While many observers have blamed rap stars like Snoop Dogg for the glorification of street crime in recent years, Decima Francis MBE claims the problem started long before he was born.
The no-nonsense headteacher, 58, has just opened a Birmingham branch of the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation she founded in London.
The independent school, which is Ofsted accredited, takes the worst behaved and most violent children in the school system and teaches them basic social skills such as manners and humility.
Adam Aspinall, writing in the Sunday Mercury, said Decima came to live in Handsworth, Birmingham, with her family from St. Kitts in the Caribbean in 1961 when she was just seven years old.
She later became a Shakespearian actress and travelled the world but since she returned to Britain in 1996 she has dedicated her life to saving children the state school system can no longer help.
“When did we stop being British? Where did our great culture go?” she asks. “When I came over here in 1961 we may not have had much, but we respected authority and knew we lived in one of the greatest countries in the world.
“It was a country built on tolerance, fairness, hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“Today’s youngsters are taught none of that, and most of it is because we have become too soft. We have taken competition out of our schools and developed a culture which celebrates something for nothing, that somehow the world owes you a living.
“This started in the 1960s when the likes of The Beatles first hit the scene. That was the start of this worship of youth culture, this worship of fame and fortune. Slowly, but surely, it has taken over every aspect of our modern lives.
“Over the last 40 years it has developed into an overwhelming sense of entitlement in young people – and I see it every day.”
The From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation (FBMF) was set up in 1996 by Mrs. Francis in response to concerns about the rising number of black children, particularly boys, being excluded from school and becoming involved in gangs, drugs and violence.
The newly opened independent school, in the inner city areas of Aston, caters for up to 30 boys at a time. Pupils have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, have either been expelled, or are about to be permanently excluded, from secondary school.
Many of them have been involved in gangs, and many of them were involved in the summer riots which shocked the nation last year.
“We are losing an entire generation of young black youth to crime and feckless lifestyles,” warns Decima. “But we are here to tell them ‘Your gang is not your culture, being British is your culture’. We are going to put that back into them.
“A key part of our work is simply teaching these kids humility, teaching them to realise that the world does not revolve around them.
“Look at the riots in the summer, we saw that coming for years. We could have told anyone who would listen that we were developing a generation of young people in this country with no ties to anything or anybody but themselves.
“They were angry but they did not know why, and they had never been taught self-control. They come from single parent families where children are having children, and that is only ever going to lead to one outcome – chaos.
“Nobody gives these people a manual on parenting yet it is the hardest and most responsible thing anyone will ever do, and it is no surprise that we see the types of young people we do on streets in this day and age.
“But for me this is not a doomsday scenario. Life is about change, we can turn this situation around, and the key to that is education.
“We will teach these children manners, we will teach these children how to care for others. We will teach them that the only gang they want to belong to is the British gang, as a respectable member of the community.”
The foundation is rolling out its successful ‘Calling The Shots’ initiative in Birmingham and is employing characters such as former West Midlands undercover cop Ronnie Howard to provide positive male role models for troubled kids.
The aim of the programme is to make the children aware of the devastating effect of gang culture on society.
It consists of a multi-media package which includes an integrated range of lesson plans, activity worksheets and video clips covering various themes such as gang culture, citizenship and social responsibility, and factors behind youth gun violence.
The core programme runs for 12 weeks and the project will also aim to work closely with local schools, social services, police, youth and community workers and Birmingham City Council.
Decima’s project has already been a big success in London, where it was started in the borough of Southwark, an area in which half of all children live in poverty.
Some of the children involved have gone on to start their own businesses, and go to university. Many have left gang life behind them completely although Decima admits changing even one child’s life should be seen as a success.
“It is very difficult,” she says. “You only have to look at the chaotic lifestyles these kids live to realise how easily they are influenced by all the violence on TV and in music.
“We are introducing our Calling the Shots initiative as a way to provide positive role models for young black boys. We only started here in Birmingham last week but already we have our first pupil.
“The aim of our school is to help those kids that regular schools cannot. We offer them lessons on anger management and gang violence to make them realise they are going down the wrong path in life.
“We ask them why they join gangs to behave like idiots. We make them realise how stupid gangs are and how they lead only to a life of poverty and violence.
“These kids go down the wrong path for a wide variety of reasons. During my 16 years doing this job I have experienced every kind of situation you can imagine. I have my life threatened on more than one occasion.
“But it is all worth it as long as we turn even one young person away from gangs. That can have a ripple effect money cannot buy and I know we can turn this situation back. We have to, because the future of our country is at stake.”