Ademola Adeyeba is an entrepreneur and founder of 1000 Black Boys, a social enterprise which aims to encourage black boys and young black men to discover their potential.
I came to London from Nigeria when I was nine years old. A friend told me before I left that the streets in London were paved with gold, and I got so excited to be able to chisel some gold off for myself. I was disappointed that the streets weren’t literally gold when I arrived, but the British food was so good that it still felt like an okay trade.
My new classmates at primary school immediately began bullying me for my Nigerian accent, and I became depressed. I was having to grow up away from my parents, living with my sister’s family in a completely new environment which was unfamiliar and hostile to me. It’s a really sad thing to admit but truthfully there were a few times when I considered taking my own life. I would go to bed aged nine with a knife, hoping that I would stab myself to death in my sleep. I decided when I left primary and went to secondary school that the only way that I could stop being bullied was by becoming a bully myself, as a defence mechanism. If anyone said anything I didn’t like, I would just fight them immediately. I got a reputation for myself in the school, which meant that more and more people were starting trouble with me. I got rushed once by a group of boys, and got a Doc Marten boot straight to my eye, requiring a hospital visit. I also ran away from home aged 17, and was so angry that I took all my school photos down from the walls and brought them with me, as if to erase my existence from the family. I worried my sister so much, which woke me up to the fact that people actually did love me. We were able to talk and rebuild our relationship after that, and my life changed for the better.
I was inspired to start a social enterprise out of a desire to make a difference to the younger generation of black boys and black men. The idea for 1000 Black Boys sprang from a few different occurrences in my life. In 2017, I was working in Chelsea and bought a paper on the way home. On the front page was a photo of a 15 or 16 year old black boy who had just been stabbed to death in Willesden. I found it so shocking and affecting, especially given how young the boy was. The news just broke my heart, and I knew then that I wasn’t okay with this. Then in 2018, my nine year old nephew was threatened by a classmate and chased after school. A friend of mine had a similar thing happen to his young nephew the following week, who was beaten up simply because he was from a specific area of London. I knew I had to start doing something to make a difference, to combat the culture of youth violence.
I wanted to come at this issue not from a place of anger or bitterness, but of inspiration and purpose. I wanted to find a way to give these young black boys images of successful black men who they can idolise and emulate in their lives. 1000 Black Boys was born.
We do two main things at 1000 Black Boys. Our inspiration and empowerment events were a simple but incredibly effective idea. Our first event of this kind was in June 2020. It was the middle of lockdown and people were really demoralised and downtrodden. We just wanted to give people a bit of a boost, and remind them of the joy in life regardless of their circumstances. We also do mentorship programmes, where we take boys on a journey of 6 sessions over five weeks. We give them tools and teach them the skills to grow their ideas into businesses. This helps them to have a better mindset and generate revenue and success for their careers.
We’ve actually reached more people by doing our events online since the onset of Covid, and we worked with about 5000 people in 2020. I am most proud of our first event, which was in March 2019. We didn’t have a venue until the very last minute and it was quite stressful pulling everything together, but I knew that we had to put this event on somehow because if we managed to save even one life it would be worth it. It was such a brilliant day, and our venue was packed with people. I couldn’t believe it, the energy and atmosphere was incredible. Towards the end, a woman who was there with her son started to panic as she could see that her son wasn’t engaging, and he was going to leave. She was desperately asking me to talk to him as she was so worried about his future. I had a chat for a few minutes with this boy, and I saw that something in him changed and his worldview had shifted in a positive way.
We’re all about dealing with the cause, rather than the symptoms. That’s why we always make our events open to parents as well as young people, because relationships between parents and kids is one of the key ways to transform the conversation around youth violence. We relate to men through our dads and to women through our mums, so we support and involve parents just as much as children. We give parents a different way to communicate with their sons.
People love the speaker line-ups. In one of our January events we had a 13 year old boy as an inspirational speaker. He is already set on being a businessman, and he has so much passion and confidence for his business and his future. He made a huge impact at the event because he was a peer to these kids.
I do coaching so I meet a lot of different people, and especially since the pandemic, I find that I can see a lot of fear in people’s eyes. It seems like many are very afraid and demoralised right now. And my first piece of advice to them would be that if you’re still breathing then you’re still in the game. Being alive is a gift and it’s never too late to make changes and take action. Remembering that will give you a better quality of life. Also, I read a report recently talking about how under-25s were going to have a much more negative outlook on life than previous generations. Relying on mentors and getting advice from older, more experienced people can benefit young people so much in terms of their outlook and motivation.
Childhood trauma is the root of a lot of youth violence. On the flip side of that, when there is a reinforcement of love, encouragement and support in the home for children, we create incredible leaders. Young people make up 100% of the future, so why don’t we look at them from that perspective? We reduce crime and antisocial behaviour when we inspire young people and help them to realise their potential.