On Sunday the 9th June 2013, the much anticipated “Prisoner to the Streets” (P2TS) book launch took place at the Hackney Empire, east London. Author Robyn Travis, once perceived to be a gang member, although will always refuse to be labelled as such, as a youth carved himself a bad boy reputation with the Holly Street Boys.
The Holly Street Boys and London Fields Boys from E8 in Hackney, separated by less than half a mile laying either side of Queensbridge Road, was the first ever gang war within a post code. It was the beginning of a phenomenon that the media would later dub ‘postcode wars’, and it triggered a breakdown in the relationships between groups of young people across neighbourhoods within the borough of Hackney, a trend which later followed across London like an abhorrent epidemic claiming hundreds of young lives. In fact, between 2001 and 2010 more people were killed in London by gun and knife violence, than British service people killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined[i].
P2TS is a brutally honest reflection of Robyn’s own life and that of his peers who grew up to be part of the London Fields and Holly Street rivalry. Robyn’s life has taken him close to death, he has lost many people close to him and has served time in prison. He can now reflect on the rivalry that still burns to this day between Holly Street and London Fields, and can see it for what it is, pointless. Groups of boys who once were friends and attended school together fighting for the title of Hackney amidst two run down council estates owned by a system they so openly detest, yet continue to play into the hands of.
Yesterday, the man Robyn Travis made another milestone in his journey to administer the medicine to cure the violence that stems from those who have become prisoners to the street - a state of mind that Robyn has worked assiduously to overcome. Up to 1,000 people turned out to show love and support for Robyn’s cause. Whilst it was an event for us to all look forward and take us as a community a step closer to making the changes we want to see, it was also close to the 13th anniversary of the day Robyn nearly lost his own life.
As far as I am aware, there were no regional media representatives here, such as BBC London, to capture the event. They missed the positive and cohesive energy of a community, that has on occasions been torn apart by gun and knife violence, standing together to say enough is enough. Whilst people from all four corners of London were joining to support the movement, BBC London was reporting on Lambeth Council’s decision to reject a planning application concerning the relocation of Southbank’s Skate Park.
Although it was said in jest, Robyn and I joked that the only hope of getting BBC London to come down to Hackney Empire was if someone was shot outside the venue. The sad truth is that good news does not sell. Looking at the headlines today, you’d be forgiven if you came to the conclusion that positivity must not be profitable as it is largely absent. Instead, I am sat here looking at the news faced with a list of human misery. I know it’s biased and an unfair representation of what is actually going on today, but still, it makes me feel anger.
I was once told that you should give recognition to the behaviour that you want to see more of. If you recognise and praise a person for being good, then you should expect them to continue displaying good behaviour. If you only give recognition to bad behaviour then you should expect bad behaviour to continue. I don’t know how much truth there is in that, but of the 15 headlines currently showing on BBC England more than half concern human misery, giving recognition to societies demons. Well, yesterday, I saw something you won’t see in the newspaper. It was inspirational, promising and moving; one man might even say that it was a WOWgasm!
Firstly, let me apologise, as I do not remember the exact running order of the events, but I’m certain that I have mentioned everybody. There were a dozen acts, displaying a combination of music, dance, poetry and motivational and inspirational disquisition – broken up by the amusing, energetic and animated hosts Gabriel Alozie and Rochelle.
First up was Platinum Performing Arts from north London, an organisation which provides children between the ages of 5 -19 with a platform to boost their confidence through dance, singing and drama. Opening up, the young people performed a dance routine from the anti-knife crime theatre production DMPO, also known as ‘The Power To Make A Change’. Three of the entourage later returned to the stage to read a chapter of Robyn’s book. Another of north London’s talents, artist Cel22, @Cel22UK on Twitter, came to the stage spitting nothing but the hard hitting truth on the state of current affairs in the UK.
From Hackney, there were performances from Ghetto Luv and Charm, supported by some great musicians. Charm is a UK singer and songwriter on the verge of releasing her independent debut album, Under Lock & Key. Talented keyboard player Shane, rewarded the audience with his rendition of Jah Cure’s Reflections, and gained the admiration of the audience for his own song Choices.
Rochelle Loro delivered two immensely thought provoking spoken word performances.
Check out one of them here, "Revolution", spoken word performance.
Legendary Lyndon Walters inspired us all with his intimate tale of Robyn’s journey and story Prisoner to the Streets, and his realisation of what he calls a WOW moment, articulating just how remarkable and how significant this movement is, and will become – the continuous progress of course is WOWgasms.
Mark Prince shared his story of how he ‘accidentally’ became one of Britain’s most high-profile spokesmen in the fight against knife and gun crime. Mark founded the Kiyan Prince Foundation following the tragic death of his 15-year-old son in May 2006. For me, his was the most powerful and inspirational talk of the event in that it struck a chord I could relate to best, and left me fighting back a tear. Such a compassionate guy, I am in awe of his strength for being able to share with us all his most painful memory in losing Kiyan, and for being able to forgive and advance change.
Finally there was Peaches. Peaches, who as a young woman was no stranger to crime, came out of prison in 2000 and never looked back. In 2003 she set up her own charity, Reality Bytes, and has worked tirelessly to tackle the social ills that affect young people ever since. Peaches spits nothing but real talk, I would elect this lady. I first had the privilege of listening to Peaches preach several years ago in south London. True to the cause, she is still doing this thing, leaving a trail of peace, positivity and realness wherever she goes. Words you will feel when you hear Peaches are dignity and self-respect, no matter what wrong you’ve done in your life, she will empower you with positive energy.
After a brief interval, Nigerian comedian Babatunde was splitting sides throughout Hackney Empire with his hysterical anecdotes on everything hood, notably the intricate differences between black house parties and white house parties, Tulisa’s recent arrest and how teaching gang members first aid might look in a real life situation (see video for sample of talented comedian Babatunde).
Robyn Travis/Prisoner to the Streets
Robyn has selflessly planted a seed, sharing his inner most thoughts and feelings with us all, in his powerful book ‘Prisoner to the Streets’. Help that seed continue to grow by spreading Robyn’s message and words with those who need it the most...