To stand in a room full of strangers and be completely transparent about your life – where you have come from and where you are heading, is no easy feat. At YGAP’s latest community meeting guest speaker Karl Lokko opened his heart to close on 100 people, providing a glimpse of a life most will never know, and it was awe inspiring. A former gang leader from London, who admits he was“running to a dead end”, Karl lived a life consumed by drugs and crime. He was the embodiment of our global systemic failings - dismissing and pleading ignorant to minority groups so clearly crying out for help. Karl opened with a poem and with every rhythmic sentence that followed, the room was transfixed.
Karl’s earnest description of his decision to become a gang member in order to protect himself and his family sounded so pragmatic. From a young age he distinguished that his unblemished report card would not stop kids in gangs from harassing both he and his family so “if you can’t beat them, join them”. With this decision came years of pain and trauma, dealing drugs, being shot at more times than he had birthdays, being stabbed in the back and watching his best friend die from a bullet on the pavement next to him.
It was a life too heavy for anyone to deal with, let alone a child. Karl admitted he knew his actions were diminishing his future but that he had reached a stage so far gone, he was unable to care - “living life like a gamble, my life a casino”.
This is where pastor Memi entered the story - a woman with whom Karl credits a large part of his reformation out of the gang world. The mother of his right hand man, Memi played a pivotal role in coercing six members of the gang to leave, reminding them “life - it aint got no reset button”. She was able to see past society’s label of them as “worthless criminals”, rather acknowledging they were simple children that had taken a wrong turn and with some guidance and love, could be redirected.
You could say Pastor Memi indirectly led Karl to where he stands today as a, activist and social influencer. He speaks so earnestly of the power of love and support, “that talking is growth and growth is healing” and to never underestimate what compassion can do for a fellow human being. He condemns the notion that we are defined by what we do, instead recognising that people can make bad decisions or be dealt a bad hand, but that this should not define their status as a human being.
Rather than respond reactively to problems we are faced with in society, Karl aspires to channel the approach of Pastor Memi – changing attitudes and offering support. Short-term answers don’t yield long-term sustainability. Throwing money at a social problem won’t eradicate that issue. In his own words, “there’s youth running round like there’s no jail”, so incarcerating a misguided teenager won’t necessarily deter others or break the cycle of offending. Karl is a shining example of someone who has seen both sides of the spectrum and chose the path less travelled, dedicating his future to helping others see the light of hope in darkness.
His final words still echo - “If we can’t see hope in the mirror, how can we see hope in the sinner?”
A huge thank you to Jane Tewson and the team at Igniting Change for bringing Karl into our lives. An unforgettable experience.