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A Teacher Told Me I’d End Up In Prison – Now I’m Inspiring Thousands Of Schoolkids

 

When I got kicked out of school, my teachers made sure to tell me that I’d never amount to anything.

I didn’t think of myself as a naughty kid. Sure, sometimes I had a lot to say, and everyone wants to be the person that makes everybody laugh, but I was never involved doing anything extreme that deserved such heavy punishment.

Years later, I found out that I was dyslexic – I know now that it was a reason behind some of the difficulties I was having in class.

But my teachers just saw this as me being ‘bad’. The more they’d leave me out of lessons and label me as ‘trouble’, the less effort I gave and the more frustrated I became. I wanted to rebel against them, so I stopped trying and ultimately played into being the troublemaker they always thought I was.

Eventually, I got permanently excluded in Year 9, just before I was meant to start my GCSEs. I felt that my teachers had given up on me – one even said they expected me to end up in prison.

My mum decided that I desperately needed a change in environment and education so she moved us from our home in Birmingham to Nevis, a small island in the Caribbean, to live with my grandparents. I didn’t want to go – I cried the whole way there.

Starting school there was a massive culture shock. I’d get in trouble for entering classrooms without knocking, not addressing teachers correctly – I even got the cane once or twice! But despite its strictness, going to school in Nevis changed me for the better – the teachers wanted your respect, but it’s clear that they respected the pupils back.

What I loved most, though, was that I got to learn about positive Black history. It wasn’t just about the struggle, and fighting for justice: the teachers focused on the history of Black people as kings and queens, the great inventors, and the Moors who travelled through and civilised Europe. It was empowering and gave me a new sense of self-esteem.

With hindsight, this was the best thing my mum could have done for me at the time. After only a year, I felt like a completely different person – I was ready to come back to the UK and get the GCSEs I needed to continue to build my life.

I moved in with my auntie, into a tough area of Birmingham where there wasn’t a lot of activity for young people to do and there was also a lot of crime. I’d outgrown the things that my old friends were getting up to – I just wanted to apply my experience and move forward in life.

I had a drive in me to do something meaningful (Picture: Prince’s Trust)

 

But, my old school wouldn’t let me back in. Staff said my ‘thuggish behaviour’ was too much, and that I was too much of a ‘ringleader’ – which I felt was a false description of my character and I was being labelled as something I wasn’t. I got sent to a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), which felt like a jail.

All I wanted was to get my head down and work, but there were so many conflicts – when youths from rival areas are put into one building it’s inevitable.

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My cousin Nikelia worked hard to get me into a college and I ended up studying media and business. There, a teacher took me aside and encouraged me to start reading about self-development. He saw that I had a drive in me to do something meaningful. After seeing so much poverty mixed with the resourcefulness of the people in Nevis, I didn’t want to take anything for granted – I wanted to make use of all that was on offer to me in the UK.

I started reading books like ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ by Robert T Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter and began looking into launching a business.

Despite my environment, I knew that if I applied this knowledge this to something positive, I was sure I could make it work. After that, I started to buy and sell products and things began to look up.

I used my Education Maintenace Allowance (EMA) to buy hair straighteners and UGG Boots in bulk and started selling them on eBay and to hairdressers in the area. I made some good money, and it was my first step into entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, things came to a halt one night when I was attacked, right outside my auntie’s house. To this day, I don’t know why – maybe it was because I was an entrepreneur and doing things for myself? But having a group of masked youths screaming in your face and dragging you around, was hard.

I knew it was time to leave the area again. I didn’t particularly want to go to university, but I had to get away if I was going to make something of myself – so I moved to Manchester to study with my now fiancée and business partner Sharona.

I wanted to go into schools and to help youths that were just like me, who felt they never got the support they needed (Picture: Cordell Jeffers/Prince’s Trust)

 

However, after two years and two different courses, I realised that uni wasn’t for me – so, I left and tried to figure out what was next.

As it turns out, that wasn’t so easy; the last time I’d tried entrepreneurship, I got attacked – my confidence was still shaken. And every job I applied for didn’t work out. Every path seemed to lead to nowhere and it was depressing.

But, I kept reading – it was the only thing that kept a glimmer of self-belief alive in me.

I wanted to start a business and without any rich family to ask for help, I turned to Google and literally typed in ‘money for my business’ and the Prince’s Trust came up. I gave them a call and explained what I wanted to do; the advisor told me to come down and they’d help.

I was a bit resistant – I wasn’t used to people wanting to help so freely. But they were so enthusiastic: the team ensured me that anything I had in my mind to do, they’d help make it happen.

They put me on an enterprise course, then my fiancée and I started our first business in 2016: a clothing line called Mungo Sports. The Prince’s Trust helped with funding, but I got 50 times more than I was expecting in terms of mentorship.

The kind of belief they instilled in me made me want to go and do the same for other people.

My partner and I decided to start a social enterprise called We Shine Together in 2017 – I thought it would be a great idea to go into schools and help youths that were just like me, who felt they never got the support they needed. I wanted to give back to young people who are in an environment that doesn’t necessarily suit them.

Since then, I’ve spoken to nearly 10,000 individual students and I give regular speeches in schools and company boards.

I spoke to 30,000 people at an international summit hosted by Les Brown, a well-renowned motivational speaker, earlier this year. I’m a young ambassador for the Prince’s Trust now, advocating for their service and informing young people like I was that there are resources that will help them get where they need to go. I’ve even spoken in front of Prince Charles and been interviewed by Lionel Richie as part of my work with The Trust.

Last week I discovered I’d been crowned Young Change Maker at the Prince’s Trust Awards and given my award by actor Ashley Walters, which was unbelievable. It’s all just such an amazing measure of how far I’ve come. Even though my teachers didn’t believe in me, I’m so glad that I didn’t let them break my spirit – it led me to find people who’d help me achieve everything I wanted.

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Written by PH

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