Thursday

yoloOn Thursday night I had a session with some young people who were aged 11-15. I encouraged the group to draw pictures of things they thought were ‘cool’, and 12 yr old Max drew the above.

I also asked the group what words they think are ‘cool’ and important, and they decided that COURAGE was the most important word, followed by TRUTH, INSPIRE, and PERSPIRATION (Apparently without perspiration you cannot get to where you want to be in life).

Feeling pretty overwhelmed by this still, these young people are our future leaders. This is the most exciting thing ever!

Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew

Ashley Banjo is the leader of dance troupe ‘Diversity’, the group that won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 (deservedly beating Susan Boyle) and won the opportunity to perform for the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. Since that he has been a judge on Sky 1’s ‘Got To Dance’. Diversity are Patron’s of Dance Aid (part of Hope For Children). They also helped publicise the Government’s ‘Change 4 Life’ scheme which promoted ‘Eat Well, Move More, Live Longer’.

Already I’m sure you can guess why I love these guys. They’re all young men who are in education or careers (IT Solutions, Bathroom Fitter etc) that came together to dance as a hobby. Ashley Banjo is the founder and choreographer of the Troupe and lead them to a spectacular victory at BGT.

But that’s not the only reason I love Ashley Banjo. He has a show called ‘Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew’, which effectively takes small groups of people with no dance experience and in many cases limited confidence, works with them for three weeks and gets them to do a surprise dance routine at a gathering full of their friends and family who have no clue what’s going on. He has worked with female Dinner Ladies who performed to their primary school at lunchtime, some Polo Players who performed at a Polo match meeting, and some young male action roleplayers who performed at an event designed to introduce people to role play (specifically table-top gaming.)

The reason I love this show is because you can see the personal journey his participants go on throughout the course of their time with Ashley. They typically go from being shy and having no rythmn to holding their heads high and being proud of their achievements, not only through dance but also in whatever it was they were doing before (e.g. role play or being a Dinner Lady) so the personal growth and journey is very moving!

With all the bad press young people get in our media these days I think they’re a fantastic, inspirational example of an amazing group of young people using their skills and talents to bring something really unique to British entertainment and make a positive impact on their communities. I feel proud that people like this represent my country and also my generation, and reckon that if you have a spare half an hour see if you can get the Secret Street Crew online, or check out Diversity’s amazing youtube videos!

Tough times

‘… more than ever hour after, our work is never over’

These are lyrics by Daft Punk, a catchy little ditty hey! Today I have been thinking about how tough times make us stronger, and why that is a good thing. And why striving to better yourself is not just a strength, but also a necessity. None of us are without our sad stories to tell, our tragedies and our travesties. The way of taking ownership of this is by teasing out the silver lining from the grey sky and figuring out exactly how you can be pro-active at preventing this happening again, or learning from it, growing from it.

Easier said than done right? During my High School years I was hopelessly head over heels with an older boy, who (other than on a few fleeting, fumbling occasions) never took too much interest in me. 7 years I swooned and moped. Then I grew up, moved out, and got over it. Now I feel fondness and understanding for a time in my life when I was learning and finding my own way. But it took 7 years to get there, and that’s a long time. If you’d told me at any occasion over those 7 years that it would one day be something that resulted in me being wiser I’d have laughed in your face, but now I know. With age comes wisdom. Although even by the time all is said and done and I’m a little old lady I’m not quite sure I will have got there yet…!

Now I know that some things you can’t change or fix, and they will never make sense. Like death. I could never tell you, as could no-one else, why death is fair. But whether it is fair or not, there are just some things you can’t explain. You’re not supposed to understand some things. The strength is accepting that you can’t understand it all. I think you’re not supposed to be able to understand some things. But the thing that is really vital in situations you have no control over, is to draw out some kind of silver lining, some kind of understanding that can make something good happen.

If bad things didn’t happen then how would we know when something good has happened? And if something REALLY bad happens, then as human beings we’ll be able to understand when something really GOOD happens. I’m a big believer in Karma, and I think that ties in really closely with this.

So, have bad things happened to me? Yes, but probably no more than your average person on the street. Have good things happened to me? Yes! And I think more than your average person on the street! Why? Because by taking ownership of something bad and making it good makes for a bigger smile and a lighter heart.

