'By exposing young people from different communities to our great institutions, they can become active citizens'

25th March 2015 at 11:00

Harris Bokhari, national board member of the Prince of Wales' mentoring charity Mosaic, and founder of the Naz Bokhari Legacy Foundation, writes:

From a young age, my late father Naz Bokhari, the first Muslim secondary head in the country, always encouraged my sister and I to broaden our educational horizons outside of the classroom. For ethnic minority communities growing up in the 1970s and 80s, it was unheard of to visit cultural institutions, museums and galleries, not to mention the theatre. We may not have appreciated it at the time, but this stretched our imaginations and challenged the ideas we had growing up.

It was only later in life that I discovered how unique our upbringing was. When the national anthem was played at the end of broadcasting on BBC1, my father would make us stand up in respect; every Christmas, we would unfailingly make time for the Queen’s Speech in recognition of the contribution the Royal Family made to our country. In particular, I recall being taught about the importance of voting, in light of the history of the suffragette movement or the right for black communities to vote in the US, both of which seemed to strike a chord with me.

Threads of national civic duty and being grateful for all we had, so we could give back, were interwoven into our childhood. I realise now that great educators like my father were able to transcend their formal school settings. They educated minds through teaching just as well as through building aspiration, and exposing young people to new environments and accessible role models. For us and many other pupils, we were taught to believe that anybody can accomplish great things in life, no matter the background they were born into.

To continue the legacy of Naz Bokhari, we launched our Diversity Programme in his name to put this idea into action. It was inaugurated last year at the National Portrait Gallery, bringing together young people who had never visited a gallery before. They were presented with portraits and stories with which they could relate to, and were welcomed by the Deputy Prime Minister. The impact was electrifying and has left its mark until today with those young people.

Tomorrow, seventy students from six schools from challenged communities will be taken to Clarence House, where they will be shown around by a Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales. After this, they will travel to 10 Downing Street and wrap up with a visit to Parliament, hosted by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and the Speaker, John Bercow, in the Speaker's House. The doors of these great institutions have been flung open, for they too share in the idea. Together, they will learn about the contribution that the Royal Family plays, and the importance of voting.

The day is a tribute to the ethic of Naz Bokhari, but, more so, it is about the idea shared by so many that young people, no matter what their background, should be enabled to believe they can achieve anything in life. Moreover, we hope by building a sense of civic duty and exposing young people from a variety of communities to our great institutions, we can nurture them to become active citizens who engage fully in all that society has to offer. 

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