Young people in Denham Town, Kingston are pushing against the stigma and clichés surrounding their community by participating in the SpeakUP project. Denham Town is one of the communities served by UP Unity & Peace, a Collective coordinated by Fight for Peace.
SpeakUP is funded by the Commonwealth Foundation and is designed to strengthen community voices and encourage young people to have input in government commitments, violence prevention programmes and initiatives that are currently being designed.
Seeking to shape their own narrative, young people are mapping their futures and calling on decision-makers and people in authority to listen to how they want to be represented and treated.
We sat down with some young people participating in the SpeakUP project to hear their views and experiences.
“I think there is a stigma that nothing good comes from Denham Town – which is wrong”, said Kemoya, who is 19 years old. “There are a lot of challenges we as young people face; (people in government) think being a teenager is easy; it’s not.”
She added that young people’s voices must be heard: “I think we don’t get to be heard, not much of what we get to say is taken into account. Young people have a lot of qualities, you (just) have to sit and listen to their views – everyone’s point of view matters.”
Another SpeakUP participant, 16 year old Renesha, highlighted the prejudice that young people from her community come up against: “In (some) circumstances, (teachers) have said because of where I am from, I’m not doing anything or won’t go anywhere.”
Renesha’s advice for people who have these damaging and discriminatory views is to resist judgement and support the journey and aspirations of young people. “Don’t treat people a way because of where they come from, we all have a future we are all trying to work towards. We all have a passion for what we want to do in life.”
“Young people need better understanding from adults. How you speak to us can motivate us or (determine) how we see ourselves”, adds Nelly, also 16. “There are differences, and if we have an attitude, you don’t know what we are going through and we might not be comfortable with you to explain.” For her, guidance and support are crucial. “Sometimes we just need a friend that can give advice or listen”, she says.
22 year old Prince was keen for people to know that opportunity is so important to the futures of young people: “For the older youths like me, we just need a job. And the ones after us can get skills training to get better jobs than us. That’s what we need so we can take care of ourselves.”
The voices of our young people are vital in breaking down the stereotypes and barriers which can be so damaging in how we see ourselves and our futures, and to our aspirations and progress in life. In the context of the SpeakUP project in Jamaica, we are optimistic that the voices and recommendations of our young people can be reflected in state budgets, policies, legislation and long-term programming.