A youth programme CEO speaks up on why Black Lives Matter

By Camomile Shumba
June 15 2020, 14.00

A CEO of a mentoring and youth engagement programme spoke up about the importance of factoring in race and culture when developing BAME youth.

Elaine Thomas, 41, is the black founder of The Mentoring Lab, where 80% of their mentoring team is BAME and aim to inspire hope in BAME youth.

The death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man whose death by police brutality in the USA on May 25 led to protests, came as no surprise to Miss Thomas.

ON THE MARCH: Black Lives Matter protest. Credit: Abby Inez

Miss Thomas stated: “Our sudden outburst is not only due to the fine organisation of the Black Lives Matter political campaign, but due to the trauma we are fed up of living with.

“Non-blacks are a part of our healing and we are a part of theirs.”

Racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

Systematic racism is the racism embedded in the systems that make up the economy, which is not only in the US police system but the UK’s too.

SPEAK UP: Black Lives Matter protest. Image credit: Caleb Butler

The Lammy review (2017) revealed that black people only make up 3% of the overall UK population yet, make up 12% of the prison population.  

Even worse, 48% of under 18’s in custody are black.

Systematic racism is not limited to the police system, Miss Thomas explains: “Schools and businesses could be more culturally responsive when they are bold enough to ensure that their decision-makers, who can be authentic, represent the backgrounds of the people they serve.”

Before moving to Hackney at 21, Miss Thomas had experienced racism in Hertfordshire where she grew up.

She now offers culturally responsive mentoring training and she states: “We can only bend so much.

“Allow that young person to have their culture.

 “Allow that young person to maybe speak in an English dialect which is not correct, do not try and correct them.

“Allow that young person to feel safe in their skin around you and understand that we cannot do anymore.

“Allow us to be who we are.”

The Mentoring Lab is a grassroots organisation, the leadership team are all BAME and they aspire to provide a voice to the voiceless.

Miss Thomas said The Mentoring Lab has 4 white European mentors who understand the difference in cultures, empathise with people of colour and are anti-racist.

Scott McCrum, 25, white, Lewisham a mentor at the company said: “I think it’s so important to recognise the privileges that my skin dictates, not to abuse it, but to use it as a tool to help empower those who are powerless, and give a voice to those who are not able to have one.

“I cannot begin to imagine the trauma that these last 4-500 years have inflicted on black people, but I know that it is my responsibility to help bring about a change of restoration.

“It is my job as a youth mentor to learn and listen, and to empower.”

The Mentoring Lab specialises in strategic, reflective one to one mentoring, but they aim to provide a lot of different support to help them overcome obstacles.

The organisation focuses on developing young people’s, social aspects, network and career development to help them be professional in a safe space.

The aim of the company is to break the cycle of poverty among BAME backgrounds by empowering young people and their parents.

Data for above chart from Institute of Race Relations.

Up till 2008 white households had an average weekly income of £508.

Indian households had an average income of £467 per week up till 2008.

While, by 2008 Black Caribbean had £376; Black African £335; Pakistani £266 and Bangladeshis £245 household income per week.

The Mentoring Lab has used lockdown as an opportunity to extend more support to low-income households.

Since the pandemic, The Mentoring Lab hosted more mentoring for the vulnerable, tutoring for young people who are not engaging in school for whatever reason and tests.

The organisation hosts progression mentoring for setting goals.

Regular art sessions for girls and for both genders occur at the company to explore their mentoring tools.

GET CREATIVE: The Mentoring Lab on Zoom

Mr McCrum said: “I think it is a case of just taking the time to just let young people drive their own vehicles of life.

“I guess the best way to understand a young person is by letting the young person understand themselves instead of trying to speak and overpower as a voice in their lives but actually sit back and listen to what they have to say and by allowing that freedom you understand that young person way better.”

Mr McCrum added that the mentors are there to empower young people because they are the future.

The Mentoring Lab has just hosted its careers event where young people spoke to professionals about their careers and also hosts ‘Keep Fit’ four days a week and personal training sessions to encourage young people to exercise.

A youth panel occurs weekly at The Mentoring Lab and a gaming session to develop employability characteristics.

IN THE ACTION: The Mentoring Lab offers many activities

During the Easter half-term, The Mentoring Lab offered film making, public speaking, scriptwriting, acting, illustration art as well as tutoring for young people online.

The session hosts were Casper, documentary filmmaker, Mirella, illustrator, Elaine, photographer and careers advisor, Xavien, Top Boy actor and Scott, Ted-ex speaker.

The company was able to do everything because of sponsorship from local authorities.

Coming up, The mentoring lab will be launching a genius society for young people with a high IQ.

For more information visit

The full interview with Elaine Thomas can be found here:

Listen to “Make Your Mark Now” on Spreaker.

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