Born in and raised in West London, I was the youngest of four siblings, but often the most serious. I wasn’t a very happy child growing up and had an intensity about me from a very young age. I was very intelligent and extremely good at music, sport and art but never realised my strengths. It had never occurred to me that I was talented or that I had the power to succeed. We grew up on benefits and success just wasn’t something that we ever discussed.
By the age of eleven, the inevitable happened and I ended up ‘hanging around’ with friends much older than me. I was never fully immersed in it all as there was always a part of me that just knew it wasn’t right. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that I caught myself in situations that I really should not have been in. By age fifteen I had left home, started working and had my first child aged just seventeen. Despite this, my natural intelligence and talent still managed to secure me some good GCSE results and a chance to play football with the Chelsea FC girls academy.
Once my daughter was born, I had resided myself to the fact that I’d be a single mother and live off of benefits just like my mum did. I had no self-worth or self-belief and at that time, I still couldn’t see my potential. I had left work and college (although still being involved in steel pan music projects for young people) and stayed home most days, sometimes with so little money that I’d eat two slices of toast for the day; if that. Parenting was tough at the start, but as time went on, I managed to really get into the swing of things.
My daughter had just turned one, when I realised that something had to change. If not for me, then for her. One night, as she slept I looked at her and it hit me… I had to do better – I wanted her to be anything she wanted to be. I enrolled in my local college to do a BTEC Award in Business. After a few days of starting, I was upgraded to the BTEC Certificate course, as I was told I was well exceeding expectations. That course was supposed to be for two years but after a year, I was accelerated to a Foundation Degree in Business and Management. A degree? Me? Really? I’d never in my wildest dreams, imagined that I could get a degree. Although my teachers believed in me, and even with the highest marks in my year, I still didn’t believe in myself.
The degree was probably the toughest thing I had ever done. Made even more complicated by the fact that my second year was interrupted by the arrival of my son. I had moved house four times that year, had a four old and a new born and was still fighting to get my uni work done. But guess what? I did it, at average of 67% – just 3% from a first! Even then, after all that success and achievement, my self-belief still wasn’t there.
The years that followed were difficult ones. I worked as a special needs assistant and steel pan tutor for many years and almost started a baby food company. I was at the final stages of obtaining funding when I realised that the business would make me money, but not bring happiness.
Everything changed when I secured a job as a tutor for ‘disengaged’ young people, who could no longer attend school or referral units. The problem was that I spent more time teaching them about life, than I did teaching GCSE maths. This is because I knew first-hand how their circumstances had created an attitude towards themselves, that would not allow them to achieve. They just simply had given up! So why on earth would they feel like they needed maths? I knew that I could help them, I knew that I could make a change, but not as an educational tutor.
The frustrations of the job lead me to apply for a new job in a children’s home. Unfortunately (or should I say fortunately), after being offered the job there was an admin issue which lead to a spout of unemployment. That’s when I had time to sit and think about what I was doing in life. I thought back to a question that somebody once asked me, when I said that I didn’t really know what I wanted to be in life. The question was this: “If you had all the money in the world, what would you do with your time? What would you contribute to the world?” Well… quite simply, the answer to that question is what I am doing right now! I’d be making sure that I communicate to as many young people as I possibly can, that they have unlimited potential. I’d be making sure that they had enough self-worth and self-belief, to go grab their aspirations with both hands and that they would not become victims of their circumstances.
So the children’s home job fell through and after brief moment of being a post woman (yeah I know, pretty random but had to pay the bills), I had conjured up enough self-belief to take the very scary step of starting my very own organisation. Choose To LiVE means more to me than I could ever describe and I will not stop striving to change the lives of the many young people who have given up on themselves, in a society who often views them as a nuisance.