Sunday, 19 October 2008

Ray Lewis and the battle to fix Britain's broken boys

The saga of Ray Lewis goes on - but perhaps where it should, in the struggle to lift black boys out of hopelessness.

This article from the Telegraph makes compelling reading, and reminds me precisely of the Ray I used to know: larger than life, offensive, charismatic, and the rest.

Do, please, take time to read it. I was struck by these paragraphs:
... it turns out that Ray has enemies, lots of them. And according to them, I could be quite wrong: the genial, hugely impressive and positive man I met could be nothing of the sort.

Let's start with the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev John Gladwin, who put out a statement that referred to 'a misdemeanour of such seriousness that… the person concerned should not exercise his ministry for the time being.' The statement did not make clear what the misdemeanour was but note those last four words. Surely it can't have been that serious after all, then?

I spoke to the Rev Michael Fox, who was Archdeacon of West Ham when Ray was an ordained minister. He brought up two issues. The first concerned an internal church squabble over the management of the parish. From that he moved on to various financial matters: £6,000 owed to an unnamed student; £30,000 that was given to him by a parishioner, either as a loan or possibly to invest but which has since been paid back. And that's it. 'I'm quite certain Ray could do good work with youngsters, but I would never let him near a cheque book,' Fox says.

[Sir Ian] Duncan Smith [the former Tory leader] is furious about the Church's position. 'I have a real question mark over the Church in all this,' he says. 'They sat on Ray Lewis's file and they never went to him and said – ''Let's clear this up." I think they behaved in a disgusting and appalling manner… it wasn't the behaviour of a responsible institution.'
And these:
And finally there's local politics. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Newham Council sent me a review of the academy undertaken in September 2005. It begins promisingly. 'There is no doubt that EYLA offers a unique service. It aims to transform the lives of many disillusioned and alienated young black boys.' It continues: 'We spoke to senior teachers from three local schools who refer young people to EYLA. Without exception, they were all very supportive of the project.'

Those teachers might have included John Jay, head of the Green Primary School in Tottenham who decided to import EYLA methods when the school was performing poorly. 'Within a very short time, everybody could see the very positive effect that Eastside was having,' he is quoted as saying on the website of David Lammy, the Labour MP who himself describes EYLA as 'a fantastic organisation'. However, when I asked him for a comment for this piece, Lammy did not return my call.

The Newham report went on to question the 'quasi-military approach to discipline and the use of marching that has close connections to military life'. Soldiers, one assumes, do not make good role models. And the report concluded: 'We do not believe that Eastside has received enough support and training in child protection to enable the council to proceed with further investment.'

No money, then. But unfortunately, it doesn't end there. 'Newham Council hates him,' Duncan Smith says, bluntly. 'The Labour Party hates him. When David Blunkett was Home Secretary, he didn't even visit Eastside.' I put this to Newham's media manager, Gary Bird, who declined to get back to me. But later I caught sight of an internal leaked email, which makes shocking reading: '… no LBN member of staff is to work with EYLA in any capacity, nor fund or assist them in the delivery of any programme involving young people from this borough… Any action to the contrary will be regarded as a serious disciplinary matter and will be treated by me as such.'

Although, in the same email, the writer states that 'I never presume nor attach any guilt to EYLA or any of its staff', the result is the same. For the indefinite future, the academy is cut off from the very borough it tries to serve. Guilty until the council decides otherwise.
But read the article to read about the boys themselves. Read it and weep, because somebody should.

John R
19 October 2008

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