("Maybe he's a bit of both. Most of us are.")
The boys are all black. Aged between eight and 18 and clad in blazers with white gloves, they march around the hall at the One Love Community Centre in east London. The movement is not quite military, but it is co-ordinated, synchronised and speaks of acting together. This is Eastside, the youth project which aims to turn dysfunctional black boys into leaders in the state schools from which many of them have been suspended or excluded.
The man behind the Eastside Young Leaders' Academy is Ray Lewis, who was forced to resign last week as deputy mayor of London. He shouts at his charges in a booming voice. Punctuality is at a premium and physical punishments, like press-ups, are imposed for infractions of the strict behaviour code. Boot camp is the shorthand that both fans and detractors use of the project.
But it is more than that. Eastside is a place where maths, English and science are taught – along with etiquette, deportment and a host of other old-fashioned virtues – to children of whom mainstream schools have despaired. Black boys like this are six times more likely to be excluded from school than their white counterparts. They have treble the chance of ending up in jail and a minuscule chance of getting to university.
In a poor borough such as Newham, many of the black children hang around on the streets from the time school ends until 8pm or later, when their single mothers come home from work. They turn to gangs for company, often dealing in drugs. It is the crucible in which the increase in gang-related teenage deaths isfomented.
For the past seven years, Ray Lewis and his staff have not just rescued young blacks from this latch-key world. They have offered a vehicle, in Mr Lewis's words, to "get black kids from the courtrooms to the boardrooms". Some 80 boys are now on Eastside's books, attending after school every day during term time and on Saturday morning. During the school holidays the boys carry out community work in residential homes and projects for the homeless, garden and decorate for elderly people and volunteer for charities. Mentors drawn from a pool of successful black businessmen raise the boys' expectations. They are taught how to deal on the stock market. Read more
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