Take it or leave it: How one man has become the change he wants to see in the world

Craig Pinkney’s mother used to cry when she learned about his negative behaviour in the classroom.

He completely lost interest in school in his early teen years. The teachers labelled him as aggressive, he stopped trying to learn in class, and skipping became a normality during his schoolweek. He never told his mother about these issues, but rather accepted school the way it was.

After he had gotten accepted into college, Pinkney once again made his mother cry—but that time, they were tears of joy. His life turned around once he began studying for his degrees.

Craig Pinkney is also a lecturer at University College Birmingham (Source: UCB website).

Fast forward to 2018, his life is a lot different. Through his YouTube channel and work with Real Action UK, Pinkney’s perseverance in helping youth stay away from gang violence is a force to be reckoned with. Pinkney has worked with many young people, some of which he showcases online. His work has been more important than ever recently with the surge of gun and knife violence occurring in the UK, particularly London. His expertise makes him a common source for media around the world to contact him about youth and crime.

But he didn’t become one of the UK’s leading mentors on gangs and youth violence overnight.

Growing up as a child, he says in a YouTube video that he was an inquisitive person and loved to learn about geography, science and history in primary school. His family was very interested in education and he even attended school on Saturdays.

Entering years eight and nine, he began to have some difficulty while trying to define who he was as a person. His secondary school wasn’t in Birmingham’s best neighbourhood. He witnessed fights, his classmates joined gangs and other hostile acts had unfortunately become a norm. He conflicted a lot with his teachers and described his school as institutionally racist because the students were not given access to better quality education and services.

By year 10, school was not a main priority for Pinkney. He says people were not paying attention in class and fights were happening frequently. Despite his turbulent experience in secondary school, Pinkney was always interested in education.

His difficulties in high school finally made sense once he started university, where he was diagnosed with dyslexia. His confusion back in high school because of math class and having the teacher explain things to him over and over again now had a reason, and he was able to better understand his learning disability.

Pinkney is now a criminologist and urban youth specialist still living in Birmingham, UK. He’s also a lecturer at University College Birmingham and is known for his expertise and leadership in responding to gangs and serious youth violence. He developed a passion for working with young people in his community who have little to no access to opportunities. He has a degree in youth and community development and master’s degree in criminology. Between that and his firsthand experience growing up with an underprivileged education system, it makes sense how he has become a reliable source in youth violence and gang exit strategist.

“The problem is society often times doesn’t look at those success stories, they often focus on the negative taking place,” says Pinkney. He is challenging the dreary narrative with his own YouTube channel, displaying young people doing good in their community.

The media plays a big role in the way people perceive a community. Often times, the focus is aimed toward the bloodshed, violence and negative alterations associated with troubled youth. Pinkney sees this as an issue, saying there’s so many beacons of light in underprivileged communities but not enough spotlight shed on them. He started his YouTube channel to highlight community members doing good in the world.

One video he published in 2012 is called “Don’t Get Gassed.” The premise of the short documentary takes the viewer along to a few locations, like a workshop encouraging young people to go knife free, interviews with experts and teenagers living in their communities. Knife crime in particular has been an issue in the UK, and Pinkney wants young people to consider the consequences of carrying around knives.

“I’m really looking at the issues and why people do what they do, why people get so gassed up to want to utilize a knife and maybe take somebody’s life whether they expect it or not,” says Pinkney in the “Don’t Get Gassed” video.

“Ridden with crime, the city of London is having a crisis with gun and knife murder, largely due to gang involvement,” says Pinkney.

He partly blames the lack of youth services from the government as for why youth get involved with gangs. Reports say the government has cut at least 387 million pounds from youth service funding since 2010. The statistics are staggering, with the murder rate having increased by 40 per cent according to data released by the Metropolitan police. He is also a gang exit strategist, meaning he helps people leave gangs and end their relationships with the violence typically associated with them,

Although Pinkney is good at his job, sometimes people still fall back into criminality. But the reason is not as complicated as one would expect. He says often people attempt a new project or opportunity that falls through. Other times a project is doomed before it even begins because someone may tackle although they may not be psychologically ready to do so. Sometimes people don’t even bother following a passion or vision because people tell them they aren’t going to make it. The reasons vary, but he has seen many of his mentees grow to be successful in life. He has seen people go to university, start their own businesses and even become mentors themselves.

High school teachers once told Pinkney and his classmates they would become drug dealers or end up in jail someday. Now, he is the one leading a change, helping youth that was once like him get on the right track and take control of their lives.