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Celebrating Black History Month – Dean Davis

12 October 2018

We are proud of the diversity we have within our organisation and would like to showcase and celebrate this during Black History Month. Over the next four weeks we will be sharing stories and personal experiences from various members of staff.

My name is Dean Davis and I am a caseworker with Friendship Works, a mentoring service within Family Action. I want to share my journey as a 41-year-old black British male and talk about my work within the charity sector and the need for more black male representation within the workplace.

I was born and raised in Tottenham, London; both my parents are from the Caribbean. Home was a small flat, just my Mum and me. My Father did not stay around for long and I can count on one hand how many times I have seen him in my life. His absence created a strong bond between mum and I – it was the two of us against the world.

During my younger years there were various provisions available for children such as youth clubs, Saturday schools and sporting facilities where you could interact with your peers in a safe supervised environment. I believe this is what has helped me in my latter years to be able to relate and communicate with people from all backgrounds and cultures.

My teenage years were a bit rocky. Things started to change in terms of how I saw myself and how I thought others were viewing me. I started to feel that being a young black male in my community was working against me. Simple things like standing with a group of friends and sitting in the park would attract attention. We were viewed as troublemakers even though we were not causing any trouble.  Being stopped and searched by police became a regular occurrence for all of us and it started to affect how we all felt and behaved. It made me develop a chip on my shoulder and confused me. How did I go from feeling British and proud, to feeling like I did not belong anywhere?

When this happens to you on a daily basis, it is easy to feel marginalised. I noticed that the gap between my young black friends and our white schoolmates was vast. We lived a totally different experience. Some of my friends from back then stopped caring how society viewed them. They believed the choices they had made would now define them and the only way they could support themselves and their families was by making money through illegal activities.

It was around this time that I started to work within the fitness industry. I had just become a father and wanted to be a good one. However, I ended up working long hours and not seeing my son as much as I wanted to.  This is when I realised I wasn’t happy and needed to re-evaluate my life and work out what I wanted from it.

I remembered the time I felt the happiest and most connected to my community was during my early years in the youth centres. I wanted to feel that way again as well as giving something back to my community. I began by volunteering at a local youth hub and started to reconnect with the young people.

I understood them; I could see they felt disconnected and marginalised. I wanted to support them to not feel this way and make them realise their potential.

By my late twenties, I changed professions. I began to work in a primary school. I started as a Learning Assistant then managed the After School programme, eventually becoming a Learning Mentor. I knew I had found my calling in life – working with young people is all I wanted to do. I learned from them about the obstacles they face and how disconnected they felt. All they wanted was to feel listened to, supported and have opportunities in life.

“Young people do not just look up to celebrities, rappers or footballers, they also look up to people who look like them and are working within their community”

Young people do not just look up to celebrities, rappers or footballers, they also look up to people who look like them and are working within their community. They could be teachers, firefighters or caseworkers like myself.

In my role as a Friendship Works Caseworker, it is clear to me that we need more men of colour working within the youth sector. Young people need to be able to relate to those supporting them. They should be able to see that there are more roles for them to aspire to be in the future and young black boys and girls should see that there are people like them who want to support and advise them into adulthood and give them the opportunities that they might not have had themselves.

If you are feeling inspired to support young people in your community, why not volunteer as a mentor with our Friendship Works service.