In the run up to the general election, there has been an increasing amount of rhetoric addressing the fact that young people have the power to swing the vote. Social media has played a vital part in this movement and most of my discussion about currents affairs are now triggered by an article shared on Facebook or a controversial tweet or hashtag. It is incredible the way the digital world can influence so much of what makes up our reality.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of being part of a select, live audience made up of young people who have contributed to an initiative run by Sky News, called ‘Stand Up Be Counted’. The aim of this campaign is to amplify young voices and get the youth actively engaged in politics – particularly through posting vlogs online. I attended a unique event titled ‘Ask The Leaders’, hosted by Facebook’s central London office. The day was an engaging and valuable experience where young people like myself had the opportunity to ask major party leaders questions about the issues that concern us; it was live streamed online and on Sky News. We heard from Natalie Bennett, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron. I got the chance to ask the Prime Minister about the significance of cross-party initiatives in steering the progression of democracy and government in the UK.
Considering the youthful population of the studio, it was somewhat unsurprising that tuition fees, graduate unemployment and rising house prices were among the many topics discussed. It was also eye-opening to hear about personal encounters with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia which shaped some of the questions raised. Adding to this personal touch were two leaders in particular; Natalie Bennett shared her experience of becoming a feminist at age five when she was told that girls were not allowed bicycles while Milliband spoke about the past of his immigrant parents who fled from persecution. In fact, in retrospect, all of the leaders displayed a certain level of honesty: Clegg, rather exasperated at one point during confrontation about tuition fees, said “I wish I was Prime Minister, I’m a human being, I wish I could do everything that I promised but I can’t”. The Prime Minister himself also admitted to “putting my hands in my head” every Wednesday at five minutes to twelve before having to face the so-called “nightmare” that is PMQs.
Although these attempts to be genuine and sincere can undoubtedly be seen in a positive light and I appreciate and respect the leaders for doing so, during lunch I had a conversation that made my optimistic self a little more suspicious. I was speaking with a guy who disagreed with Milliband’s repetitive references to his family’s history; his grandmother had also been a survivor of Auschwitz but he argued that something so personal should not be used to score political points and to gain the approval of potential voters. This really made me question to what extent we can trust the emotional oratory of politicians. Nevertheless, it is a much-needed reminder that these party leaders and all politicians are indeed human beings; flawed, imperfect and created with the complex nuances of their individual personality and ways of communicating. They are not distant robots whose worlds revolve solely around taxes, budgets and elections. Yes, they do need to be held accountable for all of their actions – we live in a democracy and they are there to represent us but their humanity should be validated too.
One question that particularly stood out for me demanded an explanation for why the British flag was flown at half-mast when Saudi King Abdullah died, when he had an appalling record of human rights violations. I enjoyed this moment so much because it revealed that young people in Britain are not only aware and engaging in the political scene here in the UK but we are passionate about issues spanning the globe. When defending his actions, another young person was dauntless in asking David Cameron whether oil had anything to do with it. This fearlessness, this unashamed stance in being audacious is something that I think made the day such a success and such a joy to be part of. We were not afraid to be provocative and to say what we really thought. If this generation is going to be the one to break down the barriers of apathy and mediocrity, this is definitely the way to go.
(Disclaimer: I do not own this photo. This is the theatrical film poster for The Theory of Everything. Full ownership is Focus Features)
From the very moment that I saw the trailer, I knew I had to see this film. Within only two minutes, I was captivated by the beautiful musical score, the stunning scenery of Cambridge and the promise of inspiration. The film did not, however, meet my expectations: it exceeded them. So much that when I left the cinema, I was already arranging a time when I could go and see it again.
