professionals, local MPs, community organisations and residents.

By using creative methods of engagement we have been able to reach a diverse range of individuals that cuts across language and communication barriers and abilities, thus offering individuals who do not usually engage in consultation processes the opportunity to share they experiences, have a say on what matters to them, how they think services can be improved and equally important, how they can contribute to those improvements.

graphic harvest 2DSC04719


Dr Yansie Rolston participated in the The Network for Disabilities Education and Sensitization (NODES) and The Disability Studies Unit of The University of the West Indies conference “TOWARDS SOCIAL INTEGRATION: Rights, Roles, Recognition of Persons with Disabilities” which was held on April 23rd and 24th, 2015.

The conference featured papers on topics such as: Policy formation and implementation; Legal framework; Employment and access; Representation and self-fashioning; Assistive technologies; Human rights; Inclusive education; Disability trauma and abuse; Women and disability; Children and disability; Ageing and disability.

Dr Rolston presented a paper on Sexuality and Disability – Challenging the Sexual Oppression and Exploitation of
Disabled People.
Research has shown that disabled people are being restricted from experiencing fulfilling romantic relationships and taking ownership of their physical and emotional sexual health while being subject to coercive control, sexual assaults, rape, emotional abuse, and unnecessary exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. The presentation will focus on raising awareness of the issues, dispelling myths and stereotypical perceptions about disabled people and sexuality, sharing of good practice models, and developing ideas for further action with a view to influencing policy, practice and service.

Newspaper article: Trinidad Newsday April 2015  – With her husband President Anthony Carmona listening among the guests last Friday night, Mrs Carmona gave the feature address at the Closing Ceremony at the Conference on Disability at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine. The conference theme was “Towards social integration — rights, roles, recognition of persons with disabilities”, and it was hosted by disability-lobby NODES (Network and Outreach for Disability Education and Sensitisation) and UWI’s Disability Studies Unit.

2012 International Forum on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

International delegates and government ministers from Trinidad will gather on the 16th and 17th of November for the 2012 International Forum on the UN Convention organised by National Centre for Persons with Disabilities in conjunction with People Keys Ltd. As part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the Forum will lay the foundation and provide a clear understanding of the UNCRPD and issues surrounding persons living with disabilities in T&T.

Taking place over a two-day period at the Hilton Port-of-Spain, Trinidad with 50+ delegates, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), in addition to persons with disabilities and their carers, the main purpose of the Forum is to facilitate discussions and actions to assist the Trinidad and Tobago government in implementing the UNCRPD. Day 1 will be geared toward policy makers, government representatives, law professionals and academics, whilst Day 2 will focus more specifically on worker representatives, employers, disability professionals, health care providers, advocates for persons with disabilities, corporate representatives and other interested persons.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has so far been ratified by 103 states and signed by 149 countries, making it legally binding for states and countries to comply with its contents.

With support from the Trinidad and Tobago government the event is hopefully the first in a series seeking to provide empowering information to be used by persons with disabilities at a national and local level, whilst promoting dialogue and networking between policy makers, governmental representatives, and disability activists and advocates for an effective monitoring on the implementation of non-discrimination rights and measures.

There will be live tweeting and streaming of the event on Twitter and Ustream on both the 16th and 17th for those interested. To find us search @efficacyeva. Anyone wishing to find more information should contact the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD).

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Engaging with and Valuing all Abilities