Coming from Dirt by AHHAAHHA

Coming From Dirt by AHHAAHHA. Part of the department of Unruly histories by Meera Shakti Osborne.

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Audio transcription:

Meera: Coming from Dirt is by AHHAAHHA. You will also hear me. Meera Shakti Osborne throughout this work is part of the Department of Unruly Histories, which is a project I initiated in 2021. I want to introduce this piece with words written by AHHAAHHA: 

“Recorded during a cardinal Capricorn moon transitioning my third house, local community and my interlocutor’s MSO seventh House, partnership.This seems fitting given how much my focus is on what's happening in the neighbourhoods and how much my creative practice in general icks at the idea of untethered individuality. It's clearly a cardinal project, a starting piece to resist fixture. It defies change.”

AHHAAHHA: You entered, you drive with Amma and a brother-in-law, cousin and his mother-in-law, and his daughter, and her husband and his father, and another cousin brother, some in London, some in Jeddah, all distantly related. And the grandmother tells you of Bangladeshi familial naming practices. And how they are a way to keep track of all the far apart close spreadings of seeds as they got dispersed across the oceans, but for that reason, needed to know how to find each other again.

And after the police check your visa and you approach and you read from your little pink book. Where have written down from Muslim website instructions, as you attempt to intend and you read and try to memorise all that you once knew but forgot purposefully and accidentally as you slipped away, chucked away inch towards disposed of Westernality of received pronunciations and the destruction of all the West's origin stories.And you forgot it all. So you try to remember and feel superior and those that didn't look up at it on the website and didn't know you were meant to say all the other stuff after Labbaik. Labbaik, I have arrived. I see it. You see it and you pride yourself in being able to tell your Amma, who does not read and look things up on the website about all the right stuff to say because you so desperately want to intend to be real, to be authentic, to be accepted.

So you need to intend, you need to show you are within the boundary cadaver. Be within the boundary. They cannot expel you yet. Labbaik. Labbaik. And you see it and you're walking towards it. Oh, holiest, beautifulest object your eyes did ever see. And the waters fell. The waters fell from corner of eye down cheek onto marble and earth where your grandmother walked, where your ancestors dreamed of walking and the pretence falls.

The need to exist within boundary, it all falls. The need to be seen by the other cause in that moment, all you see is the Kaaba, and all you see is the glorious black cube with golden holy script. And there is suddenly no other. There is only the self in exposure in consonants with the people that are not other but Umma, all dressed in blank similarity and is just this self in vision of God under vision of God, the vision of God. And she sees all of you and rejects boundary and the prickly phony containers that this body, this spirit, became cadavered into by the fear of the other, held by the other. She sees all of you and dissolves that container. Come as water, go as water in vision of God. Tears fall, membrane spill and leak, and you are one with it and all.

And you know, you in all of yourself that is fully boundaryless exposed to vision of God are loved. And see, it was never about the words. It was never about being right. It was about this moment where everything slips, where the mask does not exist. And your heart. Your heart, your heart is speaking in direct communion with the divine, the divine.

AHHAAHHA is the artist name that I go by, um, which is a label that I'm claiming more and more. I see this piece also as an experimental archive, thinking about the practices that I've done both work-wise, um, specifically in youth work, but also what it means to be a multiply marginalized person doing this kind of work.

And also what it means to be in the process of honoring as much of myself in the work as well, and myself in general. And I think I want it to be an archive of a moment that might change that just reflects thoughts and feelings and realities that I'm experiencing now or have experienced. . That I feel are worth documenting.

Yeah, I think.. Cause as much like… I remember what one of the early youth things that I was involved in as a young person. I remember talking to a young person, they were like, I, I thought, wow, you're so clever. I assume that they were, I was, I think I was 23 at the time. I assumed they must have been around my age.

And they were like only 16 years old. And I was like, that's in a way that's really amazing that you're so clever and they have all this knowledge. But it's also really sad that like you've had to have all this knowledge as a young, as such a young person. Um, and it's really cool that I feel like cause of like social media and the internet, kids are speeding up and they're getting access to all this knowledge much quicker.

Meera: ..they have to do it as well.

AHHAAHHA: They have to. And it's also kind of just, it's kind of like depressing that like they have to have this knowledge and that they've had. And I think that's why I think also youth work is really important to, without minimising the shit they're going through, to really intentionally create space for like, chill and joy and fun because it's a lot to hold, this really quite like depressing and almost apocalyptic and like seemingly unchangeable knowledge about like essentially systemic injustice.

*Yawn audio in the background*

I feel like a lot of people, our generation, our age kind of started getting that knowledge a bit later or had access to knowledge a bit later, whereas like a lot of like, especially like Black and brown queer kids and, and working classic kids in general, like okay that knowledge a lot younger now. I think when you'll getting that knowledge, which could so easily be so demobilising so young, it's really important to like… have access to spaces that are… that resist that energy.

