Not enough is being done to help youngsters in South East London, according to an interfaith forum held at Catford and Bromley synagogue on Tuesday evening.
Senior representatives of local Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities came together for a special discussion on ‘Growing up in South East London’.
Youngsters face unique problems, the forum heard, with neither adults, institutions or legal authorities doing enough to pay attention to their issues.
Imam Ashraf Dabous from Lewisham Islamic Centre said: “We have different ethnicities but share the same place and same culture and environment. We are not just black or white, we have got a variety of colours. Racism and discrimination shall not be accepted.”
Those present, he said, had inherited their buildings. “A mosque, churches and a synagogue – we are all a part of them. They all get restored and redeveloped. People’s culture needs be restored and redeveloped too.
“We need youngsters to have an opportunity to turn their energy into actions in society and get their plans fulfilled. They should seek education. We need to give them a gift of wanting to learn.”
A young audience member questioned the value of learning about slavery and World War Two genocide. ”If we stop letting people get into this shameful part of history then people will forget this happened and there might be less racism in the world.”
Imam Ashraf replied: “History should be accepted holistically and if we take out our history we will lose our ability to learn.”
Young people’s use of social media was also discussed with some worried that it was addictive.
Imam Ashraf said parents and teachers should take responsibility, particularly for monitoring mobile phone use. He compared social media to drugs. “It’s like putting a piece of meat in front of an animal and not letting him eat it,” he added.
Another audience member spoke up, saying: “I am a teacher. And I can say that we really try to do our best in educating children and encouraging them. We really do.”
Ruby Fox from St. Laurence Church was concerned about problems such as poverty, air pollution, and lack of justice for people who cannot stand up for themselves.
Father Steffan Mathias added: “We can no longer chase our dreams because the dreams are so much against us.” The main challenge facing the current generation, he said, was that they needed to work harder and try better to get what they want. “They need to be like productive robots.”
Rabbi David Rome from Catford and Bromley Synagogue ended with a call for optimism. “All the issues raised are important and they have to be looked at. But we need to be optimistic. Being positive is a way to proceed. Together we’ll manage to reach success.”