From Weightlifting to Date Shifting: Addressing the Issues of Gang Violence and Dating Violence…in 24 hours.

By Safaa Usmani

It has been an active past couple of weeks at, or should I say out of, the office. This is actually my first blog since I have been an intern here at Sport in Society, but I will spare you a detailed account of the last seven months, since the last two weeks represent quite well the work we do here.

I will start with my trip down to the InnerCity Weightlifting gym on Tuesday evening. This trip has been a long time in the making, since I first saw Jon Feinman, Director and Founder of ICW, give a talk at Northeastern University on ‘Crime and Punishment: Safe Streets, Imprisonment and Gun Policy’, back in November. Making the streets of the inner-city safer, and simultaneously reducing the number of youth winding up in prison, has always been a primary concern of mine. Growing up in Hackney, an inner-city borough of London with the city’s fourth highest crime rate, I have experienced my fair share of unsafe streets and, unfortunately, I can think of at least three of my high-school classmates who have served time in prison since, or even before, graduating. What can we do to better this situation? It appears InnerCity Weightlifting is part of the answer. ICW works with young people at the highest risk of violence, getting them off the streets and into the gym where they are “empowered with the confidence and support needed to say ‘no’ to violence and ‘yes’ to opportunity”. My visit to the ICW gym showed me a group of young men and women working as a team in providing an encouraging and positive environment where people can learn to lift weights or simply tone up – I had the impression anyone and everyone was welcome. It reinforced my belief that sport, throimage for blogugh its simple values such as teamwork and dedication, can help provide direction and opportunity to the lives of youth, whose lives could otherwise be dictated by gang-violence or prison life. I am now inspired to see something similar available back home in Hackney, where I feel the need is just as great. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Conservative government shared my views and, rather than pocketing public money, spent it on the ICWs of the world? I guess that will also be a long time in the making…

Discussing leadership in a fight against dating violence.
Discussing leadership in a fight against dating violence.

On a precious five hours sleep after my ICW trip, I woke up at 5am on Wednesday morning and set off on a road-trip with Ricardhy, Suzanne and Jarrod to Worcester, MA, to facilitate a Mentors for Violence Prevention (MVP) training at a National Honor Society conference. It was great to work with high school students from across the state on the issue of dating violence – the students were really receptive and full of great contributions to the discussion, in the form of personal stories, advice and opinions on how our society can be improved and made safer for both women and men. I always welcome an opportunity to practice my facilitating skills that I earnt at the MVP institute I attended way back in October – and although I may be delivering the same curriculum, no two trainings are ever the same. With memories of ICW fresh in my mind from the evening before, it was so inspiring seeing young people speaking about reshaping ‘manhood’ so that boys and men don’t feel like they have to fit in the box of ‘violent’ – which I hope will lead them to make intelligent decisions in the course of their lives to reduce, or better still eliminate, violence from women’s and their own lives.

Back in the office, I have had time to reflect on how the work we do at Sport in Society and the other great organizations we support really can make a difference in our society. I may complain about the hours I spend in front of the computer, but it is weeks like these where I can see what all of our hard work equates to that make this internship so worthwhile. Here’s to the next five months – you may even get another blog out of me :)