Yeah. Like I said, I feel like the most useful thing that I can do as a youth worker is like, try my hardest to create a space where young people get to be as fully themselves as possible, whilst also in community with each other, with the kind of push and pull dynamic that that creates and like compromise dynamic that that creates as well.

Um, I think that's a really powerful thing. I think it teaches you a lot about like how to both be yourself fully, as fully yourself as you can be whilst also being in community of others and how you can like, on some level, modify yourself to be able to be in community of others. Cause that's really important.

Without that having to be a compromise on who you are. Um, and being able to balance those two things is really powerful. I think especially for queer young people. Trans young people.

**melodic music and finger clicking** ))) echos

I loved school when I was a young person, when I was a kid and I think I liked it because it was a way to be not in the house. So, and I think all of my siblings quite liked being in school cause for that reason, um, , but our lives were very much like school and home. There wasn't very much outside of that.

Like we rarely went outside our local area. I feel like most of my childhood was either in school, my flat or the park right outside the block of flats. And yeah, I had very little awareness of things like youth clubs existing. I think I always thought of them as something, number one, you have to pay for. So therefore my family would never, would definitely not do that. But also as something that like was, even if they existed, they felt quite inaccessible. I remember we used to, we have, we had a local library and they used to have like a summer program. So like every summer we would like, there was like one workshop on, on flowers and we'd bring home, like I had geraniums, I had geraniums I think. And my mom would just be like, what are these? Can they grow food? *Laughter* No. Then what's the point of them? . But um, and then. Opposite my block of flats, there was something called Wessex Community Center. I don't even know if it functions as a community centre or if it ever did. My memory of it was as like a disused building and we went in there like three, four times maximum, me and my siblings.

And it felt like we were walking into a disused building, but there were like Carrom boards there and there were, I remember being there with like my dad and various other older Bengali men and we would just be playing Carrom and it kind of like, we weren't meant to be there. But also, yeah, the, the vibe was strange. I didn't

Meera: Why do you think it felt disused?

AHHAAHHA: It's just, cause I guess it was right next to like a primary school and a mosque, which were very like used buildings and I just never heard of anyone ever going in there, or I never saw anyone going out, and it just seemed. I think the title of it as a community centre didn't cohere with what it looked or felt like, which was, I think it looked and felt like an empty building or a disused building.

**Audio: Take a Nap by Yvvie Oddly,**

 I just, I had very, I had never been to a youth club as a kid. My first experience of being a youth club was as a worker. I associate my main memories of being, being in a youth club with like my first youth worker role, which was, I guess in 2015 or 2016 after I finished uni.

Meera: Do you remember like, what drew you to that or like whether you just like ended up there?

AHHAAHHA: It's funny, I feel like it's a balance of both, like something I wanted to do, but also just like, precarity and trying to get something. I was unemployed at the time and that was just a job that I saw. It was a sessional youth workers. It was like, I remember my pay at the time. I'd bring home like 104 pounds a month. Um, it was only three hours a week. And I'd like, I would like volunteer, do extra, just like have something to do. I was often told that I didn't have the, like, enthusiasm  *Laughs* to to like adequately work with young kids. Um, I think maybe that's because my voice is quite monotonous and I, I think people were, people often interviewed me, I think because I had quite interesting cv. Um, but then, so I think they mostly interviewed me cuz they wanted to meet me, but then like wouldn't give me a job. 

*Yawn audio in the background*

And so yeah, I got into this first youth club role, which was in like a generic youth club to differentiate it from like the more specific youth work I've been doing recently, which has been focusing more on LGBTQ+ and communities, and I remember probably feeling quite out of my depth. I wish I could remember more about how I felt at the beginning, but I definitely remember like not necessarily having, I remember one, one of the main youth workers who worked there... he was, he was, he just had like a very, just a way of speaking that really got down to the kids and I wasn't sure I was always able to do that. I think I felt quite serious in relation to that, but it was like an interesting setting to work in first because they were quite different kids. I think one of I was very aware of from quite early on was that there was suspicious of me. because I wasn't from the area. So this was a youth club in northwest London and I grew up in East London.

So I, I remember them asking me quite early on, like, where, where did you grow up? And explain, this is a feeling that's continued front my youth work of like, do the young people like me. I think the, the feeling is, has has shifted in, in, in its like energy. But definitely in that youth club it was very much like a, there was suspicious of this new person who was not from the area.

And I think a lot of the suspicion, which is also part of why I think a lot about how to make youth work sustainable, a lot of suspicion was because they're so used to people coming and going. and they're so used to a lack of like constancy or consistency 

Meera: mm-hmm. . 

