Don't patronise black boys - give them purpose

14th December 2007 at 00:00
Some years ago I was named as one of the 100 most important black Britons; I complained and was soon booted off for my efforts. I hate our celebrity obsessed culture. And anyway I was not in the top ten even though I'm sexier than Naomi Campbell.

Today black children can find images that look like them by surfing our many television channels or by going online. Yes, these may be rap stars but the access to black role models, good or bad, abound. The truth of the matter is that black boys continue to underachieve with or without Trevor McDonald.

The Government announced recently that "successful" role models for young black men are to be recruited to counteract the influence of gang culture and underachievement in education.

The search will be led by entrepreneur Tim Campbell, the first black winner of the television programme The Apprentice. He will hunt for 20 men, such as doctors, lawyers and businessmen. The Black Boys' National Role Models programme is boldly claimed be an "antidote to a culture of low aspiration".

One of the cliched responses to the underachievement of black children is the cry for more positive black role models. The evidence shows that when you roll out these people the only real beneficiaries are the role models themselves.

The problem is that children, black or white, need exposure, experience and authenticity. The role model who comes to the assembly and waxes lyrically about their experience is usually forgotten by playtime.

I run a programme called generating genius which provides a pipeline for black boys aged 15 to go into medicine and research science. All of our boys will obtain excellent GCSE results and will not be members of gangs. Indeed a large percentage of them will eventually do degrees in medicine and science. We have achieved this by working with the top universities, where our boys literally train to become research scientists and doctors. They do not sit down and watch others perform in front of them. They actually do the work themselves. I subtitle our programme: real science, real access, and real achievement.

We do not patronise our boys with so-called role models, we challenge them with high expectations where they are the centre of the achievement process. Yet we struggle to get any government funding. Of course it is good for our boys to see black scientists, but this is not the key factor that will raise their aspiration. They need real content, lessons in emotional intelligence and the resilience to break away from peer group pressure.

We regularly ask our students what they like about our programme and they say - "Unlike school you keep it real." You turn boys on by being practical and giving the work, meaning and purpose.

Tony Sewell, Chief executive of the charity Generating Genius.

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