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Reach Society's tribute to the REACH role models, by Rob Neil
There are times in our life when we MUST respond to the call. It's a time when our heart says 'now' and our head begins to explain 'why we can't wait'. This call, this trumpet that sounds, encourages some of us to reach for our kit and sprint into the arena ready for whatever task the objective demands. With little thought of how or who, some of us just need to know when and where - we'll be there to do what we can.
For others, this same alarm signals a time to reflect, a moment to step back and agree a single best strategy for delivering relevant and sustainable change. For these folks, efficiency is paramount and quality is what really makes the difference.
Thus has been the challenge within REACH i.e. our own diversity of approach, alongside the ever present demands of our target group. The balance between practice and strategy, the tension represented by those that want to do and those that prefer to plan. None of us here can now say that we are strangers to those dilemmas. Whether to plough the fields of our arena by hand today, or wait for the pristine tractor already built and with a promise of delivery tomorrow [see RM notes on Wyboston Team Brief - July 2009].
So, over the past 30months, the REACH Role Model programme has forged on and every endeavour has been aimed at offering encouragement, support and inspiration to a target audience of Black boys and young Black men. "one to many" was our mission and, after hard yards on the road, delivering in excess of 200 events and meeting with over 10,000 people, the 29 of us - as REACH Role Models - have toiled, listened and shared our best efforts to make a positive difference.
For sure, we've made mistakes along the way e.g. The BIG Project failed to move past medium size and, moreover, morphed into something of a caricature delivered below expectation at a London school. I also know that each of us would like to have done more events. Yet, when I reflect on the numerous young men that I have spent time with, listened to and shared stories with, I am inspired by what we are capable of and even more motivated by our potential for greater things.
I have witnessed again, and again, and again the capacity of our young people to reach beyond their grasp and meet the challenges of their time. Oh, and let's make no mistake about it, these are deeply challenging times of record high youth unemployment, escalating education costs and ever rising crime statistics. We only need to revisit the research conducted by Price Waterhouse Cooper [PWC] for REACH to appreciate the scale of impact and, moreover, potential benefits to our British economy.
So, when I consider the beautifully rich and diverse background amongst our relatively small team of 'ploughmen' - i.e. as men, as brothers, as sons, as Fathers and Uncles - and, yes, as Black Role Models, I am able to truly acknowledge the absolute power of cultural affinity to encourage, support and inspire the very best efforts of our people.
Time and time again, in the face of unfair, unjustified and stereotypical negative media representation, I have found that when we draw close, listen empathically and set aspirational targets for our young people, they are capable of rising to that challenge and, oftentimes, exceeding it.
I exit this message of thanks with provocative quote taken from a speech entitled 'Citizenship in a Republic' and first delivered 101yrs ago this month by the then American President - Theodore Roosevelt.
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." Theodore Roosevelt
Whether our arena is Her Majesty's Prisons, or in the classroom with young future leaders, or the themed conferences across the UK deliberating strategy alongside adult practitioners; we know that REACH has offered us an important opportunity to make a difference to our society.
So to all my fellow REACH role models, I salute you for answering the call; and for showing everyone what can be done to truly help our Black boys and young Black men to realise their potential; and in the long run they too will go on to make a difference to our society.
And so in the words of the multi-talented African American musician, Lenny Kravitz, "It ain't over 'til it's over!"
The Reach report published 9 August 2007 may be found on the Government's, CLG website: www.communities.gov.uk/publications/reachreport