AHHAAHHA: And I think especially at that age, having a youth worker presence that's quite consistent and that's a presence that's diff.. I think one of the main things that's so special about being a youth worker is that you are an adult in young people's lives, that's not a teacher or a parent. And a lot of young people don't have that. I don't think I had that as a kid. I didn't have any, I don't see my life that weren't family or teachers in this first youth club that I worked in. There was, there was I, I was very against making contact with the police about anything. And I remember there was one situation where a young person who would come to the club semi-regularly came into the club and just like hid in toilets. I remember a colleague wanting to call the police. I remember being really stressed out cause I didn't want that to happen. Yeah, I guess it just really reminded me of just like, I guess that youth club is a space where people can go and also hide, which is important for kids as well. Not necessarily they've done something wrong, but just a place where they can be, that's not the streets or family home or school. I think especially in that moment, like I wasn't, I was sure that I didn't wanna call the police even though my colleague I think wanted to, but it made me really aware that like whatever decisions we make could have a massive impact on the young person's life.

Meera:This makes me think of one of the questions that you sent through, which was, um, how to educate for liberation in a responsible way, cuz Yeah. I think about like the options that youth workers or third sector people have in general. And it's like the police. Is the option. And like you are taught to like either put this safeguarding issue into someone that will call the police or you call the police.


Meera: And those are, that's what you learn in safeguarding and it's really complicated if you disagree with that process. 

AHHAAHHA: Yeah. And I think. . Similarly, one of the, something I think about is how, even though I don't have any like specifically formal youth work qualifications, I've done like trainings here and there, um, like introduction to youth work, like two hour over a few weeks trainings or just, I feel like a lot of what I've learned about how to be a youth worker or how to work and I guess it's, it's not necessarily about how to be a youth worker, but I guess just how to work with people that are under your supervision who may or likely to be vulnerable or at least vulnerable in relation to you.

I think I learned a lot by observing different settings or youth, youth space settings and learning a lot from mistakes that I feel like I saw people making, or that I felt were being made or from talking to other young people or participants in programs realising, okay, this was something that didn't feel good. I'm gonna try to not do that. And like, kind of learning from that. In the most recent role I have, one of the questions I was asked my interview was like, what are these four pillars of youth work? One of them being education for liberation. And I find it a really tricky topic because as much as it's been very helpful in my life to find out about histories that are maybe more uncovered or, or hidden. I've been in a lot of like youth spaces as a young person where various theories or histories that are normally more hidden or, or, have been erased where those kinds of things have been spoken about and put into the foreground, and that's been really helpful in terms of coming to terms with like various aspects of, I guess marginal identity, especially around race and other things.

But it's also been very depressing. 

Audio: *Audio of birds chirping*.

AHHAAHHA: It often feels like what I try to do, at least one of the ways that I would describe the youth work that I try to do is like subversive youth work or like youth work that understands that most of the structures that we have in society aren't designed to benefit the welfare of these young people. And to pretend otherwise is to be complicit in like this process of brainwashing young people.

A process that I was also in as a young person where you get told about like, I mean the early two thousands when I was a young person that was like, Uh, early. That was like the new labour years. That was like when, like I wanted, things that I think about was that like meritocracy was really seen as like a big, as like a big and possible and real thing. And that if you just work hard and achieve hard, you'll be able to achieve. And like, I think from a very young age, I realised that that wasn't true, 

Audio: .. *Yawning sound*,

AHHAAHHA: but it took me a long time to like have the language and words and understanding to realise that like, oh, I'm not failing. the word that wasn't designed to accommodate people like me. Um, even in like the university that I went to, I remember people saying how the, the structure of the term and the exams and the essays, etc. , hadn't changed since the sixties when the university was mostly made for upper, upper middle class white men. And so you're still learning and expected to write and expected to achieve and expected to perform academically in a way that was designed for a very different kind of people. 

Meera: Do you ever feel like there's, cause there's lessons that you've learned, but then also these, although these things were struggles, they've also benefited you in some, maybe you disagree with that, but they've changed your life in, in one way or another. These like decisions that you made, which were like the quote — unquote correct decisions, um, for like a brown working class kid, you know, you did the right things and like as a youth worker, like how much information do you give. You know, how much of your experiences, like of your traumas do you give?

AHHAAHHA: Thinking about how to share like your own experience or like, I, I, I think like youth work, what is like relevant self-disclosure, especially as you start working with like more specific young people or people that might have more similarities to yourself. I think it becomes a trickier and trickier terrain. Like I think you have to be careful to, like, I guess on some level maintain, and this is such a loose word, but a boundary between like your, have some sense of ownership of your own personal and private life and like, not let young people's bleed into that.

Meera: Because also there's like, you can't, you're not like, as a youth worker, you might see these kids once a week, you know, and there's not, they don't see other youth workers like you are it. So it's like in this deprived sector, how can you be real with these kids, but also, Not tip them over in the edges.

AHHAAHHA: Yeah. Yeah. And this is especially one thing that I've realised over the pandemic, which is why, and I don't know if this was like the right thing to do, but over the pandemic, especially when I was doing mostly online youth work, I just went straight. My, my approach to youth was just rather been like toxic positivity, just like good vibes only I, I was just so aware that like all these kids are just in their rooms by themselves sometimes also in like not necessarily the most safe settings, and that once you press the red hangup button, they're just there by themselves with whatever energy's been left from the youth session. And then they've got like a whole week of their own life before they come back to the youth club, the youth session again. 