I think trying to better yourself is really important in life. I’m sooooo not perfect, in sooooo many ways. My tongue is quicker than my brain, I bite my fingers to shreds and once I’ve made my mind up on a person there’s really very little that will ever change my opinion. So what is the silver lining? Having a quick tongue also works well when comforting a friend, biting my fingers to shreds is better than self-harm, and I’m protecting myself by not letting bad people into my life. But the challenge is this – how can I take those bad things, remember the silver lining, and still do my best to change for the better? It’s no easy task and one I’m yet to master (who knows if I ever will) but hey, do as I say, not as I do.

Silver lining can also be people when you’re having a rough time. Your friends, family, even your pet can be Angels in times of need.

So to summarise? Grit your teeth, take the bad and make it good. And if you find how to do it easily, let me know 🙂

Angels

Today, sadly, me and my man went to bury our baby gecko Cleopatra Ionia, the smallest and newest member of our family who we found had sadly passed away on Wednesday. We went to Chorlton to lay her to rest under a tree next to a stream in the most central part of the park. While we took it in turns digging the hole, we both separately noticed a friendly looking older man with white hair and a beard who had settled for a break from his bike ride on a bench nearby. He had obviously noticed what we were doing but mostly ignored us, and seemed to be enjoying the weather and taking in his surroundings. I noticed him and wondered if my fella Nav had, but nothing was said. He went off on his bike but returned a few minutes later to sit on the bench again. I felt very comfortable with him being there, and quite reassured thinking that he knew what we were doing, and he probably visits the park regularly, and it was nice that someone would come here from time to time that was aware that the area was special.

It was only later in the day that Nav asked me if I’d noticed him, and what I thought about it. I replied with my thoughts above, and told Nav that I was sure he was an Angel watching over us. Nav said he thought it was a little strange how he seemed to vanish. A look of understanding passed between us both, and I was over the moon that Nav had recognised something that I feel often in my life – that sometimes people I meet, or people I know of, are Angels.

Now, just to clarify, I believe in God (in personal faith, not organised religion), I believe in Angels in human and supernatural form, I am open to the possibility of other supernatural beings (e.g. ghosts) although I am yet to experience one, I think there are bad forces in the world although I’m not convinced by the idea of The Devil. I’m very interested in what other people think about these things in relation to themselves, but I’m not very interested what people think about my beliefs and assertions. They’re mine, I don’t need to explain them, I certainly don’t try and convince anyone to agree with me. Live and let live.

So, I think this man on the bench was an Angel, sent to watch over us in a time of need. Over dinner this evening, we discussed the idea of Angels and who, if anyone, are living Angels. So I am going to list three of my Angels here. One I know, one I kind-of know, and one I definitely do not know. Now I’m not just going to list my friends and family. Because my fiance, my rainbow girls (effectively rainbow coloured bridesmaids for my upcoming wedding) and my family go without saying that they are a blessing.

Mags

Mags is one of my rainbow girls. Last year I experienced the worst week of my life. Without going into detail about the cause, this was a time in my life where I was at my weakest and most vulnerable, a total mess, and didn’t know what to do. Mags dropped her entire life for me for days on end, was consistently there to support me, would meet me at the time and place of my choosing any time of day or night, and spent hours listening to me figure it all out. Without her I don’t know what I would have done. She was selfless, understanding beyond words and my saviour in my hour of need. I will never forget what she did for me and the way she did it, and I am blessed to have her as one of my rainbow girls.

Zara Khalique

Earlier this year, I started noticing stickers all over Manchester with inspirational, motivational quotes on them ‘Be honest’, ‘Count your blessings.’ I posted the photos on facebook and asked anyone if they knew who was behind them. Funnily enough, a friend of a friend knew Zara, the founder of http://www.keepitbright.co.uk and it was her that was putting them everywhere, promoting positivity and tolerance. A few weeks after I noticed my first sticker, I lost my temp job, something which sent my world a bit wobbly. But on my way to a new job interview, I found the stickers ‘Be positive’ and ‘You are beautiful’. I sucked up my nerves, held my head higher, and aced my interview. I’ve never met this chick face to face, and in a funny way I don’t mind if I never do, because she’s played a special part in my life without even meaning to.

