Harry Uzoka, a childhood friend and a local hero, was fatally stabbed to death in East Acton last month (11th January). Three men have been charged with his murder, one being fellow model George Koh. In 2017, there were 80 confirmed deaths in London due to knife crime, with seven lives taken in 2018 already.
Hearing the news of Harry’s death came as a complete shock to not just me, but every single person that knew him. He was a British model who had travelled the world. He worked with top brands such as G-Star Raw, Uniqlo, Aldo, Bershka, Zara, Urban Outfitters, the list goes on.
Harry Uzoka was an icon. Black young people looked up to him. He was somebody the whole community was proud of. Simply put, he was one of Dagenham’s very own stars.
Harry’s story is inspirational, but one that ended way too soon. Harry gave our community hope that great things can happen to you overnight. As a young boy, growing up in London, Harry wasn’t necessarily on the right path. But, his life changed overnight when he was scouted to become a model. Harry was signed on to the elite London agency, Premier Model Management, following a similar route to supermodel Naomi Campbell.
"In order to take someone else's life means they do not value their own life either."
Knife crime. It’s 2018 and the government are still debating about whether knife crime is a serious issue to be looked at. As a country, it almost feels as if we have become desensitised to this cowardly act. As the list of victims continues to grow, it almost feels like we’re just adding names without really thinking about the number of people affected by these murders, let alone the deceased.
It makes me feel sick. And I know I am not alone in thinking this. This problem has been swept under the rug for far too long, people are starting to rationalise it, thinking, “But knife crime has always been around, there’s nothing we can do, it’s bigger than us.”
In order for someone to take a fellow human being’s life away so swiftly, shows that they do not value their own life. We need to encourage these boys, let them know that they are valuable to our society, that we need every single one of them ALIVE so that they can contribute to the world positively. We can not let them become another statistic, dead or alive.
London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, vowed to significantly increase stop and search as his initial solution to the recent spate of knife crime. Personally, I am not opposed to stop and search as it can be a deterrent along with ‘knife bins’ but it can not be seen as the solution.
As of Tuesday, Khan mentioned £45 million funding over three years for local communities, charities and schools. This is a step in the right direction. We need an increase in funding for youth clubs, mentorship for black youths and increased awareness around opportunities for young black men outside of their postcode.
It’s important to create opportunities for these young men so that they can see a better future than the one they can see right now. There’s an underlying issue here - young black men are vulnerable and need more support from an early age.
The community we have here in London and beyond (and I am not just talking about the black community), need to band together to eradicate this problem. This is bigger than one person, these acts of violence affect everyone.
I can bet that a large proportion of these black boys that go on to murder someone was not deviant in Primary or Secondary School, but rather they were swayed by older gang members who promised them a false future. After school, these impressionable young boys become idle. They start to hang out with the wrong crowds, and (single) parents suffering from minimum wage have to work long hours to put food on the table. They try to keep their children alive, yet, through no fault of their own, they have no time to nurture them and keep them out of trouble.
Looking back on my time knowing Harry, he was always a good kid. He may have made silly decisions in his youth, but one amazing opportunity changed his life for the better. I am a firm advocate of education and extracurricular activities, but I believe their values are not promoted enough. We need to keep these boys in school and nurture their talents. The government should bring back our youth centres and put funding into sports clubs.
None of us got the opportunity to have a tutor, a luxury we couldn’t afford, and the word ‘mentor’ was non-existent. Imagine the impact that would make on a young black boy who thinks that his only future is on the streets. Give him mentoring with a professional black man or woman, and I guarantee, he will have a better chance of a prosperous future.
For these young boys, coming from a single parent household and growing up on a council estate makes it hard to find positive role models; making the future look bleak. However, these young boys and men need to know that there are better opportunities out there.
That’s why my focus with the BYP Network has always been to showcase people from the black community who have overcome adversity to become successful. Just take a look at our #whatdoesuccesslookliketoyou campaign (as you can see above), we got HUNDREDS of responses. It was unbelievable and made me incredibly happy. There are many of us who want to be that positive role