Meera: Mm-hmm. 

AHHAAHHA: during which you don't have that much contact with them, if any. So you've got a kind. Trust that they're gonna be okay, but part of your responsibility, I guess part of what I decided was just to try to keep, make space for real talk if needed.

One of the experiences that I really struggled with as a young person in youth settings was like the feeling that I couldn't talk about things or if, if some that I felt was wrong, I often felt like I couldn't talk about it or bring it up or just like some things that were really depressing, especially in relation to like more invisible or like shameful parts of identity, especially around gender sexuality.

It felt very hard to bring up those topics in more generic settings and so I never, I would never want young people to feel like that either. Cause I didn't enjoy feeling like that as a young person. But at the same time, being aware that like my responsibility as an adult in the space as a supervisor of the space is to like have some level of assurance that when the phone call ends, when the zoom call ends or whatever, that these young people will be okay-Ish.

Meera: Um, this reminds me of another question that you wrote down for me, which was, um, how to handle a reality that a young person are going through a mental health crisis? 

AHHAAHHA: So, what's been funny is that like one of my main roles I consider that I've had in the past, I considered a youth work role. Technically it wasn't youth work. We weren't even allowed to call it youth work. Um, it was youth work, but it was meant to be something else. And so a lot of like the frameworks and systems you have in place as a youth worker weren't present in that role, even though it was youth work. And I think that speaks to like, I guess generally like the underfunding and like lack of resources and knowledge about doing this work.

And so you're often forced to just scramble and try your hardest. But for example, like generally when you. in like the more formal youth work jobs that I've had. You'll start off with like a briefing and talk to any volunteers or other youth workers about the session plan. Tell people their roles. Generally, I think you keep it quite loose. You try to have some idea of what to do, but awareness that like things might shift, people might come in with different energies and then, then you have the session, two hour session or whatever, and then like you come back for a debrief where you, if there's not that many young people, you can like talk about young people individually, talk about any like wellbeing or safeguarding concerns.

And if you do have safeguarding concerns, you would just follow that up, which hugely involves talking to the designated safeguarding lead. And then that's all you do as a youth worker. Um, and I've been to like so many safeguarding trainings. and I've often gone away from them thinking I don't necessarily know anymore about how to do safeguarding.

Um, it seems like the answer to everything is just to go to the designated safeguarding lead and let them know what's up and then kind of pray for the best. And especially in like one role that I did, which wasn't technically youth work, but kind of was whenever something would come up I would just report to, to my designated safeguarding lead.

But then I would have no idea if there was any follow through follow up. Also, like on some level I can imagine the designated what what you're essentially doing to designate safeguarding lead is like exposing them as not doing their job properly and so they're gonna feel threatened by that or exposed by that and probably react defensively.

Cause there've been a lot of situations in my, in my work history where I know the person who was designated safeguard did not follow up on the safeguarding issue. And there, there were some serious safeguarding issues in some of the previous roles I've been in, like really serious. And they were not followed through.

And if I was to inquire further and being like, what about this, what about, obviously I've done that sometimes, but it kind of exposes that person as like not knowing how to do the job properly. And that's one of the things that I've, that's been really hard to work with as well, is trying to hold varying levels of essentially incompetence, *laughs* and like, it's still a plaster. Whatever things you do are just plasters and like, I don't think there's a way to acknowledge that , it's a plaster and not like any kind of useful or meaningful fix. 

**Audio: Take a Nap by Yvvie Oddly,**

AHHAAHHA: no, yeah, no, I'm just remembering all these different situations where there was like a really serious safeguarding issue. Yeah. Cause you, as a worker, especially I think if you haven't had formal training or like a formal qualification, I think you're constantly battling with your own imposter syndrome of, am I doing, am I doing youth work properly? Am I doing it right? Even as you feel as, even as I should say. I, even as I feel like, and now I'm, I'm, I think I'm doing a really good job. I'm pretty sure I'm doing what's right. I think I'm, I think I'm working in an ethical way or a way that's like centering the wellbeing of young people. One of the experiences that I've had, and I feel like a lot of people that I've spoken to have had as well, is like working with managers, or senior people who are just incompetent but are in a senior position. So their, their relationship to their own incompetence is a different, one is probably not the same kind of imposter syndrome as you have, but you are aware that you are like having to do this job, which is quite direct delivery work, quite like direct work, young people where you are exposed also to a lot of their, their lives and that are like sad or scary. And you've gotta like essentially hand that over to someone who's, who doesn't know what they're doing, but doesn't want to admit they don't know what they're doing because they're technically like a manager or a, or a director or whatever. Because yeah, especially when it, when it comes to thinking about like the mental health crisis that love young people are experiencing and like everything I say is just like what I've observed. I don't necessarily know if it's true for all young people or like true all across the country. It's just like my experience and my observations and also what I've heard other youth workers talk about. Like from the young people that I've worked with, especially in the last like few years, none of them are doing well. They're all like struggling really badly with mental health. That was obviously exacerbated over the pandemic. The young people that I worked with, especially since the pandemic, have mostly been like queer or trans young people. And it gets to a point where you have to question like, how useful is it for me to pass on the fact that this young person is going through a mental health crisis because they're constantly going through a mental health crisis and there's not really anything that a designated safeguarding lead can do about that.

