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When They See Us

Sep 20, 2019
BTEG’s Reflections of the British Experience
When they see us

When they see us


When They See Us is a hard watch for many. The series documents the investigation and wrongful conviction of the Exonerated Five: Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Yosef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Raymond Santana - black and Hispanic boys who were convicted for the rape of a white woman in Central Park.

The notorious Central Park jogger case occurred in 1989 where Trisha Ellen Meili was brutally raped, beaten and left for dead. Five teenage boys of black and Hispanic origin were also in Central Park at the time and were arrested. Eventually each of the Five was coerced into giving false testimony without parental supervision, despite there being no DNA evidence linking them to the crime scene. The teens aged between 14-15 were convicted in 1990 and served sentences ranging from 5-15 years. All but one of the teens served as juveniles whereas Korey Wise was tried and served as an adult. The Five were eventually released due to new DNA evidence and a confession from the actual culprit. The Five later successfully sued the city of New York twice and won both times, settling for $41 million and $3.9 million.

‘When They See Us’ is a stunningly crafted hard hitting depiction of the bogus case from the perspective of the families and the children, as well as the aftermath.

The team at Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) found the series so powerful that we have written a collective review and why the story of the Five reinvigorates our efforts to eradicate racial inequalities.

Black and white photo of black man and two cops


‘When They See Us’ is real and powerful, we must take seriously the impact of race in the criminal justice system. Let this story be an opportunity for awareness and action on holding our system to account because we are not above being unjust to BAME children in the UK. 

Revisiting the case from the perspective of the Five reminded me why the work EQUAL performs is vital. EQUAL is a national initiative supported by an independent advisory group and BTEG, which is dedicated to tackling racial inequalities within the criminal justice system. We specifically focus on BAME and Muslim communities who are disproportionately over represented in the justice system.

My family and friends rightly felt dismay at the miscarriage of justice the Five repeatedly experienced, costing them their youth and innocence.

We may not have many cases that mirror what happened to the Five, however, the disproportionality of young black males in the justice system is worse in the UK than in the States. Black people make up 3% of our population but 12% of our prison population which is worse than the US. Black children are four times more likely to be arrested than white children and worse still, BAME youth are now 53% of our youth justice system. Evidently institutional reform is necessary in the UK as it is in the US.



These boys lost their childhood, aspirations, education and dignity. BTEG’s Routes2Success (R2S) Ethnic Minority Role Model Programme aims to inspire young people to raise their aspirations, make positive choices and value education as we are aware that the institutional racism in schools, further education, and employment can be a barrier to young black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) people achieving their dreams. We want to show young BAME people that regardless of their background, race, religion, or gender that they can achieve whatever they set out to.

Upon release, four of the five men were excluded from society despite doing their time (for a crime that they didn’t commit). This resonated with me as we have worked with so many young black males in prisons through the R2S Programme who see no light at the end of the tunnel and furthermore, no second chances. We give them hope by allowing them to hear from our role models who have themselves been through the criminal justice system but are now successful in multiple aspects of their life. We want to show young BAME people that there will be obstacles and challenges in their lives but using examples like Korey Wise (who is resilient and strong minded) they too can have a bright future. In my eyes the Five are true role models and our young people can learn a lot from them: their determination, resilience and pride got them where they are today in a world that seemed stacked against them. Despite this, they waited patiently for the truth to set them free.

The real people


This case was an injustice that sent a ripple effect through America due to the collective narrative from the media that even spurred Donald Trump to take an advert out to bring back the death penalty during the time of the trial in 1990. A collective voice that led to the wrongful conviction of five boys and shattering any hopes and dreams they had as teenagers.

The theme of connection was very evident through watching When They See Us, it highlighted how a collective voice is so much stronger than a single one. Ava DuVernay gave the men a collective voice and helped them to tell their individual story about an experience they shared together. In that moment the Five not only became an identifier of the men that were wrongly convicted but it became a statement of justice, race inequality, resilience, survival and change. 

A collective voice strengthens the ability to create lasting change. Imagine what changes are possible when passionate, capable and determined voices come together with a common goal and with the right tools to make positive changes in the community.  This is the vision of BTEG’s connectivity programme; designed to give a strong collective voice to BAME civil society groups. Through sharing our experience, skills and expertise we develop a connected group of leaders that work collaboratively to solve complex societal issues our communities face; whether it is in regards to justice, education, health or any other inequality. 



In this ground-breaking series, Ava DuVernay successfully depicts the various ways in which the trauma of racial profiling, institutionalised racism, and racial discrimination seeps into the lives of the families and friends of the victims.

