Monday, 7 July 2008

Ray Lewis: 'this brave man'

From Melanie Phillips about my friend, Ray Lewis. She could have worded this bit better, but I know what she means: "Whatever his personal failings turn out to be, it would be social suicide if his approach to delinquent youths was also discredited. Even if Ray Lewis is to be taken out of the picture, we need more people like him to continue what he started."


The resignation of Ray Lewis as the Mayor of London' s crime adviser is quite simply a tragedy, with profound implications far beyond the insular world of the capital's party politics.

Here is a man who has literally saved lives. Among the boys whose behaviour he has transformed through his Eastside Young Leaders' Academy in East London are those who, without any doubt, would otherwise have gone on to kill or be killed.

Yet Mr Lewis has suddenly been accused of a slew of torrid offences including financial irregularities, physical abuse and sexually inappropriate behaviour.

At present, we don't know the truth about these murky allegations. Mr Lewis has already robustly denied the more lurid claims, but perhaps some of them are true.

Maybe all those who have supported him in the past - ranging from the Tories' social justice guru Iain Duncan Smith to Lee Jasper, Ken Livingstone's (now disgraced) race adviser who described his approach as 'brilliant' - are thus shown up to be naive and credulous dupes.

If so, then I am one of them. I visited the Eastside Academy in July 2005, months before David Cameron used it for his first official photo-op as the new Tory leader. I saw for myself the impressive work Ray Lewis was doing.

He took black boys from shattered family backgrounds who were on the way to criminal careers and turned them into high-achieving model citizens. These were the toughest boys in the neighbourhood.

They had fought, bullied, smashed up their schools and set fire to them, barricaded teachers into the classrooms and been in accelerating trouble with the law. Yet when they left Eastside virtually all of them went to college and lived law-abiding lives.

Ray Lewis achieved this by plugging the crucial gap in their lives that virtually no teacher or social worker or probation officer can fill.

He was simply the father figure they so desperately needed but who was missing from their own fractured families. He was a tough, stern, authoritative, totally uncompromising black man - all factors crucial to gaining their respect.

All he achieved was through the force of his personality. The boys did what he told them to do, not because he hit them but because his disapproval was shattering to them.

He loved and believed in those boys, he gave them a sense of unlimited aspiration and he drove them very hard. And because they both feared his tongue and admired him, they responded by transforming themselves.

He made them conform to strict rules of discipline; there were military-style roll calls, they were instructed to make eye contact with their tutors and to walk in straight lines with no deviations and no talking.

The importance of such 'tough love' to boys who possessed not even the most elementary social skills, let alone self-discipline or respect for authority, cannot be exaggerated.

He had no time at all for sloppy teaching practices, nor the usual excuses for bad behaviour such as 'poor self-esteem'. His work was the most graphic rebuke possible to all those involved in making excuses for juvenile criminality.

As a result, he made serious enemies on the Left, who regarded him as some kind of fascist. On the local Newham council various councillors and officials badmouthed Eastside as a 'boot camp' and gave him only minimal funding.

This was simply because just about everything he stood for was a monumental rebuke to everything they stood for, and to the personal and social damage over which they so complacently presided. Read more

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