If a nation is to bring about a lasting change in its societies and awaken to a renewed consciousness, it can never do so by losing the sight of its young people, and moreover children. We live in a multicultural Britain, which works; inclusively and respectfully. It is evident on the streets, as the colour palette of people’s faces moves across in the crowds of London, which is ethnically the most diverse city that the earth and its people can be proud of.
Multiculturalism is also evident in Britain’s towns where one can never fall short of curry houses, pizzerias or oriental food restaurants. But that does not rule out the challenges multiculturalism and diversity bring forth, with recent years’ statistics indicating that one in four children now born in the UK have at least one foreign parent.
These challenges include the geographical connections that the names, faces, skin, food, and schools of thought raise, along with stereotypes, stigma or prejudice attached with those regions. The challenges also include important concerns of British people such as the changing ethnic make-up of the nation, as well as the acceptance of British values. Meanwhile, research has shown that black people are 30 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police, and Baroness Warsi in one of her 2011 speeches outlined that Islamophobia has passed the dinner-table test, suggesting that it is both an existing and acceptable practice.
Given these challenges, contemplating the need for cohesion within multiculturalism is not the same as promoting immigration; the latter is completely the choice of people based on the political parties they vote for, and the policies that are set out. If we switch our focus to Britain and its children, who are from native British, mixed as well as foreign descent, how can we as a society ensure that we are in progress towards a future where every child will feel emotionally secure and connected in this country irrespective of their genetic heritage?
One can often notice TV programmes, where these issues are debated and highlighted. But is sheer debate and no dialogue, to reach a common ground, enough? If there is one platform, that can take us to a different place, both within our minds and externally, then it has to be the arts. Theresa Wolfwood, the Canadian poet and a long term campaigner for Palestine, in one of her letters to me suggested that poetry is not just a therapeutic tool to heal people and societies; poetry should have the capacity to ‘take us to a different place’. ‘A different place’ is exactly what people went into at the seven Peace Camps created outside London’s Southbank Centre, on 4th October, the National Poetry Day.
These tents exhibited the works of over 400 children and young people from throughout Britain, who met together in several encampments to create poetry and other artworks on the themes of love poetry and celebration of Britain’s beautiful coastlines. If the process of creating poetry can really facilitate mutual understanding, inclusiveness and dialogue at grass-roots level, then this is exactly what one could see between the words and behind the lines as I read the poems and verses in these Peace Camps.
Additionally, if multicultural Britain is very much alive and being constructed, then these Peace Camps firmly attested to it. There were poems about children loving their fathers and mothers, and then there were also poems about young people loving their friends, boyfriends and girlfriends. Love is a clichéd subject in poetry, and not one that would catch much attention, at least in the publishing world, but the message of love in these Peace Camps, by the children of Britain had no colours, no geographical connections, and no distinguishable features.
The challenges of multiculturalism and inclusiveness are constantly being transformed in Britain at various levels, and also because the children from these Peace Camps have shown us through poetry that beneath their identities and their heritage, they connected to a very desirable and touchable human emotion of love. At the centre of these challenges, these children have also shown us that if a nation must really think of shaping its future, then it cannot do so without the passion and power of its young people.