Perhaps what stood out most, at least in the first episode was the ignorance of the young boys and the families alike. The old saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ does not necessarily ring true when considering the lives of BAME communities. In fact, When They See Us demonstrates the ways in which ignorance can spell danger, deepening the hole in which one can become trapped. This is why the work that BTEG does is so important. Not only do we work diligently to educate and empower BAME young people, but since 1991 we have been and will continue to be an organisation that seeks to invoke knowledge and change from the ground up and top down.



Although, the adaptation of the portrayal of ‘Central Park Five’ takes place overseas in New York, injustice is not limited to the shores of the US. We know that (even after serving a prison sentence) a criminal record can be like a second sentence, curtailing employment, educational and housing opportunities, especially for young black men. Ava DuVernay powerfully portrayed the barriers Raymond faced upon completing his sentence, struggling to gain even the most basic job. 

A huge part of my job at BTEG is to engage with potential employers for the Moving Up project. The project aims to address the systematic unemployment faced by young black men. A key factor apparent in this issue is the negative representation of young black men in the media in rigid and stereotypical ways. These one dimensional and stereotypical portrayals can be pervasive in both the psyche of mainstream society and in recruitment processes. The unemployment rate for young black men is 31% compared to 12% for young white men. 

When They See Us has been a huge hit, reminding the world of the forgotten Five and the life long scars they still carry from conviction, prison, and beyond. 

Happy in court


There is no doubt of the devastating aftermath the wrongful convictions have had on the Five that still traumatise every aspect of their life. The successful series has humanised the five, cutting through the onslaught of character assassination that even the current President of the US participated in during the trial in the 90’s. Their youth may have been robbed and their lives changed forever but their story is a powerful symbol of the long wait for justice. 

7 steps to successful bid writing

Jun 12, 2019

Writing bids to secure funding or to deliver a piece of work  can be daunting, especially if it is your first time writing one or you have previously been unsuccessful.

Before writing your next bid or application look at the seven steps below and apply them to increase your likelihood of success.

1.  Attend any supporting events related to the bid

I cannot emphasize enough how useful it is to attend any pre-bid meetings and events designed to assist you in writing the bid. Who better to tell you what should be featured and how to increase success than the funders themselves. It can also help you decide if it‘s the right bid for you and, if so, your chances of securing any of it. Many projects fail to attend and miss the key elements that would have secured the bid or at least create a conversation that means the funders already know who you are before you apply.

2.  Do not miss anything – answer every question with as much detail as possible

A large number of bids are lost due to not breaking down the question and answering fully and with as much detail relating to the topic. We often don’t consider what exactly the funder wants to know in response to a question and how our response will help them to understand what we do. For example, if asked what were your outgoing expenses related to the project in year one, you should list each expense and not just give a total amount.

3. Keep your mission at the forefront at all times

When answering any part of a bid it is important to show your commitment to your mission as this will show the difference of, and passion within, your organisation. Highlight the unique selling points of your project/programme: how it impacts on the community it serves; what your Theory of Change is; what outcomes you plan to achieve and the steps you will take to achieve them. Take this as an opportunity to ‘brag’ about all the great work you do.

4. Are you clear about your outcomes!

Remember this is not just about the work you will do but also, and vitally, the impact your work will have. What changes and positive outcome will be seen by your users and the community? Showcase the social impact by detailing evidence from previous work, for example, through completion of an employability programme 20 service users were employed for over 12 months. Of these 20, five are now volunteers for our programme.

5. Scoping need and demonstrating the ability to deliver it!

Funders want to know that you will deliver on their investment so it is vital that you can demonstrate the need for your work within the community and the difference it will make, not only in immediate outcomes but also the impact it will have in the long term. You also need to make it clear to the decision makers that your programme fits with the aims and plans of their fund. 

6. Engage your service user

One key mistake made by many bid writers is not demonstrating how the project has included its users; have they been a part of the research; did you seek their views; are services bespoke to them and not a “one size fits all” approach? Do not be daunted if you haven’t, you might have personal experience or seen it work for another area. Recognise this as an area for growth and improvement for future applications.

7. Demonstrate strategy

Demonstrating your ability to apply strategy in the way your project runs by breaking down each action using the 6 WHs (Who, What, When, Where, Why and importantly the How). Answering these questions shows your project is well thought out and plans effectively.

You also need to highlight your ability to respond to emerging issues and how you plan in advance for how to deal with any risks or threats, for example other ways to get referrals if numbers are low through networks.