The essence of the film’s brilliance is undoubtedly rooted in the phenomenal prowess of both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as actors. Redmayne shines with a light that cannot be dimmed; he flawlessly captures the transformation from Hawking’s carefree days to when motor neurone disease had taken its toll – both physically and psychologically. Yet even amidst these significant changes, Redmayne manages to retain and successfully portray the boyish charm and wit that first won his wife’s heart. Jane Wilde’s persona vividly comes to life with Jones’ admirable acting; she poignantly epitomises the inward struggle between hope and despair. The initial romance and infatuation between Stephen and Jane is playful and heart-warming but their relationship swiftly develops into an extraordinary union where a daily determination to overcome the odds is imperative.
Although it has been noted by critics that the domestic turmoil presented in the film is fleeting and perhaps unrealistic in its relative tameness, I cannot help but applaud the subtle frustrations and the latent power struggles; the passive-aggressive way that Hawking agrees to play croquet, the unspoken significance in the moment when Wilde brings a wheelchair home, Hawking’s silent resistance to the spelling board – it is these subtleties that make the conflict presented irresistible. In keeping with this theme of subtleties, what also makes the film a success are the little, seemingly inconsequential details that produce something that is visually stunning. The way the milk in the coffee transforms into a black hole or the way the embers of the fire are made to resemble the stars; everyday things are intertwined with the idea of cosmology and it is beautiful to watch. It reminds the audience that Hawking is exceptional not only in his inspirational fight against his illness but also in his ground-breaking scientific discoveries. I also particularly liked the way in which the film interjects footage of the characters that simulates the style of a home-video; adding to this sense of daring authenticity that wonderfully permeates the entire movie.
The soundtrack of ‘The Theory of Everything’ is sublime. Redmayne and Jones do a spectacular job of portraying the incredible story of the Hawkings but where the words or expressions of an actor reach its limit in conveying inexpressible emotions, the music brings these senses to life, igniting feelings that would have otherwise remained dormant: it is effortlessly moving. Just listening to the soundtrack on my laptop at home makes me relive those moments in the film and it is like my heart is being pierced anew. My deepest gratitude and praise goes to all those involved in the production of ‘The Theory of Everything’ for communicating the difficult, complex and messy facets of relationships while evincing the simplicity of the beauty of love.
Taking risks is a part of life that we can either embrace or continually shy away from. These last few days have felt rather surreal and they will forever be a reminder of why sometimes the precarious choices are the best ones. If my future self ever reverts back to sitting around the pool of life, hesitantly dipping my toe in now and then, this memory will give me impetus to jump right in.
On Saturday, I received an unconditional offer to study English Literature at the University of Cambridge. I did not quite believe it at first and my excitement has made sleeping for the last two nights nearly impossible. But all of these feelings, the anxious thoughts, the ambitious daydreams, the keen research, are all a consequence of a risk that I dared to take last year. After my first year of Sixth Form, I was set on the fact that I would take a Gap Year: I had seen the positive effect it had on my older brother and I wanted to broaden my horizons and break out of the bubble full-time education can create. My first time applying to university was both good and bad; there were disappointments and successes. I was rejected by Oxford without an interview but received offers from two great universities: Exeter and Nottingham. By the end of the year, I had accepted Exeter and Nottingham was my insurance.
Before I knew it, it was summer and A Level exams were upon us but throughout the revision and the talk of UCAS and university, one question lingered at the back of my mind: should I re-apply to ‘Oxbridge’? I was already taking a Gap Year so I definitely had the option, without having to drastically change my plans. When it was time to finally make the decision, I was incredibly hesitant. In order for me to apply to Cambridge the following year, I had to decline my offer from Exeter. This was a dilemma; Exeter is an excellent university and everyone I spoke to told me how amazing it was and there was no way of knowing if I would even get into Cambridge. But I took the risk, and it paid off.
The most miserable way you could spend life would be allowing your fears to forge your future and your doubts to dictate your destiny. I find it amazing that new-born babies have reflexes that simulate swimming when placed in water. This only convinces me more that human beings were not created for life on the sidelines; there is an inherent longing for adventure and an instinctive resourcefulness that makes us swim and not sink – even at the most vulnerable stage of our lives. Choosing to jump in the pool taught me invaluable life lessons and has resulted in one of my greatest achievements so far. My next step: diving in the ocean.
