Jamaican dubpoet Richie Innocent takes a lesson in New York on how to end gun violence
“Stop Shooting. Start Living”, is the slogan of the Brooklyn based organisation SOS (Safe our Streets). Jamaica’s very own dubpoet and social activist Richie Innocent spent some time with the organisation. He went into schools talking to pupils and performed at various shows where his song L.O.V.E. was regularly requested, as it talks about the tensions of a life without love.
SOS operates in Crown Heights (a crime ridden neighbourhood within Brooklyn), using community-based strategies to reduce violence. Local businesses are involved, encouraging their younger clientele in special programmes to ‘increase school attendance’ and ‘do their homework everyday’.
“The organisation encourages young people to find a direction where they can develop themselves and focus on achievable goals”, Richie explains, “and of course helps to reduce gun and gang related violence.”
Many SOS staff members have been incarcerated or found themselves in similar situations at one point in their lives and have now decided to help young people. “If something is about to go down they will go there and mediate, speaking to the people as a form of intervention.
When people are marginalised and look down upon another they believe they have no use and ultimately are not able to make some form of contribution. That’s why SOS is so important. Young people need guidance, they need to know that this whole don and badmanship is not desirable.
I have also realised that many young Americans desire designer clothes. They are drowning in a way by desiring those things.”
Inspired by SOS’s prolific work and his very own past experiences as youth advocate in Jamaica, Richie would like to set up a similar organisation in Jamaica. “We need more adults to speak to teenagers; not to be scared or intimidated.
“I remember when growing up in Kingston, I saw the gangsters with their trench-coats and weapons and thought it was cool. I couldn’t wait to grow up and join them ‘pon di corner’. I was over the moon to find a trench-coat in my grandmother’s house and mimicked the gangsters using a stick like a weapon I carried underneath my coat.
This elderly gentleman stopped me and said: ‘I always watched you playing football but what you are doing now is not good. Three young men got shot dead last night, you don’t need to be doing this.’ He was not afraid to talk to me, making me reflect on my behaviour.”
“The way young people behave today only demonstrates the extent to which we [adults] have contributed, or rather failed, our young people.”
Since coming back to Jamaica, Richie performed at the Poetry Festival for the second consecutive year, alongside Mutabaruka and Yasuf Afai. At Pomedy Festival (poetry and comedy – a brainchild of Yasus Afari) he met Oliver Samuels: “It allowed me to feel proud of myself as I always wanted to meet Oliver. If you conduct yourself in the right manner things will happen and doors open for you. I once saw Yasus performing at my school and now he is my mentor.”
Watch out for his new song: Herbalist on the Mary Jane riddim, available on iTunes
and new videos: Careless Shotta & Beat Them Anyway