Bickley rapper, 84, sets up foundation to support young people
Expelled from school three times before becoming a model student, rapping 84-year-old Dr Joy Phillipou knows what it takes to break a rebellious streak.
The Cypriot, who lives in Bickley, took to hip hop as a means of communicating with young people involved in gun and knife crime. Several years ago she also established the STAR Foundation (Sociable, Trustworthy And Responsible), a national scheme which favours reward over punishment, for which she was awarded an MBE for services to young people last year.
Young people gain an award from STAR by proving they have contributed to their local community or have kept their noses clean recently if they have been in trouble with the police in the past.
The foundation has just received backing from the Rotary Clubs to take it into schools nationally.
Philosopher Joy, who is also a keen artist, attended draconian convents in France and Germany as a girl where she was punished time and again for minor slip-ups.
“It was an awful calamity. The closet and the stick – both would make me rebel even more,” she remembered.
It wasn’t until she attended her fourth convent where they rewarded good behaviour that her conduct improved. They presented medals and ribbons for good grades.
“I killed myself trying to get a medal. I realised that reward is far better than punishment. If it worked on us then it will work on young people today. Even grownups love to get an award,” Joy says joking about her MBE.
Describing the moment she realised she wanted to help disaffected youths, she said: “I watched an interview on television with unruly young people. They were all smoking pot and didn’t care about anything because nobody cared about them. I started crying then I thought ‘pull yourself together, crying won’t help them’. I knew they couldn’t hear me, they didn’t even know me.”
Joy took to the streets and started talking to youths. She began writing raps, with positive messages rather than violent rhetoric and in 2010 she penned a book of her work called The Rap Revolution.
She even managed to slip a copy to the Queen when she picked up her MBE.
“Their music was all so sad, angry, racist and despondent. I wanted to use it as a way to communicate with them. I might be past it but I can still write raps.”
Last year Joy held a rap competition in the House of Lords for a group of 19 to 25-year-olds which she repeated last month.
Many of the people she has helped send her letters thanking her for changing their fortunes.
One, from a young girl who Joy encouraged to start writing poetry again, reads: “Dear Aunty Joy, you made people more confident and strong. You made the world a better place with your amazing talent which is the STAR foundation.”
Speaking about her hopes for the future, she said: “I just hope we can learn that punishment is not effective. All these young people need is love and encouragement to reach their potential.”