With the sad and shocking news of the shootings in the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, I cannot help but feel distressed because something as precious as freedom of speech is once again being threatened. In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding Sony Pictures’ ‘The Interview’ and now with this unbearably tragic incident, I am beginning to question whether freedom of speech is being valued in the way that it should – and the way that it must. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are integral to humanity and to the progression of society.
We are all familiar with the excitement of a parent when their baby finally utters their first word – even if it’s as weird and unusual as ‘gleba’ (for all my fellow ‘Friends’ lovers, Ross’ face when he proclaims that Emma is “going to be a scientist!” is immortal in its hilariousness). This first word is so special because this moment marks the point when a unique individual, whose singular genetic make-up will never grace the earth again, develops the ability to make one’s self known to the world. Our ideas, our thoughts and our opinions shape the person we are as soon as they are birthed in our minds but they begin to shape the world when they are spoken. Although human beings are fairly sociable creatures, we are still relatively insular; there are some things that we do not share or rather, cannot share with others simply because words cannot express everything. They do not fathom that moment of insurmountable sorrow nor comprehend that ethereal moment of joy. They cannot evince that sound, that sight, that sense.
Free speech to me, however, goes beyond words that are spoken out of my mouth. Freedom of speech finds fulfilment in writing, in music, in art and in whatever form we choose to express ourselves. The world is a big place and in it is a plethora of views and opinions, some I find inspiring, others merely terrifying but without this diversity, the world would be awfully dull. I am not neglecting the fact that some beliefs are indeed dangerous and could end up causing harm if allowed to linger and to perpetuate. I personally do not agree with or care for many of the illustrations produced by Charlie Hebdo; I find it disheartening that people abuse the right to free speech by deliberately causing offence. But if we were only ever presented with one perspective on everything, our minds would never evolve, never dare to think outside the box: we would completely stifle our intellectual curiosity. The song of the world would indeed be increasingly pleasing to our ears if we got to alter its lyrics and the sentiments they represent to our liking but ultimately, it would be incomplete and surprisingly out of tune. If I see or hear something that I do not agree with, it cements what I do agree with. If I hear something that incites hate, it provokes my yearning to see love, if I see something that incites war, it fuels me in my fight for peace and when words of oppression are merely whispered, it urges me to shout all the louder for justice.
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to develop a deep sense of gratitude for life in itself and for the underestimated beauty that each day holds. Valuing and cherishing my freedom of speech will be the first step towards achieving this goal. I will harness this power that has been afforded us and I will use it for the good.
As part of Stand Up Be Counted – an initiative run by Sky News to amplify the voices of young people, yesterday I was a reporter investigating the pros and cons of lowering the voting age to 16. I was looking into this proposal amongst many other pressing issues regarding the state of democracy in the UK. I spoke to Graham Allen MP who chairs the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee. Today, this select committee launches a consultation putting a number of radical reforms to the public. The aim is to better understand public opinion on how to enhance democracy in the UK and to increase political participation. Some of these proposed changes are online voting, postal voting, lowering the voting age and mandatory voting.
“Decisions are made by those who show up” yet the voter turnout in the UK is dwindling drastically. At the last general election, 16 million people did not vote. Hearing figures like this only convinces me more of the urgent necessity to eradicate apathy and disillusionment. I ardently believe that young people do care and we are indeed passionate about positive change; we just don’t always know where or how to direct this passion. Nonetheless, living in such a digital age, we now have access to a plethora of platforms through which we can express our views and pioneer our very own campaigns. Young people are being recognised more and more as the valuable citizens that we are; the tide is turning but we need new waves of inspiration to prevent any stagnancy in our progression.
