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Making our streets safer

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Olumide Oyedeji with some of the kids who attended the basketball clinic

IN A bid to stop teenage knife and gun crimes in the capital, former NBA basketball player and Nigerian Olympian Olumide Oyedeji has decided to lead the charge in making the streets of London safer.

The 32-year-old star ran a three-day basketball clinic last weekend at the Damilola Taylor in Peckham, south east London via his foundation.

Recent figures from the Metropolitan Police show that knife offences have dropped by over 500 since last year. However, with 11 black teenagers stabbed and four teens shot to death so far this year, the war on youth violence is far from over.

VICTIMS

Figures from the Metropolitan police show that overall, serious youth violence in London has fallen by 28 per cent, equating to 1,931 fewer victims. Knife injuries among those under the age of 25 years old have also been reduced by 28 per cent.

Among the teenagers who have died from knife or gun wounds in the capital was 16-year-old Derek Boateng from Hackney who was stabbed on his birthday, and forensic science undergraduate Joseph Burke-Monerville, 19 from Islington who was shot dead in front of his twin brother.

Also, Kyle McDonald, 19, from Fulham was gunned down in Battersea, south London on September 18.

The basketball clinic was staged to engage with young, black people in an effort to discourage them from joining gangs and getting involved in gun and knife crimes.

Oyedeji said: “I have hundreds of kids who keep in contact with me after these sort of events. Kids who were facing hard times but have now gotten into college, become doctors, bank managers, accountants and even play professional basketball. It brings me great joy.”

He continued:  “I want to see as many smiles on kids faces and to give them hope. That’s what makes me satisfied. You can impact their lives, their family and society.”

During the event, young people received basketball tips from the professional player, participated in matches, listened to motivational speeches and were given career advice.

The core message was not lost as everyone involved wore t-shirts with the strap-line: “Shoot a ball, not a gun. Pick a book, not a knife.”

Tyrone Biggs, a 19-year-old English literature student from Wood Green, north London is one of the young people who attended the event.

BETTER

He said: “It’s cool to know that someone wants better for us and cares for us. There’s boys I know who would rather sit around and cause trouble, but I’d prefer to keep busy and try and better myself.”

Having lived in Nigeria and the UK, Oyedeji highlighted the differences between the two countries.

He said: “In London most of the knife and gun crime involves young black men from African descent. They are either committing the crime or they are the victims. In Nigeria, we don’t really have access to guns and knives. The culture is so restricted but in London there is more freedom and more access to weapons.”

The Olumide Oyedeji Youth Foundation was launched 15 years ago offering young people a lifeline by creating opportunities for them to better their lives.

So far, the charity has organised similar events across the world in countries such as China, Nigeria, South Korea, Germany, Spain and South Africa.

Oyedeji finances the charity out of his own pocket and splits his time between living in London and Nigeria.
He said: “This is a charity that I love from the bottom of my heart. Hopefully we can get funds in the future so I can do even more to help. We put in everything that we have to help these young people.”

The father-of-five believes that children who get involved in sports will stay off the streets and learn important life skills.

The 6ft 10’ sportsman said: “Sports can definitely help young people. It keeps them occupied. Education is very important too, of course. We have a programme to educate kids. Not all of us are going to make it through sports, but no one can take your education away.”

Former Young Mayor of Newham, Ali Mohamed, 19, from East Ham said: “I believe that organisations like this can trigger positive change within young people. The people behind these schemes are the spearheads towards tackling problems with young people that are not engaging enough with their community.”

He added: “I feel that knife crime is starting to deteriorate as young people become more aware and responsible in investing in their futures.”

Jennette Arnold, Labour Party politician and member of the London Assembly representing the London Boroughs of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest, welcomed the baskeball clinic but wanted more emphasis to be placed on tackling the root issues.

She said: “The issue will not be resolved until an holistic approach is taken that addresses the deep-rooted societal factors that lead to young people joining gangs and owning and using knives and guns.

“It is true that the financial costs of dealing with these issues will be high, but if we fail to invest properly in this, the deeper costs to society will be significantly greater – with the loss of more innocent lives and continued major unrest on our streets.”

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