Raising Urban Heroes: Identify, Platform, Mission

Below is an extract of a speech that I gave at The Message Trust’s Urban Hero Awards (click here for more info on the event). The Awards celebrated stories of transformation and told the stories of men and women who, against all odds, are now exerting a positive influence in society. Having turned their backs on gangsterism and crime, these incredible young people are now positive role models. This speaks to the heart of what Grab a Towel is all about… providing an environment for emerging leaders to flourish in faith and life, which is an ultimate act of service.

What you have seen tonight are stories that don’t make the headlines. These Urban Heroes are not the normal narrative we hear about South Africa. What you are seeing here is a reversal of the negative impact of gang activity that affects all of us who live in Cape Town… but particularly those who live in our vulnerable communities.

You see, the gangs have a strategy…

 They identify youth at risk… they prey upon school children – even in our playgrounds. Young people who are vulnerable, without positive role models, and seeking identity. Gangs provide pseudo security in a dangerous world.

Then the gangs provide a platform… the gangs give young people a place to belong – where they feel accepted – even a family. But it is a family with a sting in the tale as they are told – there is one way in, and no way out.

Ultimately, gangs want to get young people on mission… to fight their turf wars, deal their drugs and commit their crimes. These missions provide them with rank and status that entangle young people more deeply into the gang culture – trapped, addicted, lost.

 As I said, what you’ve seen tonight is a reversal of the strategy of the gangs… at The Message, we also have a strategy:

We identify potential in young people. We will go to vulnerable communities, prisons, gang-infested areas, and call that potential to life through the Gospel. We believe every young person has the potential to turn their life around like Mt, Melissa, Xola and the others have done.

We provide a platform for these young people to flourish in faith and life. Through our creative mission, community transformation and Christ-centred enterprise programmes, we provide an environment that reverses the negative impact of the gangs through ongoing discipleship.

Finally, we get young people on a mission. This is the true measure of our success… when those we’ve impacted become transformational leaders and role models– starting a ripple effect of transformation across this city.

And this is our dream. To scale the impact of what you’ve seen this evening as we continue to empower young people who were once the problem, but now have discovered the answer – and his name is Jesus Christ.

Xola won the overall Urban Hero award. He is a young man who epitomises what it means to be a transformational leader. Click here to check out a short video of his story here.

The challenge for all of us is to Grab a Towel and serve the next generation of leaders through identifying, providing a platform, and mobilising them for mission.

Xola and Sheldon, two of the award winners at the event.Xola and Sheldon, two of the award winners at the event.