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DADS AND LADS

24-03-2007

Young black men being killed by other young black men is a sadly recurring feature of British inner city life. Birmingham psychologist Dr Mike Drayton looks for reasons.

On Sunday Adam Regis, 15, from Plaistow, was stabbed to death few hundred yards from West Ham's football stadium. Police are searching for two youths seen near the murder scene.

They were described as both black and wearing grey hooded tops. His murder comes just three days after the death of 16-year-old Kodjo Yenga. Kodjo was killed while walking with his girlfriend in Hammersmith in West London. Adam, like Kodjo,was black.

Why are young African Caribbean men killing each other? What is going so wrong? Research tells us that African Caribbean boys are three times more likely to be excluded from school than the average.

Only a quarter of them get five good GCSEs, compared with a national average of 51 per cent. Although African Caribbean men account for 1 per cent of the population, they represent 12 per cent in prisons.

Perhaps the answer at least partly lies in another depressing statistic: the fact that that 48 per cent of African Caribbean families in the UK are headed by single parents.

David Cameron has certainly latched on to this and claimed part of the blame for the recent spate of stabbings lay with family breakdown, particularly absent fathers. Now a breaking study from America appears to support this theory.

Two psychologists, Rebekah Coley and Bethany Medeiros, working in Boston, interviewed 647 teenagers and their mothers in 1999 and then again in 2001. The group consisted of families in which the father was not resident, most were African-American or Hispanic and most were working class.

The research found that fatherly involvement in their children's lives seemed to be related to whether the son went on to became involved in gangs or got into trouble with the law.

The teenagers who saw more of their fathers, were less likely to be involved in delinquent behaviour, such as stealing and drug use, than boys with wholly absent fathers.

With the elegance and clarity of expression so typical of psychologists, Coley and Medeiros said: "...non-resident fathers who had more regular contact and conversations with their children and who took greater responsibility for their children's care and behaviours had adolescents who showed relative decreases over a 16-month period in their levels of delinquency and problem behaviour".

In my view, African Caribbean boys , just like all other boys, need dads. At the very least they need good positive male role models. Therein lies another problem for African Caribbean boys.

Which positive role models are most often promoted by the entertainment industry: Martin Luther King? Thierry Henry? Trevor Philips? Well, no…often what they get rammed down their throats is the negative and destructive American gangsta culture epitomized by MTV rap videos presenting every successful black man as a blinged-up gangster with a stable of bitches.

Perhaps what we need is a new, black boy band along the lines of Take That, or The Osmonds. Bring back the Jackson 5 - there again, thinking about Michael, perhaps not.

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