These steps can assist you in developing a strong and well-planned bid application that shows the difference your work can make and that speaks the language funders need to hear if you want them to invest in you. By starting early and ensuring you produce a well-written bid, the better chance you have.

For more information on bid writing or if you are interested in bid writing training contact the BTEG team, information available on our website.

Criminal justice contracts – opportunities for the Third Sector

Jun 12, 2019

 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are private sector suppliers of probation and prison-based services for offenders in England and Wales. They were established in 2015 as part of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation Programme (TR), brought in by Chris Grayling, former Justice Secretary. There seems to be a strong correlation between the introduction of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and the rise in violent crime, especially within serious youth violence and domestic abuse that have impacted on our families and communities. It was recently announced that the contracts with CRCs would be scrapped two years early due to failures in the system and model and a renationalized service take in its place.

CRCs were, unfortunately, so strained from the beginning that they were unable to look outwards and create meaningful relationships with local and larger VSOs during their five years of controlling low-to-medium risk offenders. The lack of ability to take a hold of offender management has led to an increased risk to the public and when you factor in austerity, reduction in police numbers and rise in school exclusion rates you can see why this was an almost impossible task to achieve without engaging the third sector. 

David Gauke, the new Justice Secretary, has said that “the model we are announcing...will harness the skills of private and voluntary providers and draw on the expertise of the National Probation Service to boost rehabilitation, improve standards and ultimately increase public safety.” The Government’s response to the Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence consultation included “a clearer role for the voluntary sector and smaller providers” within their future approach, services including structured interventions and mentoring around substance misuse, as well as employability and resettlement projects.

The government wants to ensure that there is not a repeat of the promises made during TR Programme. They plan to take strategic action to collaborate with the voluntary sector in order to “develop an approach to support direct participation of smaller voluntary providers...through the procurement of a dynamic framework... [that] operates as an open panel of suppliers”.

We need to ensure that they are held account to this framework.

Many smaller, BAME organisations within the sector will be looking at opportunities to engage with criminal justice contracts to deliver in partnership with the New National Service. However, they may not be thinking about partnerships with other VSOs to strengthen the likelihood of winning contracts to do the work that will make a difference.

Supported collaboration programmes have been created as a response to the lack of funding and opportunities by various funders as they too recognised this was an issue. Simply giving training and sharing ideas is not always enough. Smaller organisations, projects and programme (especially BAME) benefit from collaborating with other organisations that share a vision for change in their communities – for example, if one project delivers courses employability readiness skills for those with offending backgrounds and another works with companies to actively recruit ex-offenders why not put in a bid together for a larger amount and share resources, especially as the same service user is likely to be work with both projects to achieve longer term success.

If you are within the BAME sector and are interested in working within the Criminal Justice provider group then I would urge you to look out for opportunities like the Connectivity Programme that brings organisations, projects and skilled individuals together in partnership.  This increases their ability to deliver work with a diverse range of skills that both complement but differ. This will allow co-production of integrated activities enabling end users to experience the benefit of culturally competent programmes and socially relevant activities. This approach not only increases positive community impact but also strengthens the skills and longevity of the sector through creating engaged and supported leaders that sustain effective, high quality programmes.

The Ministry of Justice has stated in the plans of renationalisation that the VSO sector should and will be represented in the new model. Think about what you could do, and who else you may need, to achieve the vision. This will undoubtedly increase your chances of working within the justice sector and making a difference to the over- and under-represented communities.

Find out more about the Connectivity Programme.

Mark Blake’s Farewell Blog

May 21, 2019

I am leaving BTEG after working here for nine years. It will be sad to leave somewhere that’s been a big part of my life for nearly a decade. At the same time, with the recent rebranding of the Young Review as Equal, and with a new Chair and an excellent team of colleagues, I believe I am leaving an organisation that is in a good space.

On the wider policy front David Lammy’s review has, in recent years, dominated the agenda of ethnic disproportionality across the justice system. The recent Justice Select Committee hearings on progress in delivering the recommendations of the review had an air of one step forward two steps backwards. Our work at Equal would certainly suggest this.

Of course, Lammy didn’t cover policing, although he did highlight the large body of work that has already been produced around the issue of stop and search and recommendation number five focused on the Metropolitan Police’s Gangs Matrix and the Mayor of London’s commitment to review it.

Equal participated in the process of the review that led to the MOPAC report and the Information Commissioner’s enforcement notice. We wait to see what emerges as a result of these but it has felt that the Met and MOPAC have been reluctant to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of the Matrix upon young black men, and the potential for discrimination that the ICO highlighted.

