My life story is one of overcoming adversity. As the child of Jamaican immigrants who came to the UK during the Windrush years, my father’s violence forced me into care at a young age. As a looked-after child in the 1970s, the odds of becoming a professional athlete, let alone the captain of a top-flight British rugby team, were firmly stacked against me.
But I persevered. I knew that self-belief, persistence, and courage were strong enough tools to beat the barriers that I encountered. I knew that I was the master of my own destiny, but I also knew that I had a difficult road to travel.
But I made it. And in 1989, my personal belief was reflected in my professional career, when in my last match as captain of Saracens we played Wasps in a championship decider, despite us being written off before the campaign had even started. From underdogs, we became giants.
My story shouldn’t be unusual, but it is. Rising from adversity requires self-belief, but I could not have got to where I got to without the help and charity of others along the way.
At every stage, there were enormous pitfalls. And while those who are able to surmount them achieve recognition, the many who don’t are almost always forgotten.
In the 12 months to September 2021, there were over 46,000 police recorded offenses involving a knife or sharp instrument in England and Wales.
Since March 2011, there has been a 2 per cent increase in knife crime in England and Wales. And in London alone, 27 teenagers were murdered with a knife or sharp object last year. These were children, siblings, but above all, these were unrealized futures.
According to a 2021 report by Policy Exchange, at least four out of five gang related homicide victims and perpetrators in London are black or ethnic minority. The report claims that black people in London are five times more likely to be hospitalized than white people due to stabbing.
In short, knife crime is one of the most pressing challenges facing inner-city communities today. With constraints facing police, local councils and education bodies, it is nothing short of imperative that private organizations collaborate with them to give us the best chance of tackling the problem.
The solution lies not only in stopping incidents as they occur, but creating the environment to stop people from turning to a life of crime in the first place.
We need to help young people build confidence, improve their health and well-being and maximize all opportunities available to them. We need to instill values of purpose, adaptability, imagination, discipline, emotional control and teamwork.
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I know first-hand the importance of these values, not only as a former sportsman and educator, but also as somebody who knows what it is like to have the odds stacked against them. I know how difficult it is to believe in these values when one encounters racism, when one encounters adversity and when one encounters injustice.
But I also know how powerful they can be, and how those who have the opportunity to share them can make a difference to peoples’ lives.
A life of crime is a choice, but it is often made by those who feel that they do not have one. I want to not only help turn would-be offenders into law-abiding citizens, but help them unleash their full potential.
And from personal experience, I know that anyone can reach their full potential if they believe in themselves – but first, it can often take someone to believe in them.
Floyd Steadman is a former Saracens captain, educator and BOXWISE advisory board member