John, a 21-year-old male from a predominantly Unionist community in Belfast, grew up facing a number of issues that were caused by the legacy of ‘The Troubles’. Even though he was born four years after the signing of the Agreement he knew very little about it or its impact. However, six months after joining the Our Lives Our Legacy programme, he now understands and recognises the impact of growing up in a post-conflict society and, more importantly, he’s looking forward to what he wants the future of Northern Ireland to look like.

Our Lives Our Legacy is a project facilitated by Springboard Opportunities and funded as part of Spirit of 2012’s Moments to Connect strategy which is aimed at bringing people from different backgrounds together through the medium of big events in history. As a participant in the project, John has reveled in the opportunity to develop himself and have more of a connection to others.

John said, “Growing up in a segregated community it was easy for me to have an attitude of division, I went to an integrated secondary school but never really tackled the issue of sectarianism or division. I, like the majority of young people my age, lived my life, even though I was born when there was ‘peace’ in Northern Ireland, with physical barriers in the form of peace walls and psychological barriers in the form of attitudes passed down by family, community and media.”

“I lived very close to the peace wall and almost automatically became patriotic from a very young age, immersed in my culture and having the belief that my identity was strong. Not that I think any of this was a bad thing but looking back now I don’t think it would have been the same had we not lived in a post-conflict society.”
Despite the barriers John has faced, and having been present at riots between both communities, he feels it’s taken programmes like Our Lives Our Legacy to challenge those beliefs and help him unpack the prejudices and stereotypes that exist.  He has developed an appreciation of the importance of understanding your own identity, but also in how to be respectful to others and value differences, and is now practising this in trying to share it with others.

He said, “I now have a better understanding of diversity and that difference is okay. I’m proud of myself and how far I’ve come, being from the community that I come from and being where I am today, there is a massive difference in me as a person.”

“I want to continue the learning that I will take from this project and have a positive impact on my community by encouraging mutual understanding and helping others like me break down these barriers.

“There is a lot that joins us together and while I understand the trauma that was faced during the conflict will live long in people’s memories and behaviours, it’s things like mental health, addiction and housing, just to name a few issues, that both communities face that we need to come together to try and work on. From our event and on this programme we would love for young people to be more involved in the conversations in what a better Northern Ireland might look like.”

Image: John McKinnon, second from right, in front of one of the Belfast peace walls

Read more about Our Lives Our Legacy 

Read more about Spirit’s Moments to Connect prorgamme