Along with this, the Met’s apparent position of  justifying ethnic disproportionality in stop and search as part of what appears to be an enforcement-orientated response to serious youth violence is, to put it diplomatically disappointing. The failure of linking ethnic disproportionality with mainstream agendas, such as serious youth violence, is not only puzzling but frankly exasperating.

In my opinion, the use of punitive measures is only likely to further entrench ethnic disproportionality and escalate violence in our communities and custodial establishments. You’d think that at some point we have to try something new but the risk-averse nature of our institutions is a major impediment in finding solutions. We need to see fundamentally new approaches emerging instead the same old responses that exasperate the problems across our failing justice system

This is my final blog for Equal. I would like to thank my colleagues, the members of the Equal Advisory Group, external partners, funders, volunteers and trustees for working with me over the past nine years. I will be rooting for Equal in its efforts to address the critical challenges around ethnic disproportionality in our criminal justice system.

Another day, another knife crime announcement

Apr 17, 2019

The knife crime debate continues.

Following the Downing Street Summit on knife violence on 2nd April, Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, made a speech on the subject in London on Monday. He talked of his childhood experience of growing up in a poor neighbourhood affected by crime and how he avoided a potential life of crime. He didn’t, though, give any consideration to the idea that engaging young people affected by the issue is pivotal in finding answers.

In my opinion, the message from this speech had more to do with confirming a comforting narrative for middle England than seriously seeking to address the root causes and find the solutions to serious youth violence.

The Home Secretary’s announcements on knife crime over recent weeks have had an over-emphasis on enforcement measures, more stop and search and knife crime ASBO’s for children. This is unsurprising; it follows a typical pattern when there is a moral panic around crime.

“Not being able to arrest our way out of serious violence’ has become a mantra for politicians and senior police officers, whilst they simultaneously promote more and more enforcement-led responses and demean the social interventions that are not only necessary but more effective in diverting young people away from crime.

The pattern is clear - talk about addressing the social causes of crime while promoting more punitive measures.

Perhaps a more useful approach would be for politicians to actually speak to – and listen to - young people affected by knife crime. Why not visit youth and community groups where young people, both the victims of knife crime and those who carry knives, talk about their lived experience? Why not visit HMP Feltham YOI, where young people are locked up for 23 hours a day and which was recently the scene of violent incidents?

They may find the answers they need to effectively address the issue of youth violence.

Employment gap between London’s young black and white men narrows

Apr 12, 2019

Recent reports from the Moving on Up project indicate the historically disproportionate employment gap between young black men and white men has narrowed in London. Data collected in 2018 shows that 86% of the young black men in London available for work were in employment; the employment rate for young white men in the same period was 89%.

Moving on Up (MoU) is an employment initiative helping young black men to find jobs and careers in London’s competitive labour market. The project now in phase II is working with leading employers in the Construction, Finance and Digital tech sectors, to measure their hiring practices and inclusion policies. In addition to employers, MoU is collectively working with local councils in London Borough of Brent and Newham to demonstrate the difference targeted support can have on young black men’s progression. MoU is providing funding to support present and new provisions to facilitate the development of young black men. 

The MoU ambition mirrors the Government’s national target to get 20% more ethnic minority people into employment by 2020. The target aims to end the much higher unemployment rates experienced by some ethnic minority groups, including young black men.

January to December 2017

  • The economic activity rate for young black men in London was 37%; the economic activity rate for young white men was 64%.
  • The unemployment rate for young black men in London was 14%; the unemployment rate for young white men was 11%.
  • Under-employment rates are twice as likely to be higher for black employees as for white employees, including for graduates.


Moving on Up is a joint £1m initiative from the Trust for London, City Bridge Trust and the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), to increase employment opportunities for young black men in London. BTEG’s mission is to end racial inequality by championing fairness, challenging discrimination and pioneering innovative solutions to empower BAME communities through education, employment and enterprise.

‘Lonely’ Leaders Connecting Through Action Learning

Apr 09, 2019

Loneliness and feelings of isolation are one of the daunting realities of leadership. I have felt this loneliness and have heard the same from many leadership colleagues over the years.

So why is it rarely discussed in professional forums?

Being a leader can mean that you are physically isolated from your colleagues; you may be in a different location or on a different schedule.