In terms of lowering the voting age to 16, I personally do not think that this is what needs to be done at this point in time. First and foremost, we need to deal with the low voter turnout of the 18-24 year old demographic (at the last general election, only 44% of this age group voted). Everybody is an individual and 16 – 17 years olds may well be different (as exemplified in the Scottish Referendum) however, our first steps towards increasing participation needs to be rooted in education. I find it slightly ludicrous that the government plays such a big role in education yet the majority of current school systems don’t do much to educate pupils on how government and politics actually works. The odd PSCHE/Citizenship lesson is simply not enough.
We need to do more to nurture the aspirations and innovative thinking of young people so that by the time they turn eighteen, they have the mind-set and the skills to make the difference they wish to. It does not make sense that we can learn all about the complex calculations within algebra but not know the formula behind our Parliamentary system. Or we can write essays on coastal erosion yet be oblivious to the erosion of human rights in the world around us. Traditional, academic subjects are indeed very important but the chasm between what we learn at school and what we need to know in the so-called “real world” is far too wide: we need to start bridging the gap. How can we be expected to effectively engage with the political system if we are not effectively educated about it?
I am grateful for projects and initiatives such as Stand Up Be Counted, UK Youth Parliament and BBC Free Speech which encourage young people to immerse themselves in debate and discussion. Excitement fills me when I ponder the prospect of a future where the potential of every young person is realised and where the word ‘change’ is not associated with empty promises or lofty fantasy but with an undeniable reality.
This week marked the six month anniversary of the abduction of the Chibok girls. I wrote this poem quite a while ago; it was the best way for me to express my concerns. With the news that the Nigerian govt. may have made a truce with the culprits, I hope I can make a difference in any way that I can.
Yesterday evening my vision expanded. I felt the corners of my creativity stretching out to new heights. I saw passion and positive potential collide. The Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence has now launched a Youth Council and our induction evening took place last night at The House of Lords. Words fail to express my excitement that I get to play a part in a movement that will make a difference.
Domestic violence is an issue which has been deemed as taboo for far too long. It is not a matter to be hushed up and discounted as a private problem. It is not simply the affair of the victim but it is the responsibility of society. Let us not get so consumed by what we as individual humans must do that we forget our duty to humanity. The statistics are staggering: over two women per week are killed by current or ex-partners, one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. However, these numbers should not intimidate us but they should ignite us – fuel us in our fight to end the atrocity.
I was in awe at the way so many inspirational figures – varying from lawyers to university lecturers – were eager to empower us young people. They saw a light in us, and because of that, we burned brighter. And we will continue to burn until our light illuminates the dark reality of domestic violence. We learnt about the issue from different and insightful perspectives; the corporate world, the legal aspects, the Middle East and the policing agenda. Not to forget the input and impromptu performance of the amazing Jahméne Douglas – former X Factor runner-up and Youth Ambassador for WomensAid.
The Youth Council are in a unique position to start raising awareness; educating and engaging young people. It is the youth that will forge the future and carve out what is to come; the destiny which awaits the world will dance to the beat of our drums.
I made three pledges last night and writing this blog is my first step to fulfilling them:
1. I will be vocal – unafraid to speak out about my pursuit to end domestic violence.
2. I will try to educate as many people as possible about it.
3. I will never again underestimate the power that lies within me – that lies within all of us – to provoke change.
The founder of EDV, Baroness Scotland QC, is someone whose ability to inspire is timeless. Her ground-breaking achievements leave me speechless. She raised her voice when she embarked on this journey to eliminate domestic violence. I too, alongside an amazing group of young people have started to raise mine and I want to encourage everyone to do so. Raise your voice until silence about what is wrong and what is a crime, is an unknown notion.
With the imminent Scottish referendum – due to take place tomorrow – I can’t help but question whether 16 -17 year olds will actually participate. With so many distractions and diversions, the occupation of education, trying to figure out what on earth we want to do in the future, struggles with identity and insecurity, what place does politics have in our lives?
