With deep sadness, we learnt that 2017 Fellow Kevin Chang died on Saturday 7th April. He was hit by a car and killed near his flat in Kennington in the early hours. He was just 24.
Three months earlier, Kevin had graduated from Year Here as a much-loved Fellow with an incredibly bright future. And ten months before that, Kevin rocked up late (as became the custom) to day 1 of Year Here 2017.
It was 13th February and we had gathered at a homeless hostel in North London ready to embark on a year of frontline service, personal growth and social innovation. In sauntered Kevin, with slick black quiff and vintage jacket, a good hour after the start time. He immediately spilled some coffee, coolly offered some apologies and introduced himself to us: Kevin. Taiwanese, Kiwi, Marxist, reformed computer engineer, social justice warrior, great shirts, chill AF.
He was placed at the Bromley By Bow Centre with Ayshah Aziz, for whom he would grow to become a dear friend. During this first phase of the programme, he told us his frustrations with the crude inhumanity of payment by results contracts. And he celebrated the simple power of human connection that could prove so protective and nourishing for those at the margins of society.
He went on to work on a consulting project for an East London housing association, helping to design new funding mechanisms for local people to drive change on a council estate that had, over the decades, had countless failed regeneration initiatives imposed on it. Kevin passionately persuaded our client that decision-making about the distribution of the funds should be participatory. Kevin argued that estate residents should – perhaps for the first time – feel power in their own hands, rather than being at the mercy of others.
And finally, Kevin told us his plans to found a social enterprise. MixSpace aimed to bring together specialists from different industries – both arts and sciences – to tackle social problems. His first client was Ayshah and her venture ShareCare, a platform for sharing childcare responsibilities in disadvantaged communities. Kevin ran a hackathon to help accelerate ShareCare’s growth and the feedback was brilliant.
Aside from all these projects and innovations, Kevin left his cohort with some profound – and somehow contradictory – gifts: a wise thoughtfulness about the struggles of an unequal world, a fervent passion for social justice; a deep sense of calm; a sartorial eye that was second to none; and a gentle sweetness for all the humans who swam into his world.
We’re cooking up plans to honour Kevin in a substantial and fitting way but, for now, we’ve collected some reflections from some of the members of the Year Here family who knew him best.
“The epitomy of style, a master of comic timing, with dazzling pearly white teeth, and a mind that was questioning and kind, always.
Kevin was the highest scorer of all the hundreds of applications we got in 2017 – he blew us away with his eloquence and verve. I was his coach, and his warmth and wit left an indelible mark on me, a hard-to-explain feeling that long outlasted each chat. His mind was always visibly whirring, and he would go out of his way to make everyone he spoke with feel appreciated and listened to.
While we’re heartbroken to see him go, it’s only right that we build the stuff that he wanted to see, and live with the vitality that he did. Whether that’s uniting the arts and sciences to solve society’s problems, a passion of his, or just laughing at the absurdity of life’s more peculiar moments, as he so often did.”
Michael Simpson, Head of Programme and Partnerships, Year Here.
“Like so many people, my colleagues and I at the Bromley by Bow Centre are slowly coming to terms with the sad, and profoundly cruel, news of Kevin’s death.
As the days have passed this week, a clear and consistent set of memories have emerged. They are of a passionate, patient and profoundly present young man. Someone ready to help on the frontline, working with clients who face the toughest of challenges in life. And memories of someone always willing to take on new tasks. Even if sometimes he wasn’t altogether sure what we was being asked to do! And then there’s the constant theme from everyone I’ve spoken to, ‘you know, Kevin really cared’.”
Rob Trimble, Chief Executive, The Bromley By Bow Centre.
“I got to know Kevin while on placement at the Bromley By Bow Centre. Early on, he bravely admitted to his whole Year Here cohort that he completely lacked creativity. Watching Kevin grow to self identify as the creative which had always existed within him, was so refreshing. Towards the end of the course, he facilitated an idea generation hack-day for ShareCare, the venture I’m working on. He realised that the belief that only some are blessed with creativity is, in fact, a myth. All it takes is allowing oneself to exercise it.
Kevin was an inspired person, and he so inspired those around him.”
Ayshah Aziz, 2017 Fellow.
”Kevin was supposed to be my mentee, I was supposed to be his mentor. But of course, the opposite more or less came true. The more I chatted to Kevin, the more I realised he had a truly special mind. Some sort of uber-stylish, marxist, therapist, writer…! Really, one of those sharp minds that sees the connection between lots of different ideas in the world, and then, most importantly, connected them all that one step further – to his heart.
Kevin’s heart for social justice shone through above all else, which makes this injustice so much harder to process. Hearing about the sudden loss of such a kind, loving, young human is a humbling and confronting shock. I can’t pretend to understand what his family must be going through, but I offer you all the love I have in these difficult times.”
Jon Barnes, Flux.
“Kev: An absolute stunner; my antipodean cousin; cheeky, mysterious and fun. He never gave up an opportunity to have fun and his dance moves were second to none.
It was an honour to work with him on a consulting project for East Thames Housing Association. He was passionate about the work he did and delved straight into the literature. Not one paper was left unread.
Our Kev was rarely on time. Rules and conventions didn’t seem to bother him. It wasn’t that he disrespected them, he just lived his life free from the tyranny of other people’s expectations. It’s a lesson a lot of us could learn: to live for ourselves, striving towards our own joys and dreams. He seemed to do this naturally, without ever hurting a soul.”
Alex Blackwood, 2017 Fellow.
To donate to Kevin Chang’s family, to help them cover the costs of the funeral and memorial, please click here.