My work (2009-2012) as a Research Fellow in Urban Theology at the University of Birmingham explored the impact that the experience of social exclusion has on the ways in which unemployed young men on an urban housing estate in Birmingham think and talk about identity, meaning and spirituality.
The project is intended to facilitate social inclusion, to find ways of enabling socially excluded young men to express their own ideas, hopes and spiritualities and to resource the work of faith and community groups working alongside similar groups of young adults in different urban contexts. Since I began my fieldwork on the Bromford estate in east Birmingham in November 2010 I have learned and written about the complexity of social exclusion and the significance of spirituality amongst young unemployed men. During fieldwork it has become clear that young men on the estate express themselves articulately through rap music and graffiti art. With this in mind I have established a relationship with a Birmingham based Muslim graffiti artist Mohammed ‘aerosol’ Ali who has a great deal of experience working alongside socially excluded Muslim, White and Black youth on graffiti art/mural projects. Following my introduction the Theology and Religion Department are now working with Mohammed as an ‘artist in residence’.
The 'Bromford Dreams' graffiti spirituality project has now drawn to a close, but this is not the end of the story. As the 'Bromford Dreams' images imply this is a story that needs to be shared - and it will be....The challenging images, ideas and questions of young men from one of the UK's most socially excluded estates will be brought to the University of Birmingham in a few weeks time before challenging others in Birmingham city centre and visitors to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery - Through the passion and commitment of the Worth Unlimited youth organisation and the skill of the artist Mohammed Ali young men who are more often written about and written off are beginning to raise their voice.
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