Interview: Discipline in the city - Ray Lewis, deputy mayor of London for young people
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Ray Lewis is the first deputy mayor for young people in the capital. His job, in his own stark words, is to "stop kids killing other kids".
With 26 teenagers murdered in London last year and 13 young lives lost already through stabbings and shootings this year, this is no small task.
However Lewis, who was the new Mayor of London Boris Johnson's first appointment, is not afraid to take on the challenge. One way in which he hopes to make a difference is by appointing a person in command of fighting the capital's gangs problem.
"I would like to see a gangs tsar who would be able to work with all the issues, such as policing, and look at how community initiatives can transform gang crime. Dealing with the problem of gang crime is very much at the top of my list," he says.
Lewis, a former prison governor, hopes to tackle the growing problem of gang crime by "finding community champions who will act as catalysts to change". He wants to find people who teenagers can relate to and who they will listen to - "people from within their own community".
As deputy mayor for young people, Lewis claims he "doesn't want to come in with pre-fabricated ideas".
"We have to talk to young people and find out ethnographically what affects them and what interests them,"he says.
He plans to set up forums and conferences locally and "to give young people more of a voice".
He also wants to set up a shadow youth Greater London Authority where young people will be elected from across London.
He is keen to get involved with organisations that already engage young people, such as the Prince's Trust and the UK Youth Parliament, and harness their expertise.
The role of deputy mayor for young people is a new post and this, along with the fact that Johnson made Lewis his first appointment, "shows how serious Boris is about the issues that affect young Londoners," says Lewis.
"Boris is passionate about London. As a father he is concerned about young people and how they live their lives in the capital," he adds.
Lewis, who splits his week between London and Milton Keynes where his wife and three daughters live, was the founder and director of Eastside Young Leaders' Academy in Newham, east London.
The after-school and Saturday programme takes boys on the edge of exclusion and prides itself on turning their lives around.
The children, aged eight to 17, wear a uniform and the discipline is "intentionally tough", says Lewis. Two boys recently won scholarships to Rugby School.
The academy claims that it "fully expects to produce Britain's first black prime minister".
When Johnson appointed Lewis, he said: "Ray's dynamic but strict approach has given countless opportunities to hundreds of young men in London and helped raise their aspirations as a result. He has helped them achieve more than they ever hoped possible and now I want to spread that magic across London."
However, Lewis is quick to dispel the notion that he will simply replicate the kind of ethos at Eastside on a larger scale.
He says: "I don't want to just take something that works at Eastside and think it will work just as well somewhere else."
However, it seems for Johnson, Eastside is one of the answers. Only days after being elected he said: "Ray's approach has been to take young black males who have been excluded from school, and imbue them with magnificently untrendy boot-camp-style discipline. Imagine what we could achieve with 100 Saturday schools like the Eastside Young Leaders."
Ultimately, however Lewis does it, he is determined to make an impact.
"I don't want to find short-term solutions. I want to find strategies that will have a shelf life."
From religion to politics
- Lewis was ordained at St Paul's Cathedral and became vicar of St Matthews Church in West Ham, London in 1993
- In 1999, he became prison governor of Woodhill Young Offenders Institution in Milton Keynes
- In 2002, Lewis set up the Eastside Young Leaders Academy in Newham, east London
- This year, Lewis opened three academies in Haringey, Southwark and Hackney.