We all want to be a part of something. We all want to feel a sense of coherence. Whether it is in a basketball team, a chess team or a dance crew.

And when you are young and trying to find yourself, you need access to positive environments so you can explore. Because if you don’t, you will start to look for coherence somewhere else. And you might find it somewhere a lot more destructive – somewhere where you meet other angry, disappointed and sometimes even desperate youths that feel like they have no future hopes.

And feeling hopeless is a very dangerous place to be in, especially if it happens to a group of young people. To feel like you have nothing to lose means you could do anything, just to feel that you belong somewhere.

I had a friend that was one of those young people seeking a sense of belonging. His name was Oliver, and unfortunately, he found a destructive way of life that eventually got him killed.

I first met Oliver when we were 14 years old and had just started 8th grade together. He was smart, funny and always had new ideas for how to save the world. He loved hip-hop and would always analyze every single word from every 2Pac song that existed. Except being seen and heard, like all of us needs, Oliver also needed a school that had the resources to meet him halfway. Or someone who could guide him when he got his ADHD-diagnosis so he could feel like a normal kid. But most importantly – he needed a social welfare authority that took his mother’s worrying reports seriously – because she did plenty of them.

To me, Oliver was a star. He excelled in many things and was without any doubt the best in our class at math. He was also so good at athletics that he became one of Sweden’s best sprinters born in 1996.

But Oliver didn’t even make it till his 21st birthday. He was found shot in the middle of the day, 2 blocks from his home.

His ADHD made him feel different from others and he was constantly searching for his identity. And when he didn’t think he could cope with school in the way people expected him too, the temptation to make money in other ways became too big. There he found friends who just like him, were seeking to fit in. With them, he felt good and he felt appreciated. And once you are in it, it’s hard to get out.

Oliver’s destiny made me feel like I want to be part of a change.

It led me to work with how to make young people feel more included in our society and how we can build trust between each other. Last year, I became an ambassador for Sweden’s largest youth organization, Fryshuset. I was one of 8 young people from suburbs all over Sweden who got the opportunity to participate in the biggest annual political week we have.

We got to take part in panels, debates and engage in questions about us. And, for the first time, we felt represented. For the first time, the decision-makers and politicians were talking to us, with us, not just about us when it comes to our future. Because who else knows our reality and what we need better than we do?

When Oliver lost his life he was seen as just a number in the statistics and the news wouldn’t even mention his name, just like so many other boys killed before him. However, just recently two young women were killed by gun violence. One of them was killed in a wealthy area where no one expected such a crime to even happen, and that was the tipping point. Finally, politicians are calling it for what it is – a national crisis! And are now working on plans for how to make the violence stop. But that’s a part of the problem: the fact that we expect shootings to happen in certain areas of Sweden means that not all are equally safe.

Perhaps the first thing you think about when you think of Sweden is that it’s a place of equality and equal opportunities. Or a strong support system for those in need. And that’s mostly true, at least if you belong to 94 % of the population. The remaining 6 %, live in what has been labeled as ”marginalized communities” where the reality is something else; rates of violence, unemployment, social exclusion and poverty that are higher than the rest of Sweden. I grew up in one of those communities, and so did Oliver.

The deadly shootings in our communities have in the last 10 years increased by 500%. That means that a whole generation has lived through a time where it’s 5 times more likely to get shot. This fact makes us one of the countries with the highest amount of death shootings per capita in Europe, and by far the highest in the north. And I believe that the biggest reason behind those numbers and why this is happening is the broken trust between the 6 % and the rest of society.

Our communities have become segregated, due to people not feeling included in what should be a system for everyone. And as a result, we have formed parallel societies where we think in terms of ”us -and -them” – rather than forming a society where we live as one.

When a shooting happens, it happens to that 6 % – and not to all of Sweden. But the violence isn’t, nor has it ever been, dependent on one person. It depends on the failure of a whole society to keep each other safe. What we see in the news is that if you are one of us, society talks about you as a problem – rather than with you as part of the solution. Our brothers, neighbors, and classmates are only noticed when they have committed a crime.

So, how could you trust a society where you are always made out to be the bad one? How could you trust a society that never recognizes all the good you do? It’s only when you feel like you can trust the society that you want to become a part of it and also work to make it better.

I used to think that my voice and my experiences were not something that our decision-makers wanted to hear. But not anymore. Now, I feel empowered to stand on a stage like this and talk about the issues we are facing, because I also do see the solutions.

What needs to happen is that Sweden has to listen to our stories and take our experiences seriously. We, who are affected by the violence, must be included in creating sustainable solutions. And that even involves the boys with the guns. Their perspectives need to be included as well, so people will understand better what made them take a path that could only lead to hurt, loss and trauma.

And most importantly, we need to come together and face these challenges as a united Sweden.

 

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