Then there is emotional isolation. You have a duty of care to staff, you must deal with HR issues and you have to meet performance targets and funders’ expectations. At the same time you have to consider your own needs - keeping up with your own learning and development, self-management and regulation. However, you may be the only leader in the organisation and have no peers to bounce issues off, share experiences with or even just offload on.

This physical and emotional isolation, whilst having that level of responsibility, can lead to performance, health, and relationship issues.

Having experienced this isolation, I know that meeting regularly with Action Learning Set colleagues, a group of peers who understood the challenges I faced, made a real difference in my ability to lead and supported me in making informed decisions rather than reactive ones. Through a reflective style of questioning, they:

  • challenged my perspective in a safe and respectful way when I wasn’t able to think objectively due to an emotional attachment to the issues
  • assisted me in problem solving and decision making
  • were able to help me generate options that led to solutions

So what is Action Learning?

Action learning is based upon the concept of learning through insightful questioning and reflection on an experience/problem. It is underpinned by Kolb’s Experiential Learning, which suggests there is “no learning without action and no sober and deliberate action without learning”.

Action Learning Sets are small groups, with usually no more than eight ‘Set Members’, who meet regularly, anything from monthly to once a quarter. They focus on an individual’s learning through the study of their own actions and experience. During the meeting each individual has an opportunity to be the ‘presenter’ for a set amount of time, outlining a professional issue or problem that they would like support on. The set members can then ask insightful questions to help the presenter to identify options and generate new ideas and perspectives on the issue. Once the conversation has closed the presenter is given the chance to reflect and summarise the insights and actions they have identified and plan to take forward. The process allows for further check in and exploration in the subsequent meetings to cement learning and create a sense of continued support. (Find out more about the skills and benefits of Action Learning).

Having experience of Action Learning, I have found that it is a powerful tool in supporting the development and maintenance of leadership but possibly more impactful to me is its ability to reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation and create a sense of belonging in a safe, confidential environment of support. When one member shares an issue, problem or goal and another member says those magic words “I am going through that too” or “When I was in that situation I had the same feeling” – there is a profound effect on both the person sharing the issue and others in the set who have been through or are going through similar issues. In that moment the ‘lonely leader’ feels that little less alone because other leaders have similar feelings, thoughts, questions of ability and self-doubt.

Set members are often fearful about sharing for the first time feeling they may be judged. In that moment you could hear a pin drop until someone in the group begins to share, and what they share is something that every member can relate to in one way or another. That scary moment of sharing becomes the thing that unites you as a group, which makes you feel that “I am not alone”. That to me is the most powerful element of Action Learning.

Having a safe space to explore your thoughts by connecting with and being supported by your peers can make you feel more confident in your decision making and more creative in finding solutions. Possibly more vital for leaders, though, is that Action Learning does not just aid learning but creates a sense of belonging and togetherness in what can be an isolating and lonely role. It can help overcome that daunting feeling of ‘leadership loneliness’.

Are you a BAME voluntary or charitable organisation in Ealing?

Mar 06, 2019


Are you a BAME Voluntary or Charitable org in Ealing?

Would you benefit from leadership development and support?

Would you want to know how to work in collaboration to increase sustainability?

If you have answered yes, then the BAME Connectivity Programme might be for you…

The Connectivity Programme is a new project from BTEG that will support and strengthen BAME organisations to be better positioned and structured to survive in the changing landscape and context of the VCS in Ealing. 

BTEG recognises the changes in the voluntary sector over recent years and the implications these have for BAME voluntary and community organisations.  In order for the organisations to be better positioned to work in collaboration, they need to focus on both the infrastructure of their organisations and the leaders within - ensuring that they have the knowledge, attitude and mind-set needed as well as appreciating the value and need to collaborate with others.

The Connectivity programme aims to: 

  • build the skills and capacity of BAME organisations to strengthen their presence and increase sustainability

  • support BAME leaders working for social change

  • support BAME organisations in having a stronger voice and better representation skills.

The project will also promote building relationships between local communities and private, public and mainstream VCS organisations. Please see attached Programme Outline for more information

Read more about the BAME Connectivity Programme or, for more information, contact Simone Williams, Head of the BAME Connectivity Programme: 

Time For City Firms To Reach Out To London’s Young Black Men

Feb 27, 2019

In the most ethnically diverse city in the world, young black men struggle to land good City jobs.

A study by the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) shows that young black men are less likely than young white men to be working in London’s finance sector.

Through in-depth interviews with young black men already working or looking for jobs in the City, the research found that most had experienced barriers, with almost one third citing racial discrimination as the main reason why fewer young black men are working in finance roles.


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