Whenever I walk around in my community, I see many faces. Some on a regular basis. Although I’m familiar with theses faces, I don’t know whom they belong to. Everyone has a story. Some might be short, some long, some more interesting than others. The person you walk past might have a similar story to you. They could be truly inspirational. Without walking up to the individual and asking them their life story which some would consider strange. I wouldn’t be able to find out, until now. Paul McKenzie has come up with a concept, which highlights the stories of people within the community.
Paul’s idea was creating a platform where ordinary people can have a voice about issues or subjects within their community via video on social media. Fittingly Paul named his idea Soapbox; the name originally came from a makeshift box which people used to air the grievances publicly. “My wife came up with the name as a metaphor. In this day and age, a visual soapbox is needed without the media censoring your voice.”
Soapbox started in November 2015. The first video Paul made was a tap dancer and street entertainer who was a part of a community for 30 years – but no one knew him. “His mission is to entertain you regardless of whether you’re happy or sad. I spoke to him; we discussed making a film so that his community will know more about him. People now know he exists. That’s where the idea came from.” Feeling passionate about his concept, Paul didn’t waste any time when making Soapbox a reality. “I could have spoken about what I wanted to do, but I just got up and did it. I could have waited for a camera operator or more equipment, but I just got up and got the job done. I’m working every day on Soapbox – getting the message out there.” This message is an urgent one to Paul.
Soapbox is a concept for everyone; “If there is a cause or a message which needs to reach somebody, then I’ll do it. If there is a subject or situation, which is happening within the black community or any other community, I’ll address it. The aim is to get people talking about a topic and come up with a conclusion.” Many issues don’t appear on the news or go under the radar when it comes to the community. One example of this is the lack of black businesses. “We have been speaking about this since we came into this country. Why isn’t there enough support when it comes to black businesses? It’s time to stop discussing why we don’t support one another and come up with a conclusion.” People can leave comments about the video and often have a good discussion about the subject.
“Don’t feel alienated, as everyone matters.”
Soapbox doesn’t only encourage debate through video; Paul also posts images with inspirational messages. The creative images are an excellent source of inspiration or motivation if somebody is going through a difficult situation. The lengths of the videos differ.
Some videos are from Paul’s point a view with a quick message, whereas others come from a subject with an in-depth story. These stories are important to communities as some are lost and lack self-belief. “I would describe the black community as a community whose heritage is in a danger of disappearing through programming and self-doubt. Soapbox doesn’t have the same mentality. We should use platforms such as social media to help promote businesses. You are the biggest resource you have – pull away from these shops and see what happens.”
Black businesses aren’t the only thing which Paul believes needs to change.
“The media frightens young people, which makes them carry knives; it’s a vicious cycle. Give the youngsters choices. The only reason a young person carries a knife is for protection as they are living in fear.”
In 2015, statistics showed that knife crime was on the top for the first time in four years. During these four years, the government reduced the amount of funding for youth clubs. Therefore, a majority have closed down. Could there be a link somewhere? If there is a link, you can be assured that you would never find out from news services such as the BBC or ITV. Platforms such as Soapbox are where people can learn about such news.
Although Paul is heavily involved with Soapbox, he also works as a mentor in schools. Not only does he mentor children but he also trains teachers on how they can understand and work with the kids better. Soapbox has funny videos too. As well as working with schools, Paul has also worked on the comedy circuit. One thing that he doesn’t find funny are disrespectful videos such as your stereotypical Hip-Hop video where a man is slapping a woman’s ass. “Would you be surprised if the rest of the world lacked respect for black women? Why are you surprised when the younger generation starts taking up those values and that mentality?”
Values are something that Paul regards highly, especially when it’s about family. “I’m in a long-term relationship. People say that the right relationship doesn’t exist, but I’ve been married to my wife for 21 years. People need to have a good relationship with themselves before trying to have a relationship with someone else. Pick the values you believe in and once you have them, you can look for someone who has similar values.” Some people don’t share these values and at times struggle to cope with their decisions.
By being conscious about your choices, the struggle could be over. “It’s common sense, bring back old fashioned values. We don’t brand ourselves correctly but are quick to buy into somebody else’s concepts to be accepted by others.”
There is always hope when there is an inspirational message from people in the community who have been through similar trials and tribulations. Hopefully, it inspires you to work out your problems as well as acknowledge your fellow human beings you don’t know. It might seem strange to say hi and start a conversation, but if Paul Mckenzie didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this article now. I think I’ve said enough; it’s time to come off my Soapbox.
Photographer & writer – Cris Blaize