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Why inclusion isn't enough

I really do believe that something significant is happening at the moment both in America and around the globe. It breaks my heart that such a movement only sparks when something as horrific as George Floyd’s murder occurs. And while I don’t feel equipped at all to weigh in on this discussion, and feel like I may have already got things wrong in my wording, I do think as we go through lockdown not meeting as youth groups in person, it is a time for us as youth workers to take a step back and ask why such devastation happens, and what we can do to work towards a world where it doesn’t happen again. I want to look at how we fall short when trying to be inclusive, and how we need to go further in our action. It seems like an impossible task over Zoom, but as we prepare for life after lockdown, I think what is spoken about here can help us work towards a better, more diverse youth club for everyone, no matter their background.

Inclusivity

Definition:

“not excluding any section of society or any party involved in something.”


I love that we use this word, I really do. When people know that they can come to an event or programme, and be included in what is happening, it really fills my heart with joy. We use it a lot because we want everyone, no matter their ethnicity or upbringing, to feel included. To acknowledge that we are inclusive we are saying that those who are different, those that don’t look the same or think the same, are welcome.

I had a conversation with someone recently, and we were chatting about the group of young people that I have the privilege of working with. I can only speak from my context, but since lockdown we have had a huge drop off with numbers attending sessions. As we moved from meeting face to face, onto video calling, the majority of fringe attendees stopped coming along. Maybe this is down to the unknown of what video calling would look like in this context, maybe they know it won’t be as fun because of the lack of active games that we can play, maybe it’s because they know that Zoom will stop them being the young person at the back who isn’t seen, to someone who everyone can see. The fact is that the list could go on for ages, but #blacklivesmatter highlights something else. It highlights the fact that the vast majority of those that aren’t attending are the ones who live in the low economical areas, and when we look at who they are, they are mostly the young people who are considered ethnic minorities. Why as soon as it is convenient to do so, do those who sit at the back, who sit in their little group and stick with their friends (who tend to look and think the same), stop attending?

Aren’t we the inclusive youth group? Aren’t we the youth group where everyone is welcome?

The reality is that we are inclusive. When we could meet in person, they came each week and they most likely did feel welcome, but it’s clear that being inclusive isn’t enough. Nothing is stopping them from being welcome over Zoom, why then do they not come? Is there something more we can be doing? 

Integration

Definition:

“combine (one thing) with another to form a whole.”


This is a word that I haven’t heard in a while. But it’s a word that I think could really create a change that would be beneficially for youth groups. Inclusion is saying anyone is welcome to attend, but to integrate would mean a conversation would need to happen. A conversation would allow those who run the event, those who lead, to hear the needs of all the young people who attend. So instead of running a youth club the way it’s always been done, instead of running a programme where although different ethnicities are in the same room, they are separate and sitting in their own little groups, maybe we create a conversation where all ethnicities, all backgrounds can input. I believe that when we have conversations that involve such diversity, we will see these different groups become integrated, and by definition they will become whole. A youth club that is whole? Doesn’t that seem like a beautiful image.

As a result of integration, I no longer see a youth club where young people come and hang out with their friends, with those who look the same and think the same while in the same room as other groups of friends who look different and think differently. Instead I see young people creating a community together, full of conversations where they learn from one another, where there is a deep respect for each others background, and a place where together there is fun and laughter. Ultimately this place will not tolerate something like racism, because an attack on one person, would be an attack on everyone. It would be a place where if one person suffers, everyone suffers with them; a place where if one person is honoured, everyone rejoices with them. Maybe the man who murdered George Floyd wouldn’t have done what he did, if from an early age he was put in a conversation that allowed him to not have a prejudice against someone for who they were. Instead he was allowed to rejoice in people's difference and know it’s that which makes us as a global community, whole.

Final thoughts

In a world full of racism, full of depravation and hurt, I’ve looked at how we as youth workers can start to create change in our youth clubs that will start a conversation to see a place full of diversity, integrated together and whole. I really do believe integration is something we need to strive towards, as when we see others as part of our community, we will see healing and wholeness as a result. It doesn’t stop at youth clubs either. On a slight tangent, imagine a school that instead of exclusion introduced a re-integration system, where teachers were able to have a conversation to understand a young persons background and what is going on in their life. Imagine a school then working to re-integrate that young person back into lessons, and restore wholeness. Therefore, instead of seeing young person after young person pushed away from education, which plays a huge part in the journey to hopelessness, we see young people being embraced and given a real kind of hope. One that doesn’t push them further and further into deprivation, but rather into a future where they are empowered to succeed.

Young people are the future. I 100% believe that during their adolescence, the habits they form, will shape how they progress through the rest of their life. So to see young people who embody "one person suffers, everyone suffers. One person is honoured, everyone rejoices" will be a revolution. It starts at our youth clubs, it starts by us the youth workers embodying it first and it starts by a conversation, with all.

I love to ask questions, I know every context is different and I don’t have the answers to everyone, and asking allows you to consider the answers for yourself. However, I know the issue that I’ve talked about is universal, and people being excluded/segregated from our groups will most likely happen in our practices. I do hope that you agree that integration is the way forward to seeing diversity and wholeness within our youth clubs. Therefore I only have one question for us all: What are you going to change? Because it will take change, it will be scary, but it can be something we do together, integrated, diverse and whole.


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