Frank Warren

Frank Warren is the founder of http://www.postsecret.com. I read the site weekly, and it’s caused me to totally re-evaluate my relationship with a family member. I wrote a secret about this person, and by actually putting into words something I felt in the back of my head was a real turning point for me, in realising that my secret was totally unacceptable and wrong. I never mailed him the secret, and I keep it hidden away as a reminder that changing your thought processes can actually change your attitude and therefore behaviour.

I see other Angels almost weekly. Kind people, doing and saying kind things. I keep my eyes and ears open for Angels all the time because I think they can pop into your life at any time, and often are so subtle that you’ll miss them unless you’re smart enough to look out for them. Some other Angels I know are my Dad, Mrs Kennedy my old English teacher, Konrad who we met in Germany and Marcella my gorgeous Dutch dragonfly.

Do you have any Angels that have touched your life?

Facepainting tales

For the last two years I have been the resident facepainter at Youth Discovery Ventures, and I’ve done a bit of freelance facepainting here and there for other organisations, such as ‘Kate’s Craft Parties’.

I’m a real believer in young people being young people and not growing up too fast. You’ll notice that I NEVER use the word child, it’s one of my pet hates. It’s because of years of being referred to as a ‘child’ even when I was a young woman, and feeling restricted and patronised by this. I refer to girls as Ladies, and boys as Young Men. Why disrespect a person because they are 3 and I am 23? They’re still a person and I live by the ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’ motto. It’s like in restaurants when me and my fiance are referred to by the waiter or waitress as ‘guys’. I am not a guy, I am a lady, and we are adults. Even ‘folks’ is better than ‘guys’. Anyway, I digress…

You only get one chance in life to be young, so why shorten the amount of time you have to embrace that?

I see facepainting as so much more than simply getting some paint, and putting it on your face. You can break it down into so many aspects of amazing moments where you have an affinity and connection with someone else.

When young people get their face painted by me I try and make it an experience, and one of those things you’ll remember from your childhood when you grow up.

I almost always wear my septum piercing, which proves fascinating for many of the children I paint. Initially, most are wary of me because of it, but once they’re sat in front of me and I get chatting away to them most begin asking questions about whether it hurt, and if they can touch it. Often they ask me why I have ‘an earring’ in my tongue, and I make sure I always tell them about my piercings being a form of self-expression, and that it’s okay to have them if you want them, as long as you’re not upsetting anybody else by having them. That they do hurt when they’re done, and that they can seriously limit your opportunities in your career and affect the way others perceive you, because unfortunately not everybody likes them. I make sure they understand that they must wait until they’re old enough because otherwise it’s illegal, and that they must go to a body piercer who has a license and knows what they’re doing, then make sure they look after it afterwards.

I also enjoy telling stories while I’m facepainting, as not only does it make the day go faster it means the young person is more likely to sit still and listen rather than getting bored and wriggling, but also because I love storytelling and I think it’s a mode of communication that’s lessening as the years pass. I always ask the young person their name when they first sit down, and a few basic questions to make them feel important (E.g. how old are you, do you have any brothers and sisters, what are you doing for the rest of the day). Without fail, when they tell me what they have chosen to be, I will always tell them that they’ve made a very good choice and that they will be the scariest Monster/prettiest Mermaid/most fearsome Lion that there’s ever been.

And then that’s when the fun can begin.

As I’m painting I’ll ask them if they’ve heard about the little girl who lives in (insert place here, e.g. Stretford or Moss Side) that didn’t believe in fairies until she found a purple one stuck in a spiders web, or the little boy (who looked just like you do!) who was scared of monsters until he realised that his biggest monster was his fear and if he stopped being scared then he would be the most powerful superhero in the world. Sometimes they believe me, and sometimes they don’t. But they always go along with the story. This is real life magic.

Facepainting is exciting for a young person. They get a few minutes to be fussed over and pampered, and that glorious moment (which I will never stop loving) when they look in the mirror for the first time and the reaction they have. Having your face painted is a way of encouraging creativity and imagination, because after all, what better way of being a convincing tiger than not only acting like one, but looking like one too? It’s the best feeling in the world to be packing up my brushes after an event, and noticing for example that the family sitting on the floor drawing pictures that before was a mother, father, their daughter and two sons, is now two nurturing leaders hanging out with a butterfly, Spiderman and a soldier embarking on an epic imaginative roleplay?

