Meet the Advocacy Academy

advocacywithhelen-hayesmpMeet the Advocacy Adademy – young people on a mission to tackle some big problems. Founder Amelia Viney invited the Brixton Blog and Bugle to Parliament to hear their campaign pitches to local MP Helen Hayes

Amelia Viney, founder and director of the Advocacy Academy, wants to empower young people to make a difference in the world.

The Academy aims to give students the tools, skills and confidence to tackle thorny subjects. The issues they chose to tackle are big ones – domestic violence, sexual harassment, racism, body image, bullying, homelessness and mental illness.

Although the topics are diverse, the common threads running through the speeches are confidence, passion and eloquence.

The students are year 12 school pupils from Lambeth and Southwark. They worked with mentors at evening sessions and at three residential retreats while preparing their campaigns.

Viney says: “There is nothing inevitable about inequality and injustice. Young people can make the best advocates because they take the problems of the world seriously and want to do something about them.”

Below are extracts from four Brixton students’ parliamentary debut speeches. MPs had better watch their seats.

Erica Da Silva

Advocacy Academy graduate EricaErica moved to Brixton from Madeira when she was three:

“My first memory of London is shopping at Brixton market. I remember going with my mum to buy groceries, but because none of us could speak English, my mum had to point at things to ask for them. It would have been easy for the people on the market stalls to charge us too much, but they were fair and respectful.

“Seeing my mum being treated so well set the tone for what I hoped to expect as an immigrant child, but once I went into education – and specifically secondary school – I experienced the total opposite.

“It started in year nine when the school secured a handful of work experience placements. However, very few – if any – immigrant children got selected. Negative feelings toward immigrant students continued throughout my time at school and even when I was picking AS Levels one teacher told me to ‘be realistic’, and disregarded my desire to go to a top university. He dismissed my ambition. I felt completed condescended.”

Erica is campaigning to educate teachers and intends to write to Lambeth School’s Forum and Teach First about how to teach migrant children.

“I think that speaking to these two groups of educators could have a fundamental impact on how welcome migrant children feel in our education system. I will do my best to ensure that those younger than me have a better experience than I did. I would really appreciate your support.”

Darren Keenan

academy-darrenDarren, who lives in Brixton is campaigning against unpaid internships:

“When I started looking for jobs I found out about unpaid internships and I thought, ‘how can I do this and afford to live at the same time?’

“This made me realise – you can have the same qualifications as someone else, but who your parents are determines the opportunities you get. Internships are a perfect example of opportunities open to people from wealthy backgrounds and not to others. Top companies and top jobs are only open to people who can afford it.

“This means areas like law, politics and media, especially in London and in Lambeth, are very difficult to get into, which means many people are locked out of those areas and no longer have aspirations for the best jobs.

“I want to see an end to unpaid internships across the UK, so we can have a more diverse workforce.”

Darren’s campaign aims to identify five large companies in Lambeth and persuade them to create new paid internships which are targeted at local people.” He asked Helen Hayes to secure a debate in Parliament to stop unpaid internships.

Sarah Adesikun and Ariana da Silva

Advocacy student SarahSarah (left) and Ariana (below) are from Streatham and Brixton and they are campaigning against sexual harassment:

“‘Catcalling’ now seems so normal on the streets around where we live. Just to give some context, there is general acceptance that if I were to walk down Electric Avenue in Brixton, I am entering a zone where I am exposed to derogatory and sexual comments from men. It is expected and it is accepted.
“It is this general acceptance that is one Academy student Arianaof the things that worries me. I feel girls and women are becoming immune to comments. It so sad that the way we dress or act is seen as likely to impact the potential for rape, and the potential for victim blaming.

“All rape and sexual assaults are wrong and should not be an issue that we, as young people have to live in fear of. ‘Catcalling culture’ is part of a bigger culture that makes women and girls feel unsafe on the streets. This is not acceptable. Women and girls have as much entitlement to walk on these streets as anyone else.”

Sarah and Ariana want to convince head teachers in three schools to allocate a full assembly each year to charities that deal with these issues. They also want to make teaching consent in the school curriculum clearer and mandatory.