RAISING THE STANDARD:
It's said that young people are the leaders of our future. For RISE 365 they are the leaders of today. RISE 365 is a youth empowerment organisation founded in 2019 by Joyclen Buffong. Among much of the great work the young leaders do, RISE 365 collaboratively established the Kingsmead Community Shop with Made Up Kitchen. The work of RISE 365 in the shop and beyond.
Interview by Ikesha Avo
Published 24 April 2022
A calm, vigilant and skilful leader – with a really big heart – who has a proven dedication to engineering ways to empower young people. This is how I would describe RISE 365 founder Joyclen Buffong. With over 20 years’ experience in youth work, Joyclen heeds to the intrinsic needs of young people. The Kingsmead Community Shop is just one of the many ways Joyclen finds to provide young people the opportunity to sow good in their community. She is also the Concorde and Stoke Newington Youth Centre Manager in Hackney, a role she occupies full time alongside her work in RISE 365.
Joyclen realised through her career in youth work and at Concorde, which is for young people aged 7 to 19 years, that particularly for young Black boys, 19 years old was not the appropriate point to end her service to them. Many within this demographic that she encountered are still finding themselves as she describes. Facing challenges at home and within institutions that are substantial to navigate alone. Out of this realisation, RISE 365 was born. It is led by Joyclen along with two of the RISE young leaders Jermaine Nicholson and Marvin Birch, that she supported as a youth worker.
Joyclen Buffong: RISE stands for Reach, Inspire, Support and Empower. It's about reaching young people, inspiring them, and then empowering them, equipping them to have the tools to be the leader that they can be.
I think why this has become such a movement is because people don't expect young Black people to be standing up and to be moving in such a positive way. They're expecting them to be the ones that's grabbing your phone or taking your bag. But in fact, they're now the ones that are carrying your shopping bags to your house.
Don't get me wrong, I know that we have young Black people that are in negative behaviour, there's no denying that, but why do we want to focus on just that?
This is the majority, that negative behaviour isn't the majority of young people. There are many young Black young people everywhere around the world that are doing amazing positive things.
RISE 365 isn't a black thing,
it's a young people thing, it's a community thing, and I would never turn my back on any young person.
But at the moment while I'm in this space, where I can raise awareness of the inequality and show the positivity of young Black people, I'm just going to keep on doing it and pushing it as far as I can.
This mission of RISE 365 is materialised to a great extent in the Community Shop. Beyond being a space for young people to volunteer, the shop is also an entry point to offer wider support to these young people and their families from a holistic perspective.
RISE 365 young leader volunteering in the Kingsmead Community Shop. Photo by Andrew Leo Photography
Ikesha Avo: How do you define the term ‘holistic’, and how do you think RISE 365 responds to this?
JB: In terms of holistic for young people, it’s not just about you coming into the community shop and volunteering. It's also about finding out what's going on at home.
Each of our young people have mentoring once a week. We also have a counsellor. Mental wellbeing is a big thing for RISE 365. Some of their parents have counselling support through RISE 365.
It doesn't make sense, supporting one thing isolated to everything else that they've got going on. So that's what holistic means to me, it’s supporting your whole well-being, your whole life, no matter what that looks like for you.
We have established RISE MENS CIRCLE. This is a supportive and reflective space for young men 18+. These sessions are to support young men's mental wellbeing and to encourage and normalise conversations about things they are going through. These sessions have been going very well and we aim to set up more groups.
IA: I am really interested in the educational programme, and also the parent programme within RISE 365.
JB: So, the educational programme, at the beginning of the pandemic in lockdown, parents were suddenly asked to become teachers at home. I've got children myself, and I can't lie, they show me some of the work, I don't even understand what's going on or what it is. A lot of parents were coming to me and saying, ‘Joyclen I need some support, I don't know what to do’, ‘I'm really concerned that my child's going to fall way behind when they go back to school’ - because that is the reality of it. People that have money, that's not their concern. They just bring a tutor. Their child’s education isn't impacted in the same way. So, I basically just reached out to some teachers and started putting on classes - English classes, Maths support.
Thankfully, they had gone up a level by the time they've gone back to school, some even two levels.
One of the teachers Joyclen approached is a teacher that she had previously mentored. Inspired by the principle in the Adinkra symbol that is the Sankofa bird, RISE 365 also teaches history classes as part of a Pan African Studies programme. It is apparent that Joyclen, along with her RISE 365 colleague, Daniel, who is also a history teacher in a school, recognise an imperative duty to teach the positivity of Black History that is too often under-delivered in schools.