99% of the events I work at offer free facepainting as we will make sure the organisers pay us, so we can offer our services to participants for free. I think this is also important, because we often work in deprived areas where there is little provision for the creative learning of young people. The 2 minutes of painting a face is an investment in the rest of the day’s experience for a young person where they can be whoever or whatever they have chosen to be, and nobody is there to tell them they can’t.

Anyone can facepaint. I can’t draw to save my life and have always scraped by in Art at school. But I can copy a design easily enough, one that’s effectively just made up of different shapes that you have to do in order. Anyone can do it, I’ve trained enough people to be sure of that. It’s all about practice, confidence, and fixing your mistakes under pressure. (In two years I’ve only ever done 1 person’s face that I thought ‘Oh dear, that looks awful’ – but the girl’s mother still made a big fuss and took loads of photos, so it wasn’t all bad.)

Facepainting is interactive, modern-day, real life magic. It’s an example of taking something pretty standard and using words to make it something special.

My Hero – John Cena

John Cena is a WWE Superstar who has won 19 Championships, including 10 world titles. He’s done acting & recorded records.

Bad things you could say about Cena?

His technical wrestling ability is somewhat limited.

He is a bit of a one trick pony.

Probably others.

Good things you could say about Cena?

He provides a positive role-model for adults and children alike. Cena’s character has been, excluding his very very early days wrestling, a All-American superhero character. He promotes hard work, humility, respect of others and putting the hours in to get to where you want to be. How can you argue with that? While the reality is ambitious and often unattainable, these ideologies are ones which I feel we should all aspire to.

He has granted over 300 wishes for Arizona children that suffer from life-threatening illnesses as part of the Make A Wish Foundation (the ill child gets their wish granted whatever it may be). Can you imagine (God forbid) being the parent of a child suffering with an unspeakable illness, and their biggest dream is to meet their hero face to face. Can you imagine how indebted you would be to that person taking the time out of their day to meet your child, to spend time with them, and make their dreams come true?

His logos and merchandise. ‘Rise Above Hate’ is Cena’s latest slogan and it ties in with his promotion of a positive outlook and focusing on bettering yourself in every situation. Wearing this phrase emblazoned on your t-shirt sends out a statement to others that you are not afraid to stand up for what’s right regardless how silly it may make you look. This is why I wear my Rise Above Hate t-shirt with pride. I am a 23 year old woman living an independent lifestyle, and while many look at Cena as this childish, unrealistic figure, I see him as an icon of all that’s good in the world and in all honesty I actually feel a little sorry for those that scoff at my love of Cena (friends and loved ones alike…). How is it weak or childlike of me to look up to someone that represents good prevailing?

His campaigns. ‘Be A Superstar’ is an anti-bullying campaign that the WWE run, where the Superstars go into schools and do talks about their experiences of bullying and encourage awareness and a zero-tolerance policy on bullying. Wrestling is fundamentally about creating the illusion (sometimes reality) of inflicting pain on others, which may seem a little at odds with an anti-bullying campaign. However, I think – you know what? Wrestling is what it is, and this has been the same for generation after generation. It will never change, people will never stop enjoying watching others hurt others. But what a pro-active way of combating the idea of fighting by promoting tolerance and acceptance? And keeping your tongue well and truly in your cheek about that never ending debate over the realism of wrestling.

Another good point? His sense of humour. In 2011 throughout the duration of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s rivalry with Cena, The Rock called Cena a Fruity Pebble (A multi-coloured American breakfast cereal), referring to his variety of brightly-coloured, child-friendly merchandise. The Rock intended this as a witty slight on Cena’s integrity as a genuine threat, however Cena bounced back with a promo (short backstage videoed clip) of him tucking into a huge bowl of Fruity Pebbles and relishing it. By taking ownership of this insult it came back on The Rock as Cena took it on the chin and saw the funny side. All of a sudden, Fruity Pebble t-shirts and banners were seen at Monday night WWE RAW shows, and Cena demonstrated the power of ‘Rising Above Hate’, and coming out on top. The fans loved it. (I remember gasping in a ‘Oh No He Di-dn’t’ way when The Rock first said it, and then laughing my head off, and then cheering the next week when I saw Cena’s promo.) What a response.