The word “politics” in itself has the ability to trigger an array of reactions. Some instantly envision the Houses of Parliament, some contend that it’s all a game of power whilst others think of economics and pensions. It’s easy to fall into a state of apathy and indifference when your idea of politics is defined by external influences. If someone paints you a picture, you can either accept it or discard it; resulting in this divide between those who are supposedly politically active and those who are deemed to be disengaged – and more importantly, disenchanted. But what about creating your own picture? What about moulding and shaping your own image of what politics is? It needn’t be limited to elections, parties and voting booths. Take hold of the creativity and innovation that is unique to you.
For me, politics is about engaging with society, it’s about justice and representation. It is about voicing the unspoken and unveiling what is “taboo”. However, it’s also the way I argue with my sister that Timberlake and not Bieber is the better Justin. It’s convincing my Head of Year that plastic, orange chairs do not look good in the Sixth Form Centre, it’s communicating with my Nigerian grandmother and getting her to understand my British accent. Don’t shy away from the concept of politics because you only see it on this large, grand scale of trying to make possible what the world is calling impossible – whether that be world peace, a higher employment rate or social equality. These issues are of great importance but also take time to make politics personal; make it mean something to you as an individual. Redefine it completely.
Once we break down the artificial presumptions of what politics is, we have more freedom to engage with it – regardless of the context. Everybody has something to say and no one can articulate your distinctive thoughts and opinions better than yourself. Our picture of politics needs to evolve. It is not one man holding a megaphone but a continuous conversation. It is not about winning a seat but about taking a stand.
I would say I have about five at the very least. The Facebook self which displays my optimistic, “living life to the full” façade, the Twitter self is where I attempt to appear as deep and philosophical as possible (basically retweeting a bunch of Walt Disney quotes), Tumblr is the perfected presentation of my inner – or wannabe – hipster self and Instagram is last but not least, an exhibition of my select, selfie-worthy moments – you know, the ones which are “completely spontaneous” and you just happened to quickly take them on your way out (in reality, about 30 minutes was spent planning the position of your face, hair fixing, hunting down the best lighting and scrolling through filters). Then there’s me. The real me. The individual that cannot be expressed or defined in the confinements of a twitter bio or a Facebook profile picture.
Being part of a generation birthed in the midst of the digital revolution and where social media is omnipresent, it strikes me how so much time is spent creating all these different online versions of ourselves and so little is left to actually discover our true identity. It’s like instead of human beings, we’ve become mannequins, dressing up for show, adorning ourselves with possessions, people and places – all for display- until we’re either accepted and people buy into our pretences, or rejection causes us to scale down our worth and our self-imposed devaluation means we are accepted for something much lower than our priceless selves. You are more than your YouTube hits. Your amount of followers does not reveal your significance. Don’t just “Do it for the Vine”, do things because they matter, do things because you’re passionate, do things to create moments you yourself can cherish and not to please a virtual audience.
In this whirlwind of constant posts, pictures and self-promotion, while the world sees only your ‘final cuts’ and polished performances, make sure there are people in your life who get to see the ‘Behind the Scenes’ footage: expose your unscripted self every once in a while. Take off the accessories and embrace discovery: there are hidden treasures within you waiting to be unearthed.
Aloha! My name is Fopé Deborah Jegede. I am a 19 year old Londoner and aspiring writer.
GirlAblaze.com has been on a bit of a journey. It initially began simply as a platform for my sporadic, creative expression; posts varying from my dire attempts at humour to sharing rather profound personal moments. However, embarking on a new stage in my life and as I approach the end of my years as a teenager, I realised that there is so much I wish I had known at the start of my adolescence. There seems to be an ever-increasing void of positive role models for young people – young girls in particular. So I hope that this blog will be a source of empowerment and inspiration. Join me on my journey here at GirlAblaze as I endeavour to ignite sparks of change.
I also work as the Chief Editor of W!ZARD News at W!ZARD Radio Media and I volunteer within the Media and Communications team at two different charities – One Big Community and Eliminate Domestic Violence.