IA: What do you think it does for young people when they know this history?
JB: It makes them feel like a contributor to society, that they've come from a good space, they have good things to contribute because that's their people. That's their line. It definitely builds their confidence. It makes them feel like they can do things as well. That's what we've got in terms of feedback from young people that have been doing it. A cohort did Black and British in which we looked at all the positive Black people in Britain and their impact. The feedback from the parents was just amazing.
Going on to the parents’ support, that is just supporting parents that might be facing challenges in the home with their young people. Because I engage very well with young people, being able to be that mediator between them, maybe support a parent in their style of parenting. We don't get a manual in terms of how to parent, everybody parents differently, all children are different, but just supporting them to navigate through that. You can't leave the parents and then your kids are doing well, so that's what that parenting support is about. Also, I go to schools with parents to advocate on their behalf, and prisons as well, benefits, housing. Just depends what it is, whatever they feel that they need support with a bit of a helping hand.
IA: Resourcing wise, how are you doing this?
JB: It's me. It is just me.
Joyclen Buffong. Photo by Andrew Leo Photography
We both laugh together when she says this realising this is great deal for one person. But Joyclen is dedicated to people and truly gives her best.
JB: I think you have to want to do it. For me the press is just extra to what I'm doing. This is my purpose. You've got to want to give, you've got a want to support them. You've got to remember that you were their age at one time. You’ve got to remember that they're going through certain challenges, and they're facing certain things. But the point, the reason that they're there, and they're trying to access or they are in a space to maybe try and receive support means that they want it, whether they verbalise it or not. It's going to take everybody, and I don't mean just Black people, I mean everybody as human beings to do their bit.
Everybody has their role,
just know what your role is,
and move freely within it.
And just be honest to yourself about what that looks like.
Youth work is a particular vocation that perhaps requires only those truly gifted for it. One has to be willing to go to the ends of the earth to support young people to do it well. However, the collective work of a well-functioning society across the board, particularly at community level, can support a good environment for the young generation to come up within.
IA: You do community walks, and they are intergenerational. I think this is another thing that is so fundamental.
JB: It's hugely fundamental, like huge.To see them playing hide and seek at this big age - they're free.
They don't feel they have to be on phones or they have to be looking a certain way. You don't have to be stoosh, just be yourself. Just be free, communicate, talk, learn things from each other.
Where we walk along the canal is very gentrified, it’s very a certain class of people. So for them, it's probably areas that they wouldn't go into, it’s not places where they would walk. But now, even if I don't go on the walk, they're going. For me that's beautiful.
Sometimes it's just about starting something, it's just about lighting that in people, for them to be able to then take it off and do themselves. Their parents come on the walk, grandparents come down for the weekend, they're on the walk with us, little babies come on the walk. Some of our elderly can only walk to the end of this road, but they still come.
When the boys are carrying the bags to the elderly people's homes, they're having those conversations - ‘And when I was younger’, ‘I'm going through this, what would you say?’ It's so important to have that kind of crossing because I just feel within society, there's been a disconnect between people. We're all kind of isolated to kind of just think about yourself but you have to connect.
Young people of RISE 365. Photo by Andrew Leo Photography
IA: What do you think has caused a disconnection?
JB: I think it's got a lot to do with the way that society places values. The way that we live. How hard we have to work, parents working how many jobs, kids at home by themselves.
The sort of class system, that is what's separating people a lot, and we just need to come back together. I remember being young and all the neighbours were playing outside in the road. My kids don't play outside. I wouldn't even dream of letting them play outside, and that's quite sad because I've got amazing memories from growing up, your neighbours were like your family.
The community that RISE 365 is a part of cares about engaging with one another. The existence of the walks and shop are just parts that proves this. The Kingsmead Community Shop’s initial funding ran out which triggered its leaders to start a crowdfundraiser. The local community continue to contribute to this to support the continuation of the shop.
JB: This has gone past an emergency response programme for food. This is now teaching young people about volunteering, this is now teaching them transferable skills for the workplace, self-confidence building and more. It's about people buying into the model and supporting it; looking at how these young people that are now going to contribute and be a positive attribute to society. I think things like Community Walks should be in all communities, everybody should be coming together.
Volunteering experiences for young people should definitely be a standard. Intergenerational work - it's a must.
The aim shouldn't be the older people to be forgotten once they've got to a certain age. They have so much richness to bring to young people, we have so much to learn from them.
I feel all of it should just continue, I think we should be building young leaders, young adult leaders to support and mentor young people as they can connect with them in a new and different way.
