Why don’t good young people sell news? | Should Brum's 'Celebrating Youth Excellence Awards' Return?
Updated: Apr 12, 2019
I’m writing this one to you on behalf of our young people, not that I speak for them all, but I am concerned that our cities most talented, accomplished and dedicated young people are being unappreciated and overlooked by sensationalised headlines using bad news to demonise and label us all as a troubled, violent, misguided and lost generation.
I am concerned that these single narratives only highlight such a small part of the bigger picture regarding the positive work and contributions that are being made in this city by young people, for young people.
In 2019, a time where young people in the UK are:
· The second fastest-growing group of self-employed workers with over 181,000 of 16 to 24-year-olds starting businesses.
· So ambitious that 3 in 4 are willing to work long hours and take risks to achieve their dreams.
· Less likely to drink, do drugs, smoke, get arrested and prefer to spend time with their families
Why are they still being stereotyped, labelled and trash talked in the news?
Where were the headlines and news coverage for the 181,000 young people that started a business?
It’s no wonder 88% of young people still feel that their voice doesn’t matter.
As some of you may know, 10 years ago, a great work was started by my Mom, Esha Johnson, Founder of the Celebrating Youth Excellence Awards. She challenged the lack of celebration of young people when my elder sister was doing her GCSE’s in 2007. Like any student dedicated to learning, my sister worked resiliently, sometimes revising until 4am in the morning and getting 2 hours sleep. Her hard work paid off when she achieved 10 A*- A grades. HOWEVER, this clearly was not enough, because in the very same week, MPs were on the news saying that ‘exams were too easy.’ What a slap in the face! They never once said anything positive to encourage those students who worked their butts off just to try and beat a system who offers those of us from working class backgrounds little to nothing. This made my sister really angry and she no longer saw her grades as anything worth celebrating, instead she said ‘Mom, what is the point? Even if you work hard and get good results, it never seems to be enough.’ Appalled at the news, my Mom went to speak to Clare Short who was the MP for Ladywood at the time who took my Mom’s concerns to parliament and ever since they have tried to report good things about students who make good achievements in their work.
The point is, why should you have to be told to celebrate and recognise the positive achievements and contributions of young people?
In 2009, my Mom launched the annual Celebrating Youth Excellence Awards a ceremony that recognised the outstanding achievements and positive contributions of young people aged 13-25 from across Birmingham and the West Midlands region. The black tie occasion also honoured parents, educators and organisations that invested time and support into ensuring the success of young people in the community .The event aimed to re-focus the public eye from the negative media on young people. Instead the C.Y.E Awards encouraged the community to appreciate the countless positive qualities that young people have by celebrating their achievements.
My Mom’s vision was for the event to be run by young for young people as her ethos was all about passing on the baton, which was symbolised through the gold baton award given to winners. In 2012, aged 18 I took up the baton to run the awards ceremony, overseeing a team of young people under 25 to produce a glittering ceremony with over 300 delegates. We managed to secure sponsorship from Lloyds Banking, Cadbury World, Virgin Trains and more. However, it was a struggle to convince the press why events like this mattered. At one point press releases I sent out for the event were ignored to the extent that I thought some of the local newspapers had blackballed me, BBC Midlands Today ignored our requests to report on the event, the Phoenix newspaper said our event was ‘disorganised’; but thank you to The Voice who repeatedly covered the event with encouraging articles. With very little public backing and financial support, our team of young people did what we could, using social media to champion campaigns like #IAmGreatCos , radio shows who would have us like Newstyle and the ‘Sunny and Shay’ and ‘Nikki Tapper’ shows on BBC WM 95.6 and being mentored by an amazing team of local business owners called the ’12:8 Group’ made up of Birmingham’s African-Caribbean entrepreneurs.
My Mom and myself believed in this event so much that over 7 years we invested over £20,000 of our own money genuinely believing that every penny was worth it, just so that Birmingham’s young people could feel appreciated. Unfortunately, in 2015 we ran the awards for the last time, as we were no longer able to sustain the cost.
Since this time, I have received so many messages and encountered so many refreshing conversations where people from the local community and past award winners have said how much events like this were needed, how much it had empowered young people and enabled them to discover their self-worth and appreciate their potential, how it had given a platform to local artists to share their talents and how it was such a shame it came to an end.
Ask yourself, ‘Why is Birmingham losing some of its most talented, skilled and accomplished people?’
In December 2015, I moved to BBC Children’s in Salford for the dream job of a Television Presenter. I knew Birmingham couldn’t offer me this type of PAID work and thought Birmingham didn’t appreciate me and during the time of running the awards, the heavy focus on gun and knife crime, a lack of financial backing and a lack of support for these unsung community heroes emphasised that ‘great young people didn’t sell newspapers’.
I didn’t feel like coming back to Birmingham, but destiny overruled me and now in 2019, I am determined more than ever to prove that in Birmingham, UK our young people are ‘designed for greatness’ and I will never give up on championing those who may not be entertaining enough for headlines, but are tirelessly on the front line and doing the ground work without recognition to ensure that there is hope, resources and aspiration provided for the next generation.
Final question Birmingham, let me know if you want the Celebrating Youth Excellence Awards to return? Because for you, I’ll gladly take up the baton again and do what it takes to make sure our city stands out for the RIGHT reasons.