The anniversary of the killing of Damilola Taylor, aged just 10, falls tomorrow, November 27. Here his father RICHARD TAYLOR pays moving tribute to the son he lost and sets out his hopes for events which will mark the 20th anniversary next year – and for an end to the killings which have left so many families at a loss as to why their children have died.
It’s the 19th anniversary of our losing Damilola this week. He was taken by the angels just weeks short of his 11th birthday on November 27th 2000.
It still pains me today as much as it did at the time. The years have not extinguished the anguish of losing him so young.
I do not want to talk about pain though – I want to talk about hope.
Shortly before his death my son wrote a short essay in which he spoke of “Hoping to save the world in his lifetime” – Inspired by his desire to see a cure for the epilepsy that his sister Gbemi suffered from.
Sadly he did not live to realise his dreams but on November 27 the Damilola Taylor Trust has launched a 12-month campaign inspired by his dream and motivated by his legacy.
We want 2020 to be seen as a YEAR OF HOPE for all those that care for the wellbeing, safety and development of young people.
As we approach the 20th anniversary, I am of course aware that lots of people will want to draw parallels between what life was like back in 2000, when the tragedy of Damilola made the front pages of newspapers all around the world, and now – when violence affecting young people seems to have just become normalised.
After almost 20 Years of taking phone calls from journalists looking for a quick quote from me about yet another senseless loss of a young life, I have a message for them. Please take a second to consider how uncaring and violent society itself has become.
How it came to pass that there are now hundreds of families like mine that have lost children to acts of violence.
The 20th anniversary of my son’s death also falls on the 20th anniversary year of Ken Livingston becoming Mayor of London. It is not for me to answer questions about how violence became so normalised – it is for the whole of society.
Here in London especially, one of the richest capital cities in the world, where one in three children now live in poverty.
I do not want to get into politics and the blame game that politicians get sucked into. Clearly in the last 20 years, society itself has not been getting things right and that is where I am drawing the line.
I have worked as a special advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and also Boris Johnston when he was Mayor of London.
I have not met a single politician in the last 20 years that did not want to see a solution to young people hurting each other but I have not met a single politician yet who has found sustainable solutions.
That is the simple fact of where we have arrived at with the normalisation of the violence in young people’s lives!
Something has gone badly wrong with society and I believe that only as a society can we put it right.
Let us stop demanding changes be made by politicians and instead start working closer together to effect the changes needed.
Start by challenging each other to be more caring and compassionate. Less competitive and more collaborative.
The Damilola Taylor Trust has done much to try and help young people since we launched in 2001. But perhaps like all the other organisations that are doing great work we need to stop talking about what we are doing individually and start talking more about what we need to be doing more of collectively – to effect cohesive change!
Damilola did not want to be a politician. He wanted to be a doctor. And I can only imagine that if he had lived to fulfil his dream then he would now be one of the heroic NHS doctors tasked with trying to save young people each week who are coming into A&E departments with stab wounds.
But there is hope.
Last year I was delighted to meet the founders of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), Karyn Mcclusky and John Carnochan – plus the current director, Niven Rennie – when they came to speak at the Damilola Taylor Trust memorial lecture.
The way they changed things in Scotland was inspirational. They said the most important things they did was to create relationships where people worked closer together in sharing responsibility to find solutions. That was eye opening. They are such passionate and dedicated people and I was certainly inspired hearing of the success they had achieved – how they had set out a ten year plan and stuck to it.
Now we have a Violence Reduction Unit here in London and I believe this is something that needs supporting.
I met the new director Lib Peck recently and was impressed by her plans and to hear that there is now a national network of VRUs emerging around the country.
This is being funded by the Government and I pleased about this as I want to see this issue dealt with more and more in a politically neutral way. Violence reduction through investment in prevention is absolutely the way forward to guarantee at least generational change.
You have to start somewhere. And while I wish that maybe London had started this process in 2006, at the same time as Glasgow, at least it has started now!
I remember very clearly the founders of the Scotland VRU talking about hope and how it was the “secret ingredient” in the philosophy of taking a public health approach to stopping violence.
On Friday 27th November 2020 Southwark Cathedral will host a memorial service for my son which all Prime Ministers and Mayors of London since 2000 are being invited to attend. I can promise that it will be a wonderful tribute to all the young people of London who, like Damilola, aspire to great achievement and a better life for themselves and others.
It will be the culmination of YEAR OF HOPE campaign we are launching this week and one which thousands of young people, youth workers and local communities will have participated in.
The campaign is being supported by Safer London, the most dedicated charity in London for safeguarding our most vulnerable young people in need of help and I am certainly grateful for the help they are giving the Damilola Taylor Trust.
There are many statutory bodies, charitable organisations and companies stepping up already, including the Coop, Mayor of London Peer Outreach Team, Metropolitan Police, Rio Ferdinand Foundation, London Violence Reduction Unit, MRM McCann and the London Marathon. A very good mixture.
This is just a soft launch and it will set the scene for much more partnership development until the programme for the year is announced in January.
Every anniversary is poignant for me and this one will be no different.
My family will join me at the cemetery to visit Damilola and his mum Gloria’s resting place. I hope that by the time we assemble again, one year on, that the legacy will be blooming and that 2020 will prove to be a year where hope became a byword for progress towards a fairer, safer society.
Richard Taylor OBE