They can do a check-in, they can signpost to another organisation and then pray for the best basically. And I think I've, one of the, one of the regular kind of feedbacks I've gotten from young people, especially when every like mental health awareness month or like mental health awareness week or whatever. Cause usually one thing that I've done for my youth for career is like theme sessions around like holidays or around like awareness weeks or months or whatever, just to like have some way of planning a session. Um, and so every time it's like a mental health awareness week, a month. That will usually be the theme of some of the sessions that week or month. 

And always the same feedback of just like young people having like battle and fight with mental health providers and health providers to try to get, put into a waiting list or get seen in their, like, in their reality whilst also then having to like a face like one year, two year wait to be seen by counsellor. And it's just, it's, it's so, it's such a, it's, it's so useless, it's they're, they're not really getting the support they need from like the people that they get told to look for support from. Like anytime they have a mental health crisis or whatever and like talk about designated safeguarding lead and they get signposted to an organisation or signposted to Children and Adult Mental Health Services. But then you have to just wait a year and a half and you usually have to fight a lot to get seen. And yeah, it just feels quite like pointless. So then you just feel like the responsibility is on you to try to like at least affirm and not gaslight them further that like, yeah, the mental health services are shit and 

Meera: what they're going through is real

AHHAAHHA: what they're going through is real and yeah, 

Audio: Take A Nap by Yvie Oddly * in peace. I just want to take a nap*

AHHAAHHA: one of the things that makes me approach my, one of the ways that I approach or think about the way I wanna do youth work is bearing in mind different kinds of like identities that I have and ways in which those identities weren't seen or recognised or held by adults in power across different settings that I've been in, whether that's like school or university or like youth clubs and whether that's like your race is seen but your sexuality isn't seen or your sexuality is seen but your race isn't seen or your, your, your this is seen but your class position isn't seen.

And I think that's been like something that's motivated the way I try to do youth work is like, how do I especially like in over the pandemic, one of the, the motivations for when the ways that I would describe what I want in my youth sessions to be like is a two hour space where young people can be as free to be themselves as they can and want to be, um, bearing in mind that they don't often get to be like that in, in other parts of their lives.

From young people feedback, it was a case that those two hours were the only time that they could like be there kind of as free as their selves as they could be. And I think that's like, that's a skill and a talent and an expertise and experience that I have to offer as a youth worker with like multiple marginal identities.

And at the same time, I'm aware that like, I think having these like different experiences of like oppression or facing different kinds of isms has enabled me to be a better youth worker. Where I've seen that a straight youth worker hasn't been good at making space for a queer kid, or I've seen that a white youth worker hasn't been good at making space for a black or brown kid.

I try to like do the opposite of that or, or not do that. So as much as it's a gift, it's also its own burden. A lot to do with the fact that organisations don't really understand how, when you are a “diverse person” or a multiply marginalised person and that you have the lived, “lived experience”of, a lot of the issues that young people work with, I think there's a very face value understanding of like how that might affect you as a worker.

A lot of organisations, especially since 2021, more diverse workers, they want more, they want more, um, yeah, they want more diversity in their workforce, but I don't think they understand like how that will impact your diverser workforce and therefore the support that they might need to be able to do that.

Like one of the things that I was aware of in my pre, one of my previous roles, which was doing like essentially like queer youth work, was that the majority of my colleagues were middle class or just in a more stable financial and housing situation. And so they were quite distanced from the young people that we work with in that sense, whereas I was very aware; being a working class person, being technically an adult, but like on the younger end of the start, on the of the age range among the staff team. A lot of the young people that I worked with were friends of mine. I would see like files, case files come in and I'd recognise their names. A lot of people – like it made it really hard to boundary personal life and work life because there were so many instances where the personal life would seep into the work life.

Meera: It's a reflection as well of it like being so relevant to you as a person that it's like the people you party with are the people that you know are coming up in that need help, whatever. And in a way it's like you're so integrated in it, how would you make it sustainable?

AHHAAHHA: And that reminds me like one of the things that I've always, I've done a few things like trainings on like boundaries, working with young people or boundaries, professional boundaries, working with LGBTQ+ clients. And they always felt super lacking. Cause whilst there was an awareness that, like as you start working with more specific groups, especially groups that don't have access to like outdoor space, like most people do. So specifically thinking about LGBTQ plus young people, how a lot of the spaces they have access to are smaller, like gay bars or queer clubs or whatever, that you are more likely to bump into a young, a young person who's.. If you're working with LGBTQ plus young people, compared to if I, if I was working in like a generic youth club, it was very unlikely I'd ever see or knew young people anywhere.

