TOGETHER AS ONE: From left, Craig Pinkney, Nathan Dennis, Justice Williams MBE, Errol Lawson, Joel Blake, Adam Brooks, and DanMan
THERE MUST be quite a few young men behind bars today who may never have ended up in prison if they’d been lucky enough to hear some wise words from two local heroes of Birmingham’s inner city – Nathan Dennis and Craig Pinkney.
This dynamic duo are the last people to see themselves as doing anything heroic – that is what is so refreshing. They are simply two men still young enough to remember what it was like to be 14, while being mature enough to inspire the next generation to “stay in their lane.”
Dennis, along with his wife Sabrina, launched First Class Legacy several years ago, a successful youth and community engagement service, which also includes ‘Dear Youngers,’ a project that supports young people experiencing peer pressure problems, emotional and social issues.
Pinkney is a youth work expert, supporting disaffected youths through his own outreach organisation Real Action UK, while also acting as an inspirational speaker, gang exit strategist, mediator, mentor and film maker.
Pool the skills of these two men and you have a pretty formidable resource – in fact they’re every bit as good as their own superhero comic book idols – Thor in the case of Dennis and Hulk, who is Pinkney’s choice.
They laugh at these comparisons but what they are trying to help the next generation to achieve is indeed the stuff of heroes. When it comes to communicating with young people, both men and their supporters are right on the button as was shown at their recent Called: Legacy Planning event in Birmingham.
With Pinkney as the transformational key speaker, the team offered a powerful, inspiring and motivational day at the city’s Impact Hub for young people and their parents.
Dennis told The Voice: “We work on the ‘village’ concept in that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s all about people being unified for one purpose – to nurture the young adults in our community and encourage the potential and purpose that’s in all of them. It’s important that they know their purpose.”
With Birmingham suffering a spike in gun and knife crime over the past six months, sessions like these are more important than ever to put out a positive message. However Pinkney admits that he’s found the past few months very tough and felt discouraged by what has been going on.
Pinkney, who has made two ground breaking films on this theme in Advice to a Son (2009) and Advice to a Daughter (2013) said: “I try to tell young people to stay in their lane in life and not get distracted by those I call ‘the haters’ who are too quick to rubbish something you are trying to do.
“You have people in life who say they are down and they are cool, but the moment you start to do something that will benefit you and your future they won’t like it.
“They will make out there is something wrong with you. Sometimes it’s so hard to withstand that kind of peer pressure and stay focused.
“In life it’s much easier to be a follower than a leader, but I tell them all that education is the most powerful weapon they can ever carry.
“And by that I don’t just mean school and college – I mean thinking differently, being different and acting different. As Malcolm X said ‘Education is the passport to the future because tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.’”
With a Masters degree in criminology and a post as lecturer at University College Birmingham, Pinkney’s aim is to bridge the gap between academia and the community. He shines a spotlight on how father absence, the lure of life on the road, and the ‘nurturing’ found in gangs rather than the home, leads teens of both sexes into a downward spiral.
The day-long event also included a masterpiece performance from Daniel Anderson, son of Rev Dr Carver Anderson, who performed Taking Off Your Mask – a character who struggled with life, parents, his purpose and the negative peer pressure around him and within.
The event was supported by facilitators Adam Brooks, Errol Lawson, Justice Williams, MBE, and Joel Blake.