I love the WWE with its theatrical performances, occasional gritty matches, backstage drama, outlandish story lines, oily male wrestlers with grotesque throbbing muscles, Divas (the female wrestlers) that look like they chose their career in wrestling because they were too fake and unattractive (!) for trashy low-budget pornos. I smile when I am told the patronising ‘You do know it’s not real?’, because of course it’s not ‘real’. But what is real? I tell you what’s real, The Undertaker throwing Mick Foley 16 foot through the air, through a table in Hell in a Cell 1998. Foley dislocated his shoulder, had one of his teeth end up inside his nose, and had loads of other injuries I can’t even remember now.

Go and watch that, then come back and tell me wrestling isn’t real!

Cena is my hero because I try and live my life like a Superhero. I challenge you to watch this video below and not smile.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZlUg662xwk

Manchester Riots

In August 2011 I was a a participant on a project run by Blue Sky youth organisation in Macedonia, called ‘The Road to Gender Equality’, which explored issues of gender affecting those in the EU, and there were other participants from Macedonia, Albania, and Holland. I spent a week learning, laughing, loving talking about my nationality and culture and what it means to me.

On the train home from Luton Airport on Tuesday late afternoon, we got word via mobiles/mobile internet that the rioting had spread and Manchester, my city, was about to suffer. I live very centrally in Manchester, so arrived back very concerned and scared.

Throughout that fateful eveing we saw many people, mostly young, on bikes come past outside, hoods over their heads and weapons/stolen items in their hands. The huge music shop Dawsons in Piccadilly Gardens (the dead centre of Manchester) had been smashed in and items stolen, and we watched many young people pass our pub holding guitars as well as stolen alcohol, clothes and shoes etc.

At one point, the riot was pushing right past our front door by mounted police, which was really scary for me, however I felt protected as there were some big tough people in my home and nearby ready to defend themselves! I was definitely concerned for the safety of my home at various points that night, and I have never felt in that way before.

The next morning I woke early after a bad nights sleep, and made it to the centre of Manchester by 8:30am wearing a tshirt and hoodie from Youth Discovery Ventures, and armed with a dustpan and brush, and my facepaints! While I was on the Momentum Leadership Course a few weeks ago I discovered my ability and enthusiasm for using facepaint as a way of connecting with people, so I saw an opportunity to see if it worked.

I looked around my city and cried at what I saw.

I felt a strong sense of loyalty for not only my Manchester but also my country against what I would describe as an internal threat. I walked around the city and cleared up a bit of glass, however Manchester City Council had been amazing during the night and managed to sweep away most mess from the streets. Shop workers were dazed and crying in their shops, trying to make sense of their half stolen stock, their broken windows, their damaged property.

Throughout that day I estimate that I painted over 75 faces, with messages such as ‘I LOVE MCR’, English flags and other symbols of pride, and to almost every person I painted I spoke about the sadness of what had happened, but also the amazing morale and community spirit that was crackling in the air. My intention was to remind people that these young people rioting were a minority, and many more young people were present during the day with brooms and rubbish bags to help clean up. I refused to paint any negative or confrontational messages even though I was asked a few times.

I’m no matyr, and I’m not writing this to boast or to seek approval or praise. I was among almost 1,000 other citizens who turned up for the same reason, to try and claw back our city.

In light of these events, it’s more important than ever to be proud of your city, your country, or even other people in the world making a stand for all that is right. There are so many news reports on tv, in newspapers etc at the moment focusing on the negativity of this generation we are losing to disillusionment, laziness and greed, so I wrote this article as positive force to counteract this. I’m now reposting this on Casting a Hero, because it is still as important and relevant now as it is then.

Youth Discovery Ventures, the organisation I am a Director of, is all about creating, learning, understanding and growing, and it’s a cause I believe in. We need more organisations to get involved in positively tackling the issues that affect young people or things are very bleak for the future of our communities. I feel too unequipped and unresearched to comment on the influence other complicated issues such as criminal justice, discipline, and poverty has had on recent events, but I think these are also important factors to consider in an attempt to understand – not excuse, what has happened, and to learn from it.

In my opinion, people are inherently good, but there are various reasons that cause them to do things that are not so good. We need provision for young people in deprived areas. We need focus on bringing citizenship, access to work and lifeskills into the curriculum in a innovative and interactive way. We need faith and respect in our young generation as they are the leaders of the future, and we will one day be putting not only our future, but the entire future of humanity in their hands. This shouldn’t be scary, this should be exciting. The only way we can do this is through being less apathetic and finding out what part we can play, however big, in making our world more beautiful.

What do you think?