“A man can not directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances”
This was a quote from a book my fiancé once bought me, a book I now admire dearly. I love this particular quote from James Allen because it coincides with my personal theory that our identity is ever-changing and that is one of life’s beautiful gifts.
Someone asked me recently, if I could chose 9 words to describe myself, what would I choose? The first thing I thought of was my skin colour and my profession. I wrote down “Black” Teacher” “Music lover” and then I struggled to think of the remaining words I could use to describe myself. At first, I wondered if I was so dry that I couldn’t think of 9 words to describe myself but then I realised, my identity has changed so many times that it’s impossible to be bound to one.
It was only until I was in my early 20s that I began to unravel this and with every accomplishment, I began to describe myself differently. As an adolescent, I had been kicked out of primary & secondary school, failed my GCSE’S, A levels and had a couple run ins with the police. If you asked me then “How would you describe yourself?” the easiest choice of words would be “Black” “Failure” and “Angry”. Alongside my negative circumstances, the labels used to describe me by my school, police and media, became the very things I’d use to identify myself. This was the self-fulfilling prophecy in full effect.
Since that period of time in my life, I’ve graduated from university, I’ve qualified as a teacher, I’ve completed leadership courses, I’ve started blogging, I’ve co-founded a football academy, I’ve started my masters…the list of personal accomplishments could go on. But the most important thing to note is that I have never remained the same and I have the ability to dictate what I want to be. Where this can cause confusion and anxiety, this is where our sense of power and excitement should be found in, despite our circumstances.
My heart cries when I see my young black men struggling to get by in a society that has excluded them in so many ways. Their experiences have shaped how they view and identity themselves but the power to change their identity and circumstance lies within them, many just don’t fully understand how. Many of the guys in my community remember me as teenager and congratulate me for transforming my life but in the same breath, they eliminate their chances of achieving something more than what the life of crime has to offer.
This is partly why I became a teacher. These young black men need more men from the same neighbourhoods to show them they do not have to be defined by the labels given to them. The time for speeches finished a long time ago. Now we need more educators, more lawyers, more MPs, more entrepreneurs to be a better image of the black male than what has been sold to us in the past.
Today I may be an educator, but tomorrow I may chose to be a businessman. Who can tell me otherwise? No one. Who can change that? Me. With an understanding that we create and change our own identity, we can reignite the passion to be what we were created to be. Great. As a community, we can support the character and thought that will allow out young people to blossom.
By Emmanuel Awoyelu
Twitter – @MannyAwo