Whereas working in the, in the lgbt sector, that was irregular occurrence and it was, it's, it was quite confusing because especially like in the years that like diversity is, has become a form of that currency and has been something that's been like, Capitalised on, especially by like corporations or whatever.

It's just weird seeing like young people getting hit up by like corporations during Pride Month to like do an Insta Post and seeing those young people's coming to like the charity I worked for like housing support or like to pay for a meal.

Audio: Take a Nap by Yvvie Oddly *I dunno what day it's, I dunno where I'm at. I'm doing off like a cat*

AHHAAHHA: I wanna talk about, I wanna talk about the fact that I find diversity really annoying basically, um, in terms of how it manifests in youth work settings, especially as, as in generally. But I'm thinking specifically how it manifests there and relatedly, like how it's relationship to gratitude and the ego basically, I think…

And again, it's been interesting transitioning from like a young person slash participant to a facilitator, coordinator, youth worker, and being able to see both sides of that coin of just like being annoyed at things as a young person, without necessarily seeing the mechanisms behind it. And now as a youth worker, seeing the mechanisms behind it and the stressfulness of the structures and blah, blah.

But also trying to hold why young people would be annoyed about things. So I understand now as a practitioner and a youth worker that you're working against a lot of lack of resource, lack of inspiration, lack of imagination, lack of ideas, and lack of investment in you. So I understand that. And at the same time, I wish as a young person, the youth focus that I had contact with, I guess is more as like an adult young person, um, that they were more open or transparent about that because at least thinking about some of the past experiences, it was clear that a lot of the projects that I was involved with as a young participant were just like diversity tick box projects of white organisations that knew they had to take a diversity box to get funding, but put no deep for into what it means to do a diversity project or to work with young people from these kinds of marginalised communities or with these specific experiences.

Audio: Take a Nap by Yvvie Oddly *I'm playing to the gig in the back of a cab only away from my act. All of the rest is an act. If I'm aggressive.*

AHHAAHHA: Yeah, it's such a double edged sword because I think especially for young, marginalised people, young black and brown people, black and brown queers, working class people, like usually when you see a worker who looks similar to you or who has similar experiences to you, there might be like some suspicion at the beginning or like because of just a general lack of consistent adult figures in your life maybe, or whatever. But then eventually, like the energy of gratitude comes in quite quickly and you just feel, as a young person, you just feel so grateful. Oh, like there, there have been so many young people that I've worked with who said that prior to me working with them or prior to another POC colleague working with them, they had never been able to speak about their experience of race in an organisation or they'd never able to speak about their experience or sexuality, in a straight organisation.

And so you're aware that as a kind of diverse youth worker, you just, just by being there, you present this kind of possibility to a young person and that they offer so much gratitude that they finally have a person who kind of, they can feel on some level with and who they can talk about certain things about,

Meera: which can create such a toxic environment, 

AHHAAHHA: such a toxic environment. And like this is like one of the main things I try to tell young people that I work with is like, Don't be grateful for me and I appreciate the gratitude. It was really nice when I left my last job, I got so much nice feedback. Um, and it was really nice to read it obviously, and it was really heartening and really, and I also wanna like affirm myself that I've done a really good job, but… I've noticed in myself as well, the practitioners and groups that I had the hardest time criticising were the ones that first gave me a space where I felt like I could be myself.

It felt so precious at the time that I felt like almost to endanger it any way would risk losing something that felt very like important and even like life sustaining on some level, at least in terms of being able to be seen in parts of yourself that were mostly like invisibilized or erased in most other parts of society.

Meera: Which is a little bit like a cult. 

AHHAAHHA: Yeah, exactly. I think especially like as a brown queer youth worker. Muslim as well. I remember when I started doing LGBTQ+ youth work, there were so many like young, black and brown queer people that I think felt especially happy that I existed for them cause they hadn't met another black or brown queer person, or they had never met another Muslim queer person.So you become very like, special to them and that's such a dangerous responsibility to have that could so easily be wielded incorrectly or in a harmful way because then they just, there's, there's a lot of power in having that, in having that role. 

Meera: Yeah. Being those like those things or any sort of like intersections of things doesn't mean you're a good person.

AHHAAHHA: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I feel like that's why I hate diversity initiatives because they hire people based on their skin color or their gender or sexuality and not actually on the basis of, Can you do this job? Um, do you have the skills to do this job well? Can you coordinate? Can you facilitate? Can you safeguard? Can you do these things? And if you can't, are you at least willing to be open and accountable about it and grow and learn rather than like clam up and get ego defensive when you get called out on something? And it's funny, cause normally as a youth worker as well, there's in most places you should have a lone working policy.You should very rarely be working one-to-one of a young person or like in a, alone where you're the only adult there. That happened a lot in previous jobs that I've been in because they didn't have the resources or energy or desire to invest in my role or my department. And again, it puts you in such a position of like power that if you're not careful by it, you could really like, use it dangerously.

