Simeon Moore

Simeon Moore

Imagine if peace was just a mile away. Imagine a world where young, urban kids who have been drawn into a life of crime, were finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and not only turn away from their former lifestyles, but to encourage others to do so aswell.

Well for one former gang member, it wasn’t a question of imagination. It was a matter of taking action to reverse the lifestyle that had destroyed entire communities and lives  in Birmingham.

You see, for Simeon Moore it wasn’t always this way. Moore – known locally as Zimbo – recently gave a talk on how he turned his life around at the TEDx Brixton conference on July 13th.

He is the head of an organisation called One Mile Away – a social enterprise founded by former gang members to discourage young people from gang life.

Moore became involved in gangs at the age of 15 when he would regularly steal, sell drugs and carry a gun. He was also shot at when he was 15.

He previously starred in a Channel 4 documentary of the same name, where two of Birmingham’s most notorious gangs the Johnson Crew, based in Aston, and the Burger Bar Boys, based in neighbouring Handsworth, came together and called a truce.

Filming for the documentary finished a year ago, and although he struggled to get everybody on board initially, the 2011 riots helped to set off a turning point for many in the area.

After the riots, people realised just how so many youngsters faced the same trials and tribulations all over the country, and  thus, the appetite for peace and reduced crime grew stronger.

Moore lost countless friends during his time as a gang member, spent time in prison for firearms and drugs offences, and thought he was consigned to a life of looking over his shoulder.

In a recent interview with Positive News, Moore explained how his life has transformed beyond all recognition since setting up One Mile Away. He emphasised the need to look at the root causes of crime and encourage young kids growing up on the streets to aspire to bigger and better futures.

He told Positive News: “If we focus on the gangs we would not be focusing on the real issues: the culture, the way of life, the negative belief system. Addressing that is what is going to stop the gang violence.

“We are not telling them to change right now because for some people that’s impossible. But once you’ve planted the seed, you can start the conversation. It’s all about the mind and what people believe they can do.”

Since the filming of the documentary, One Mile Away was launched after gangs finally agreed to come together to form a truce. The organisation also runs  a mentoring programme called Big Brother, Little Brother; which runs courses for young people in schools and  for those who have been excluded or in trouble. It also gives school assemblies.

One of its main aims is to take away the perception that joining a gang is somehow ‘glamorous’ or ‘cool’ and instead shows the reality.

In films and rap music – which is often controlled by record industry executives and those above them – the gangster lifestyle is often glamorised by celebrities and even real-life gang members who are then given airtime and media attention in reality TV shows and documentaries.

Programmes like the Sopranos, Get Rich or Die Trying, and State Property: Blood on the Streets, help to reinforce this view.

Indeed many of todays rap musicians such as Jay Z, Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent are former gangsters themselves.

It is also not unknown in the industry for rappers to either get arrested for drug possession, firearms offences or even to pretend to get shot in order to increase their popularity and “authenticity” among their fan base.

However it wasn’t always this way. Old school hip hop artists  such as KRS One, Afrika Bambaataa and Donald D found fame by rapping about political issues, institutional racism, police brutality and poverty. It started out as a conscious movement but as with most movements, it was then influenced and infiltrated by record industry bosses – and those that control them. This distortion of hip hop culture was perhaps one of the most insidious forms of CointelPro (counter intelligence programs) in existence. But there are signs that the hip hop movement is coming back full circle again, with newer artists and ex-gangsters turning their backs on that lifestyle.

But the fact remains that the vast majority of gang members, are destined for two outcomes: death or prison. One Mile Away aims to show young people another alternative, and helps them to educate themselves, set up their own businesses, or start careers in their chosen industries.

One Mile Away targets youngsters who have been excluded from school,  in trouble with the law or from economically deprived backgrounds.

Moore says that he was inspired by books such as the Secret to utilise the power of his mind to change his life. This came at a time when he’d been arrested for petty crimes after failing to get support to help him turn his back on gang life. As a result of his convictions was given an electronic tag to wear for six months.

He said: “I read The Secret and got the idea that I am in control of my own reality. But being on tag forced me to stay indoors so I read a lot and took in a lot of information. The more I learnt, the more I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore.”

However, Moore added that not all of the responses have been positive. He said that his organisation is still viewed with suspicion among many in the community. This is partly because of rumours that he is working alongside the police – although ironically his organisation gets the most trouble from the police, who are unsupportive of his project, despite the fact that their own figures show that it has reduced crime in the area.

In Birmingham, the police reported that gang crime has dropped by almost 40 per cent after the intervention of One Mile Away.

Moore told of his plans to set up similar projects in Nottingham which has similar gang profile.

“This can happen everywhere, even if it’s not us doing it,” he added: “People need to come together to make progress; this is how we overcome everything: being together with the right state of mind. We are the majority and we have a lot of power. It’s time to start using it.”

The project shows the possibilities that can be achieved when the power of the mind and the law of attraction is utilised to bring positive outcomes.

Sadly, it also shows the unwillingness of the authorities to tackle the problem of crime and poverty by addressing the causes and supporting organisations who take steps to improve the lifestyle of disenfranchised young people.

Young black men in particular have always faced stigma and institutional discrimination especially from overzealous policemen who have often shown aggression and hostility towards them – regardless of whether or not they have committed a crime.

But if anything, organisations such as One Mile Away highlights the importance of dialogue and people taking their destiny into their own hands in order to attract positive energy into their lives and turn things around for the better.

Afterall, if no support groups or institutions exist to intervene early and assist those who are in danger of being drawn into a life of crime; then an individual is faced with the choice of creating their own safe spaces, or allowing their life to spiral out of control and fighting over streets they don’t own. One Mile Away shows what can happen when positive choices are chosen instead.

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