The violent loss of a son or daughter is something that most people will not ever have to endure, but for one family this became a horrific reality on Boxing Day 2011 when 18 year-old Seydou Diarrasouba was stabbed to death in Oxford Street, London. In May 2008, Barry Mizen also lost his son, Jimmy to violent crime, Mr Mizen lives a reality that most parents cannot even bear to contemplate.
When I noticed on the BBC Website that Mr Mizen had shared his thoughts about the murder of Diarrasouba, I read the article expecting condemnation and calls for tougher sentencing. Instead, I felt a tear come to my eye as Mr Mizen, after acknowledging the necessity for the perpetrator to go to prison, spoke about the folly of increasingly harsh sentences and called for “a consensus across the three main political parties about the whole issues of how young people grow in this country, what they’re subjected to, and bear in mind some of these young people have awful lives”.
How does a man who lost his son in such horrific circumstances propose such caring and considered measures for those who might commit the same acts of violence? Would many of us be able to behave in such a dignified fashion? In doing so, Mr Mizen provides a stunning example of what human beings are capable of. He shows that it is possible to see past the darkest of thoughts and emotions to propose practical and effective measures to deal with the issue of teenage violence.
What makes Mr Mizen all the more admirable however, is that he does not simply talk, he does. The Jimmy Mizen Foundation was set up with the principle aim “to help young people, up to the age of 24, play a positive role within their communities as independent and responsible individuals”.
Projects undertaken by the Foundation include; Jimmy Buses where money has been raised to provide minibuses for a local Scout group. The Cafe of Good Hope; community coffee shop which provides employment opportunities for young people and finance for the Foundation. The Safe Havens project; local business can sign up to be a safe haven for anybody in immediate danger of violence on the streets. Families United; those families who have encountered youth violence themselves offer their support to other families who experience such tragedies. Work experience; two apprenticeships offered each year by Leathermarket JMB, with whom Jimmy Mizen was never able to take up an offered apprenticeship due to his tragic death. Lastly and most courageously, Jimmy’s parents Barry and Margaret run an Awareness Project whereby they visit schools and prisons to share Jimmy’s story, with the aim of developing an understanding of anger, aggression and the importance of forgiveness.
I am in bewildered awe of the strength and bravery of people like Barry and Margaret Mizen. They deserve our absolute and complete respect and have provided a voice of reason in the aftermath of the tragedy of another young person being snatched away before he had time to realise his potential.