Young person of RISE 365. Photo by Andrew Leo Photography
IA: With the community shop, it seems that it's coming from the community, back to the community, it’s not someone else saying these are the solutions for you.
JB: It’s very important that me and Kiran (founder of Made Up Kitchen) are grassroots. One of our mottos is that 'we are the people that we serve'. We're not people coming in from somewhere that don’t know the people, that don't understand.
This is why we don't use the term 'Food Bank'. When the community shop first started, we used to get really upset about that term being used to describe it. It’s putting a label on it where people think that they're needy. Okay, in one breath, yes, they do need stuff but why do they have to feel ashamed?
At some point in all of our lives, I don't care who you are, you need people, you need something. You can be the richest person, you still have a need, you still have a time when you're lacking, whether it's emotionally or whatever it may be.
IA: Do you think this could exist without any Government support?
JB: That's where I want it to get to. I feel that as a people if we all take individual responsibility, we definitely can get to that point. It’s important because it allows you to govern things in the way that it needs to be governed.
The capital investment provided by their community and wider public through the crowdfunder enables the work of the Kingsmead Community Shop to continue. This proves that local collective wealth can support in real local outcomes. It is an example of multilateral power to effect change.
IA: I think we really need to create different models for how people progress into professions. There's so much intelligence within us that we can learn from each other in a way that practically informs us of where we each need to go in our careers.
JB: Definitely so. And I think even for our young person Tristan providing tutoring at RISE, it's not just about tutoring Maths. This is a young boy that's taking his time, he's now your role model - there's so much power in that.
In any way that we can empower young people through their skills,
that's what we'll just keep pushing to do
IA: Where do you hope to see these young people in a couple of years’ time?
JB: Just leading, operating in areas that you do not see many Black people in. To really put them into positions of leadership and to be running organisations.
It's about teaching them business, generational wealth. And to be honest, it's whatever they want to do. It's just supporting them in whatever they want to do. I would just hope and wish that they will continue in the stead that they’re in, and that they just continue to impact more and more young people.
RISE 365 young leader volunteering in the Kingsmead Community Shop. Photo by Andrew Leo Photography
IA: I see you as a Community Leader. Where do you see yourself in a couple years’ time?
JB: I'm hoping that I can build the confidence to speak in rooms of institutional power to make changes to the injustice or the inequalities that are placed on people.
I have always stirred away from interviewing, being in publications and I have always been in the background. But I understand the importance of putting myself in certain rooms and making myself visible to make even further change for them. To be in different spaces, and to be able to teach the model of engagement and the importance of community and leading from the ground up, communities coming together. Being able to develop this in lots of different communities would be amazing.
IA: What are the inequalities and injustices that you see that you're responding to in your community?
JB: It's the way the class system works, the divide in terms of how we're viewed or represented, or what probably young people feel that they have to bring to society. I feel we're breaking down those kinds of thoughts about themselves. The injustice on young Black men and boys, in particular. By being that real support network for them. And sometimes it's hard because I never want the girls to feel like it's not about them because it definitely is about them. But I just know for boys it’s a different kind of struggle.
So those kind of inequalities in terms of how they're represented, how they're viewed within society. That's one of my biggest things.
RISE 365 prepares their young people for aspects of what they may encounter as they become more independent. Many areas they cover are not delivered within the national curriculum for all students within schools.
JB: Wealth, we're very much about teaching our young people about business. They don't learn about good credit, bad credit, business, mortgages at school. They completed a five-week course that we put on for them about all those things.
You do not have to go to university. You can set up your own businesses. We've got a couple that have their own businesses set up, for example Adefemzo. He is a young entrepreneur, he is an actor and film maker with his own production company called ACP.
RISE supported him to set up his company and secure the necessary equipment. He is now working with some major brands at the age of 22. Adefemzo inspires and supports so many young people within the community and states it is because of the support he received and the change it made to his life. He wants to offer that to others which is a beautiful thing.
It makes my heart so warm because this is what it is about, ‘each one, teach one’.
This is how we make positive impact for generations.
I just want them to be confident people. Breaking down stigmas placed on them about who they are, what they look like or what they do or they don't represent. And the spaces in which they live.
Youth services and community centres are bedrocks in society that hold abundant value when activated in the way RISE 365 demonstrate. Creating spaces to esteem, nurture and develop young people through practical means is what RISE 365 does excellently. The Kingsmead Community Shop is a successful example of this. As Joyclen puts it, it's just about humanity and love and just treating people right.
You may invest in the work of this community by donating to their crowdfundraiser.