“James – I don’t just believe in you – I totally know and believe you will be a Nation shaper of outstanding excellence”
This decade has been interesting. In 2010, I would have been in year 9, meaning I was probably in the playground reciting 'Johnny Gunz – Fresh Home' or learning the words to K Koke’s iconic 'Fire In The Booth' (I still know the words to both). I remember in March of the same year, I jokingly asked my mum for a Blackberry, and she actually got it for me. This was at the start of the Blackberry wave, so I would like to be credited as one of the pioneers.
2010 was also the year that my high school wanted to expel me. It was the first time in my life; I really thought to myself, “I am f*cked!”. I think the most ‘painful’ thing for me at the time was hearing my mum on the phone crying and questioning what more she could have done. The truth is there was nothing she could have done. She had done everything that she could have, and even more than a lot of parents have had to do. Fast forward a month or so, I bussed case, and I promised myself I wouldn’t get in any more trouble.
Until I was suspended … a couple more times.
I was able to get through education (relatively unscathed) but with the help of some absolute superheroes. Shout out to Miss Knight, Miss Richards, Miss Snow, Mr Hale, Miss Nolan, and Miss Khendra. They went above and beyond to make sure I realised my potential. I always knew that I wanted to be a doctor and I knew I wanted to help people in Jamaica, but I thought universities would look at how many times I had been suspended; which I realised wasn’t true and on top of this, everyone I told that I wanted to be a doctor assumed that I was Nigerian. I had been surrounded by a lot of Caribbean people my whole life, so it was news to me that people thought that Caribbean students didn’t want to be doctors, nor did they think that we valued education.
We’re now in 2015, where I took a gap year after finishing Sixth Form. I got an offer to study Medicine and I spent 3 months in The Gambia working at the Medical Research Council, working in an orphanage (which I now know is bad) and donating supplies to rural communities.
This year changed the trajectory of myself. The Gambia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited, filled with some of the most inspiring people and communities that always prioritised giving abundantly. It is nicknamed the Smiling Coast, and a popular saying is “it’s nice to be nice”. It was the first time I seriously thought about how I could selflessly serve the communities around me. I wrote a list that included being President of my African & Caribbean Society (ACS), increasing the number of Caribbean students in Russell Group universities, and starting a business/social enterprise.
I was very clear and intentional about making sure that people knew that I was Jamaican, and I existed in a space like King’s (I felt like I had something to prove).
I became President of KCL ACS in the 2017/18 academic year. An incredibly difficult year in which I got into a relationship (LOL), university was getting much harder, a close family member was diagnosed with cancer, and my work regarding access to university was intensifying. Oh, and I still had a huge society to run!
During this time I was suffering from anxiety that meant I couldn’t eat or sleep most nights, my heart was constantly beating out of my chest, and I was struggling to get out of bed some days. However, being high functioning, it meant that not many people knew and it didn’t affect the amount/the quality of work that I was doing. Until this particular academic year, I thought I was invincible and unshakable. I had therapy in 2018, which was refreshing and really helped me. After breaking up with my girlfriend this year, I had another period of therapy – this was a preventative measure, as opposed to a reactive one. I also took journaling seriously, and it has absolutely transformed my life.
A tangent: put in the work now so that your future self will be happier and healthier.
In 2018, I also decided that I wanted to do more. As much as I enjoy Medicine, and I still want to help people in Jamaica, I started to question whether being a doctor was the right move. The truth is, I still don’t fully know. I try not to think about it too much because someone said to me: “careers are made in hindsight” so I will continue to make good decisions, and I will end up where I am supposed to be.
"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." - Proverbs 3:5-6
I do know, however, that I want to spend my life building sustainable and scalable products/services that genuinely and measurably improve the lives of the people that need the most help. This is what I measure all new opportunities against because it is so easy to get involved in things you’re not supposed to because they sound good.
Fast forward to today. King’s has made access for Caribbean students a priority, I have co-founded a social enterprise, I have worked with schools and organisations all over London, and I’m alive (we thank God!). I have been able to connect with so many people that continually inspire and drive me to do/be better. Most importantly, I am becoming the purposeful man that I have dreamt of.
This decade has not been easy at all. I’ve lost friends and family; I have fumbled many bags; I have failed many times, and nothing has gone exactly as I have planned it. I’m grateful for all these experiences because these are the things I have been able to learn from.
Going forward: The next decade for me is all about building and maintaining deep relationships, scaling projects and ideas, and enjoying all seasons of my life. I can't tell you what my life will look like at the end of 2029. All we can ever do is keep the faith and put in the work.
God bless you all and have a sensational New Year *clink clink*