Kids need Role Models
“ I know that you're not my father, but you were always there for me when I needed that guidance. I'd just like to thank you for helping me now”.
Kickoff@3 Co-Founder Ashley Levien & his daughter
2020 has been a mess. School cancelled, football camps closed, kids' clubs cut, parents are at their wits ends. Where though has this left our teenagers?
One of the major casualties of the pandemic has been organised clubs. Far more than childcare, clubs offer teenagers the outlet and support they need to keep out of trouble. At Dad.info we had the opportunity to speak with Michael Wallace and Ashley Levien co-founders of Kickoff@3 an initiative which engages young people through sport and music. Michael, is a serving police officer, Ashley a bus driver. They are both Dads and in their spare time give back to their community engaging young people who might otherwise be at risk of falling into criminality.
Kickoff@3 Co-Founder Michael Wallace & his son
Many of the young people they work with come from families with absent Dads. A situation Mike understands. Brought up alone by his Mum after his father emigrated to Canada, Michael remembers "going to football matches. Everyone else had their parents. My father never picked me up. I was that child that had nobody to look to. That was not my Mum’s fault because she was busy working to provide and keep me in a safe home”. Mike's experience has motivated him to make a difference to kids in his community who don’t have father figures. Ashley has similar childhood experiences, “I never really grew up around my dad. You know, I was kicked out of my house when I was 16 years old. I kind of lost that whole father figure straight away”. Now both Michael and Ashley are fathers themselves they want to do things differently. Michael is clear, “me being a father, to three children, I think is so, so important. You're there for your children”.
Trusting the Police
Kickof@3 is supported by the Metropolitan Police’s community fund, but Michael says, “If you said Met Police football tournament, they're not going to come because it says Met Police. Remember all these young people, for whatever reason; they've had a negative experience with the police. It is not about lying to them but it's not the police in their face”. When young people come to Kickoff@3 events, they play alongside police officers and Michael reckons, “It's the uniform that's the barrier. Once they see beyond that, they see me as a human being working with the police”.
Ashley remembers that he didn’t trust the police as a kid. “15 years ago now, I would be stopped and searched on just random days. And I think that kind of paints a picture of the police. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong. So why why why am I being stopped and searched?” Michael and Ashley are working to show teenagers that “not all police officers are the same. You know, just like not every young black male is the same. You can't tarnish people with the same brush. You have to keep an open mind”.
Michael knows from his work for the police that children without healthy role models are at greater risk “there's a lot of young black boys where you're seeing violence, mental health issues and sexual exploitation. You're seeing a lot happening in the black community. Not to say it doesn't happen in a white community, but there's a real focus on the black community. It is integral that you have father figures who are role models to keep young people away from these problems”.
Time and time again they have met with kids that need a 'father' figure and playing football or working with poetry or other creative activities alongside mentors from the police and from their community gives teens an essential outlet. One they will have missed during the pandemic. Slowly, and with social distancing measures Kickoff@3 is coming back. For Ashley it can't come soon enough. Positive organisations like Kickoff@3 are limited in how they can engage with young people right now, but teenagers “aren’t famous for listening to the authorities and there are a lot of young people out there doing what they normally do. So getting them back to healthy activities needs to be a priority”.
Kickoff@3 started with 80 young people in 2016. Fast forward three years later, they’ve now engaged with over 5000 young people, not just in London but in Northern Ireland, Chester, Essex, Bedfordshire, Staffordshire. Michael is pleased, “If they didn't have the relationship or the trust in us, they just wouldn’t come. We must be doing something right”.
Kickoff@3 will be returning to the vibrant community of London Colney, St Albans. This free 5 a side football event will be hosted on Saturday 12th September 2020.
Michael and Ashley are happy to hear from any Dads (or Mums) out there who are struggling with their teens attitude or behaviour, or where they have concerns that they aren’t yet ready to go to the police with. Contact them and they will refer you to the right organisations.
Thanks for talking with Dad.info