A group of learners from CONEL who visited the Houses of Parliament last week returned to College even more determined to get young people engaged in politics.

The eighteen learners are all members of BRACE (Building Relationships Across Cultures Everywhere) – a group set up in the College by learners, guided and supported by our Learner Enrichment team.

BRACE was formed at CONEL in 2004, by learners who were keen to encourage dialogue and friendship between young people of all ethnicities and faiths. The group works within the College and the wider community of Haringey to achieve these aims and to prevent young people from becoming affected by violence and crime.

The visit to Westminster on Monday 19 January was part of an event organised by the Peace Alliance and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, debating the question ‘Can Non-Violence be Cool?’ It was held to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which commemorates the birth of the famous black civil rights leader. Dr. King was an advocate of non violent means during the struggle to end racial segregation and discrimination in the United States.

In the morning, CONEL learners gave a presentation on the life and work of Dr. King at St Ethelburga’s church. They also gave a talk about the work and aims of the BRACE group. The learners then took part in a discussion session, sharing their views with community religious leaders representing a wide variety of faiths. Also addressing the event was the Chief Executive of the Peace Alliance and CONEL Governor, Rev. Nims Obunge. He spoke about the importance of family to young people and how people can grow up in non-violence.

After lunch the learners, accompanied by CONEL enrichment officer Anthony Robinson, visited the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. At the House of Commons, they were able to share their perspectives with two MPs. Dawn Butler, MP for South Brent and one of only two black women in parliament, talked to the CONEL group about efforts to make the House of Commons more representative of the country’s ethnic diversity. This is a very topical issue – and one close to the hearts of many people in Haringey. The trip to Westminster came just one day before the official launch in Tottenham of ‘Bernie’s List’. Named for former Tottenham MP, the late Bernie Grant, the list is an action plan for increasing the numbers of black and other ethnic minority MPs in parliament.

CONEL learner Ahmed Abdalla said of the meeting with Dawn Butler MP “I think this type of event is really important. We get to see how politics works, and the politicians get to hear about these issues from ground-level – the perspective of real young people in London.” Ahmed and his fellow learners had been particularly keen to talk about ways of engaging young people in the political process. “We were interested to hear more about the Youth Parliament – and that’s something the BRACE group will now get much more involved with.”

At Westminster Abbey, the learners were given a tour by the Dean, and were interested to find that Martin Luther King is commemorated there in one of a group of statues representing great historical figures.

Anthony Robinson said about the day: “I was so proud of our learners when they were giving their presentation on Martin Luther King. Later in the day, when we were walking from parliament across to Westminster Abbey, I could tell the whole group was really buzzing - they just want to get on with the work of making a difference in our community as quickly as they can”.

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