PROJECT: Jennifer Blake
THE GOVERNMENT recently announced its plans to combat gangs in Britain.
The range of ideas included tougher sentences for gang members caught with weapons, as well as greater support for gang members who want to leave the lifestyle behind.
Churches have been doing their bit to combat gangs, albeit inadvertently for years, through preaching the gospel, and Jennifer Blake is someone who can testify about God’s ability to change hearts and minds for the better.
A former gang leader, Jennifer runs Safe’n’Sound, a youth project based in Peckham, south London, which she started in 2004 soon after becoming a Christian. The project provides mentoring, counselling and advice for young people, and also help for those who want to leave the gang lifestyle.
The mother of two recently launched a fundraising drive to raise £1 million to finance the building of new Safe’n’Sound premises, and earlier this year she stood as a Liberal-Democrat councillor in the local elections.
Jennifer’s life has completely turned around, but in essence she has gone back to her roots. She was raised by godly parents, along with her four sisters, and attended The Tab in Lewisham, south London, until her teenage years.
Things changed when Jennifer started secondary school. She said: “From secondary school I started to see different things. After school you could hang out with your friends, and it was all of that. I wanted to do more than just finish school, go home and do homework. I started rebelling against my mum and dad’s rules and regulations.”
Not only did Jennifer start hanging out with new friends, she ran away from home at 13 and lived in care until she was 18, having her first child at 17.
Whilst in care Jennifer became a gang leader, and got involved in muggings, fraud, robberies and drugs.
Whilst Jennifer found some aspects of gang life ‘fun and exciting’, she said it had its pitfalls. And when things started going wrong for her, Jennifer started reflecting on her life.
She said: “By 2004, my lifestyle was too much. I’d been kidnapped, tortured, raped and abused. I’d gone through so much. I put my family’s lives in danger because of certain people I was moving with. I just thought ‘I can’t take it anymore’. And as bad as I was, I was suicidal but I wouldn’t commit suicide. I would do things to provoke people that maybe they might out my life for me rather than me take my own life.”
Jennifer rededicated her life to God on April 25, 2004, and her life did a 360-degree turn. “The same zeal I had to do badness is the same zeal I have to serve God.”
She is now fully committed to serving God, the community and young people, and would love to see churches play a bigger role in combating youth disaffection. “The thing that hurts me with churches is that they are playing businesses and they need to move away from that.
“We’ve got a mission out here. Whilst we’re playing business and church our community is tearing down,” Jennifer said.
“At the end of the day, as children of God, we know the spirit that is within us. We know who we represent, we know the power that we have, and we sit back too much and play church. We need to get out in our community and show the community who we serve.” Amen to that.
For more information visit www.elscuk.com or phone 020 7358 8566