And like I said, that that's, that's why one of the things that's frustrated me so much over the course of this job of of doing this kind of work is noticing, is being aware of so many massive safeguarding issues that really harm the young person where there was no process afterwards of like, how do we rectify this?Or how do we sort this out? Or how do we like, make this young person feel better for a position that we put them into? I was involved in a, a project for queer young people that was for like, I think 18 to 26 year olds. And so the lower end of those young people were kids that were still in school living with family. So not like at uni living by themselves or not adults potentially living a more independent life, but like still very much embedded in like family and school structures, which are often structures that aren't necessarily that safe for you, especially like queer young people, queer young, black and brown people. And these like unqualified. facilitators did like an exercise where they were like encouraging these young people to come out to their, to their parents. Why don't you try saying this coming out speech to your mom? And it's like, that's such a dangerous thing to do. You just, you say, you say it's in a two hour session, three hour session.That's gonna have massive repercussions for this young person that you're not aware of. Again, there's just such a lack of, and you really have to rely on when you, when you're so under resource and underfunded, you really have to rely on your own kind of like sense of morality and your moral compass what, however complicated and confusing that might be. Advice like you could just really like fuck up. 

Meera: that is so much pressure though.

AHHAAHHA: It's a lot of pressure. I try and self-reflect a lot and I try to also be gentle to myself on like, you haven't been given the resources to be able to do this job in the best way. And you are also going through your own shit. So like, be gentle on yourself. But it is like, I feel I genuinely feel very much like I need to make sure I'm doing work as best as I can and be being as ethical as possible and being as like, I think for a long time I was unmotivated by the, by the fear of like not wanting to harm a young person, knowing that I've been harmed in these kinds of spaces and that that harms had a long-lasting impact as well.

And I think where I've got to now is like, I think that's why being a youth worker, it requires a lot of like, work on like maintaining a stable sense of self and self-reflection and self-awareness. Because unless you are working on yourself, it's really it can be really easy to like end up being defensive or your ego coming into play and then you actually like just, yeah, fuck up a young person.

And that's obviously a lot of pressure. I think where, what I wanna, what I've been genuinely trying to work on now is whereas before I was really like, try trying to be like, don't fuck up on young people, don't harm young people. Now I think it's important to work on myself such that if, when, when, and if I do fuck up, I'm able to like be accountable to it or like listen to it. .., and also actively encourage and create that space for young people to be able to tell me if I fucked up.

Meera: I think there's so much fragility in youth spaces that people don't have capacity or they live in fear because no one really knows what they're doing. Yeah, yeah. So then there's a defensiveness then that's where the damage is.

AHHAAHHA: Yeah, exactly. I think it is a lot to do with the fact that no one knows what they're doing and that, this is one of the things that I've done just from like the world of work, and I don't know how much it's applies to all work, but it, it seems to apply to a lot of work that I've been in is that no one knows what they're doing and incompetence is everywhere. And obviously that's gonna motivate the way you end up doing your job and yeah, gonna make you probably more like defensive about when you've been showing up to doing a bad job because you're constantly trying to, trying to act like you're doing a better job or that you're competent. And that's more likely to create a defensive posture.

The thing is, I just, so what I'm trying to understand that even when I think about like people or figures or organisations that I felt harmed by now as someone who's that kind, in that kind of role and that kind of capacity, on the one hand I can try and understand and, and empathise with where they're coming from, but honestly like so much, so many things that cause harm, like you said, it, it would've been, it was more to do with the response to it.

And honestly if just, if there was just an apology, I feel like a lot of things would've just been fine. And it's just the fact that lot of people just don't wanna apologise cause they don't wanna admit that they've fucked up because there's such a stigma around fucking up because everyone's pretending to be as professional and like competent as they can. And that also, especially when it comes to doing youth work, which so closely aligns with like social justice-y kind of work and that kind of world, 

Meera: people have to come out fully formed from the womb, 

AHHAAHHA: be good be and never fuck up. And, and so much of your identity is based around being a good person.

Meera: Yeah.

AHHAAHHA: Then also you're a good person because you are all of these minority identities when so much is invested in your diversity and that and it located in your diversity is your goodness. And cause diversity is such a trend thing now, it just means that any potential disturbance of the image of yourself as a good person.

It feels very like it might topple the entire building.

Audio: Take a Nap by Yvvie Oddly,*it's cuz I'm all restless from getting no rest and I'm taxed. I hit every motherfucking stage. So electric they shocked in the nosebleeds and I just leave zapped. The second that spotlights off me I collapse.Yet I do it night to night and back to back to back to back to back* 

Meera: This, um, reminds me of like a pet hate that I have and it always comes from people that do not work with young people and have no probably interaction with young people. Adults say it where I know people that say it, that like, young people are gonna save us 

AHHAAHHA: mm-hmm. 

