Jay Kirton – ex-gang member, international karate champion and healer – wants to be CISTA’s candidate for London Mayor.
Being involved in gang culture was never a conscious decision for Jay Kirton, the 22 year-old community activist, international karate champion and spiritual healer who stood against Emily Thornberry in Islington South and Finsbury in the General Election. And this is easy to believe given the warm and unimposing way he moves through the VolteFace office, where he and his friends are regular visitors, greeting everyone, even editor-in-chief Steve Moore, with an affectionate hug. “I used to enjoy playing football and skateboarding outside the front of my house, until suddenly I was told skateboarding wasn’t the cool thing to do anymore. Because we had no money or no family structure that showed the love we needed, because we never were taught to love ourselves, we fell in love with the streets and found family and protection in our gangs.”
“we were bullied by boys older than us who had been bullied by boys older than them. This vicious cycle of male dominance and is a testament to the lack of love and opportunity for growth in the community. This part of my life that I can only begin to understand now.”
Now Jay works in his Islington neighbourhood to prevent gang violence by creating a spiritual community that emphasises love, support and mental health. This is the beginning of what he calls the “health and consciousness revolution”. He has built a remarkable audience, including over 7,000 followers on Instagram, where he announces, for example, the free meditation sessions on Hampstead Heath that he leads. “I now have attracted many like-minded people who are assisting me on my journey to bring the art of healing to the community. The government should be backing us all the way because it is us who will stop the next riots from happening; it is us who will stop young men and women from turning to extremist terrorist ideologies. And it is us that will heal and transform London into a safer place for future generations.” Jay’s parents were still in secondary school when they had him; in his own words “growing up on the streets in poverty”. They broke up soon after he was born. After that Jay and this mum lived with a series of abusive men, whom Jay remembers well now. “Domestic violence and addiction were a part of my reality from an early age, and this left me with traumas. All the pain I had acquired from a young age until the present day still lives on in the mental illness and post traumatic stress my family hold onto.” Having grown up with so much pain in his closest family, it no surprise that Jay now works as a healer, at both an individual and community level. Crucially for Jay, there is a common thread between the domestic abuse and gang culture: male dominance. He remembers how older gang members’ behaviour would echo the behaviour of men who abuse their partners, “we were bullied by boys older than us who had been bullied by boys older than them. This vicious cycle of male dominance and is a testament to the lack of love and opportunity for growth in the community. This part of my life that I can only begin to understand now.”
Crucially for Jay, there is a common thread between the domestic abuse and gang culture: male dominance.
Since then Jay underwent a mental and physical transformation, winning World and European Karate titles. This happened primarily because of the support he received from his dad: “I competed at an international karate championship level firstly, because of my dad’s hard work and dedication to insuring me and my brother could afford this expensive hobby. We never received anywhere near enough funding or sponsorship from anyone but him. I owe my titles and achievements to my dad and Sensei [the karate master credited with bringing the martial art to Europe].” He describes this as a “true blessing that gave me my brother and father a firm bond and a positive focus”. What began as a family bonding experience, and doubled as self-defence – “practicing things like knife defence allowed me to have the courage to not carry or use weapons” – also set the foundations for Jay’s spirituality. Jay tells be that he is keen to carry on the legacy of the late Sensei Suzuki, who “installed a collective consciousness among karate students from all over the world. He always told us we are all one family”. As mayor, Jay would like to share this teaching with young people across the world in an effort to reduce crime.
This gives me the direct experience of what I wish to heal in our sick society. Politicians are ill equipped to help situations they have no idea about, how do they think they can help a demographic of people that they have only come into contact when they themselves want to score some drugs?
For Jay reflecting on his past is an exercise in empowerment as well as trauma. He tells me how his experiences at home have increased his love of femininity and of his mother, who he describes as “a strong single mum trying to feed me and my 5 brothers and sisters”. Now, as a healer, it is Jay’s turn to look after her, “my mother to me is a divine incarnation of the spirit of Mother Earth, she heals people with her love for cooking, I am showing her now it is time for her to love herself and nourish her damaged soul.” This reminds me of the revolutionary moment at his hustings where Jay Kirton declared, to the bewilderment of Labour MP Emily Thornberry, that we live in “a male dominated society where people are scared of femininity”.
Jay offers an unusually mature analysis of the socio-political marginalisation behind gang culture too. He traces the struggle of young black men in Islington back to the historical disenfranchisement and displacement of Africans caused by the transatlantic slave trade, and the racism of governments that have followed. Being a gang fulfils need for ownership and belonging whose roots are centuries old. “We all chose to represent our postcodes and different colour bandanas; we did not feel apart of British culture so we created our own. We never owned any property or land like our ancestors did so we decided to own the bandannas and estate stairways that smelt of bleach and urine mixed with the pungent skunk weed that was probably the only thing that calmed any of the young men down.” Jay is clear that this kind of engagement with cannabis is a profoundly negative, describing himself as having turned to cannabis and alcohol to self medicate his own mental illness and trauma in the past. “I learned how to heal and love myself I learned how to transform my energy from negative to positive, I became the alchemist and the positive role model to many around me within a short period of time. I am now on my way to becoming a powerful healer helping to show people they way of spiritual liberation and enlightenment.” Jay is clear; drug abuse within gangs is a symptom, and the real causes must be identified and addressed.
Although most of us in the VolteFace office have known Jay for almost a year, it is only now that we find out that he the reason he was able to escape gang culture only after he was stabbed, after which his family moved house. Jay describes how during this time many of his friends were arrested and charged with murder. For Jay, this move as a second chance, a chance to better himself, “I could have easily been in prison for life instead of running for mayor right now.”
It is precisely his background – so unconventional and opposite in every way to that of our politicians – that he believes makes him right for the role of mayor. “This gives me the direct experience of what I wish to heal in our sick society. Politicians are ill equipped to help situations they have no idea about, how do they think they can help a demographic of people that they have only come into contact when they themselves want to score some drugs? And then they lock up these youth for selling drugs that they have all tried whilst in the comfort of their privileged private education bubbles.” From gang violence, to domestic abuse, to terrorism to – crucially – drugs law reform, Jay Kirton is ready to take on London.