It’s taken me all day to feel up to writing this blog. And even now I still feel a little afraid to write it.
Last night after a long day with a 121 client, and then supporting 100+ entrepreneurs on my latest online challenge “A grand in your hand” I got my little one off to bed, had some dinner and thought “Right, time for a movie”
I’m not a big TV watcher, but on days like yesterday…my brain can’t cope with much else, so I settled down for a bit of switching off time.
I decided however to watch the new Netflixs series Top Boy, not really thinking much about my decision…just knowing I enjoyed (if that’s the right word) the first series and knowing that some of it had been filmed in Stratford where I live it would be interesting viewing.
One episode in and I was hooked.
And then I found myself at 2.45am still watching episodes but knowing I needed to go to bed, as I had a busy day today too. (I finished off the last few today while working)
So why did I stay up, why was it such compelling watching?
Now if you haven’t seen it, long story short it’s a story about gangs of drug dealers (young and violent drug dealers) in East London, and the knock on effect of their choices to the surrounding community.
Brilliant cast, brilliant writing, brilliant cinematography.
In fact great social commentary.
But sad as hell that a series like this would even need to be made.
Cos here’s the thing.
Sadly, I recognised so much of what was going on in those storylines, through my experiences of growing up in Forest Gate, the blokes I used to knock about with, the homes I’d chill out in, the streets I literally walked down with my mates…and the impact this life has had on my family…many of whom still live on those same streets depicted in this series.
I felt weird, but I couldn’t help but make connections between the work I do with Tribe Building in business…knowing that the two are polar worlds apart…but yet the similarities kept presenting themselves.
I felt a weird sense of unease, watching this for entertainment, knowing that this is real life for so many people. The poverty, the lack of choice, the unfairness, the horror.
I know this because I spent years working with young people from housing estates, I know this because I often have to walk around the taped off areas of my neighbourhood, and listen to the police helicopter above.
I might spend some of my time these days in luxury retreats and at gala dinners with interesting, wealthy folk…but I also spend an equal amount of time stepping over junkies, and keeping my wits about me while walking into my block at night.
On Saturday after being at a speakers event in Marble Arch I came out of the tube station and got into a small altercation with a young boy, who decided it was OK to touch me, in a weird dance that had me thinking something else was going on, but I didn’t want to accuse him…because I didn’t want to be that person.
You see when you grow up in an area like I did, and have had the experiences that I have, you see things other people, people newer to this area don’t see…choose not to see maybe.
But this is not what this post is about.
This post is about human behaviour, and how while watching that series I almost had an out of body experience, knowing that my early experiences have shaped my view on the world in a way I’d never really contemplated, and my ability to see people for who they are….who they really are.
In the video I made earlier this year, that was shot in and around many of the locations used for the Netflixs series, I say,
“People are people no matter on which platform they stand”
And so watching the storylines unfold on the TV I realise just how similar we all are, even if we don’t want to admit it. Even if what we see in other people is unpalatable and so far removed from our own lived experience.
We might not be selling drugs and handling guns, or using violence to get power and respect. But we do surround ourselves with folks who help us feel safe and connected, and sometimes behave in ways that are all about what we can get. We just choose different types of weapons, and hang out in different neighbourhoods to reach “Top Boy” status.
It’s hard to describe the reaction I had to the show…how I don’t want to minimise, or glamourise that lifestyle…from up here in my ivory tower, but I also can’t ignore the way it’s made me feel.
I think the thing that struck me is how you can be part of multiple worlds, without every paying reference to them…without understanding the impact of living that life has had on your future ones.
You know when I was 16 me and my mates were interviewed on the Esther Ransom show, in an episode about gang culture…we were not in a gang, we were in a dance crew…and that dance crew kept us safe, it kept us away from a lot of the shit that was going down in our area.
However, you are never truly safe, you can’t keep yourself protected from everything that goes on. About a year after that, a guy I was seeing was shot dead…and then I went off to university…and never really dealt with that trauma.
We go through life aligning ourself to people we are drawn to, people who are like us, or people we would like to be like…call them a gang, call them a community, call them a peer group.
I think I have spent my life building and nurturing communities because I learned so early just how critical they are to our survival. Whether it was the dance group I formed out of university when I felt weird moving into the art world alone, or the community of runners I formed because I was lonely being the only fat runner at races (or at least that’s how it felt)
All of us want to feel like we belong, we want to be around people where we can feel safe, where we can be our self.
There is no real call to action in this post, only to watch the series and make of it what you will. It’s tough watching…but trust me it is an even tougher experience living that life…whether you are active in it or just spectating.
Apologies if I offend anyone through this post.
I really hope at some point in my life I feel more informed and empowered to help in some way improve the lived experience of so many of the young people I see in my neighbourhood.