Meera: and that like, young people are gonna save the planet or, you know, young people this or that. And it's, it just feels so destructive. Yeah. Cause it's like, have you seen the state of like, affairs for young people there is no support and also it's like this almost washing your hands of responsibility.

AHHAAHHA: Exactly 

Meera: and like young people are, are like obviously amazing. Like all people are amazing. , but they also have only been on this earth for X amount of time and really need support.

AHHAAHHA: Really need support, and shouldn't be like held up as these like experts that have the answers to everything. Especially when like Boomers and adults older than us have had a lot more resources and we have had, they haven't got answers to everything. So why would these like kids that have had no resources? and I, I think also, and it, it again intersects with a diversity, performative diversity stuff because like one experience, I've had recent years, a lot of like younger, people of colour workers or volunteers coming up to me being like, how do you know all of these words or all of this stuff about like race or gender or whatever.

Um, and I think part of the reason why they're asking me that is because, there's an assumption that because they're a diverse person because they're a black or queer person, that they have this lived experience and all this knowledge, and that they're an expert on all things to do with race and gender and ethnicity and like, without wanting to diminish the, the knowledge that they have that they do have from their, from their experiences. I think it's, again, so easy to pedestal people, especially like diverse young people and think, oh, you are the expert. You must teach us, basically where, 

Meera: What's the, what's the incentive behind that?

AHHAAHHA: Yeah, and like actually, like, again, it's, it's, it's, it's another way to absolve responsibility. I don't actually have to give you the tools to educate yourself or to find your own vocabulary on how you understand the world, or like, I don't have to invest in your education so that you can have access to theories that will help you understand the world.. You just got it by virtue of being a black or brown queer person and give it to us if again, feels quite exploitative and like,

Audio: Sped up Take a Nap by Yvvie Oddly,*I don't work hard to be seen. I'm black. Unless I'm low key, I'm so, I'm just trying to relax. I just wanna take, I just wanna take a nap. I ain't really rest in weeks.I'm so tired of this trap, I'm just trying to relax when will I sleep?I just wanna take a nap, I ain't even slept a peep. Why they do me like that? Run through me like that? When will I Rest In Peace?*

AHHAAHHA: I was thinking about what I was speaking to earlier around part of my intention for the youth spaces I try to create, working specifically with LGBT queer communities, um, and queer communities of colour is to try to find spaces where for however long, and as feel safe too, they can be their full selves as much of their full selves as they possibly can because I think that's precious.

And as someone who also experiences a bunch of different marginal identities and marginalizations, part of that process for me is also extending what I offer to others to myself. And so relatedly, part of what I want to think about is I guess openings and making room and space and saying like giving a wave to parts of myself that maybe I don't invite into the room as often and just acknowledge them.

I think something that's been on my mind a lot around how I approach everything. Also youth work, but also everything, is this idea of inscrutability and wanting to be hidden and finding safety in that as well. Especially when so much of, especially like Western queer culture is about visibility and being out and being open.

And I think I found safety in that and I think I like it as well sometimes. And that might also be to do with having a Aquarius sun in the fourth house, the most hidden house, I would explain that, but maybe I just wanna be inscrutable, um, and also being Scorpio rising potentially. And I mentioned these things as well cause one of the things I've been very proud of recently is bringing in the more spiritual side of myself and my spirituality and my spiritual practices and combining that with my youth work.

But this is all digression, and I guess I mostly want to leave this with the idea that even though inscrutability has and does serve me, which may well be to do with my birth chart in astrology, I also see through an astrological lens, ways in which I'm being challenged or invited to be more open. And I guess I see this conversation as a practice of that intention, despite the fact that there are various understandable hurts and wounds in relation to appearance and visibility.

I'd like to also end this with a quote, which in many ways summarises how it's felt. and what it means for me to be attempting to do radical youth work as a marginalised person for/slash/with marginalised people. And I like to dedicate this to the music and beings that have kept me going. And I'd also like to dedicate this to Shea.

To be loving is to be open to grief, to be touched by sorrow, even sorrow that is unending.

Audio: Ana Roxanne - Suite pour invisible *Ambient Celestial Instrumental*

Meera: My name is Meera Shakti Osborne. I'm the editor and curator of this work. I am responsible for the shape this piece has taken. Part of the process of creating this work has been exploring ways to tell stories, make an archive that feels generative and inclusive. Everything you have heard is what the participant and myself have chosen to share with you.

We welcome feedback and encourage you to visit to see the rest of the archive and to get in touch with us. This work has been funded by Arts Council England Project Grant. Thanks for listening.

Music included:

Ana Roxanne - suite pour invisible

Yvie Oddly - take a nap

Transcription by Sarah Maher

Audio Mixing and Mastering by Alex Sushon