A redemption story: From troubled youth to Downing Street

Arrival Education have known Shafik Ali since he was 14.  Like many young men from challenging community situations, Shafik has battled to break free of the difficulties inherent in his community. All who know him look forward to seeing how his career unfolds.  Shafik is studying Chemistry, at the University of Surrey and is currently looking for a placement in the environment or low carbon energy field. 

Shafik Ali - A Redemption Story
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Town called malice - a challenging start

Growing up a British Asian Muslim on one of London’s most troubled estates, the Mozart Estate, in West London, the pressure to fit in was crushing.

On my estate, the currency was violence. Who was the toughest, hardest, the most dangerous? It was a culture of ‘eat or be eaten’. I just wanted to survive, to fit in.  I couldn’t rise above it so I joined in. In fact, I excelled at being bad. 

At 12 years old my father passed away. I blamed myself. He left behind 4 boys and my mum with no income. We were desperate. So I stole and dealt drugs to feed us.

At 13, I was escorted from school to the police station as I brought a knife to school.

By 14, I had multiple appearances at youth and magistrate courts. I was put ‘on tag’ by the crown court.

The local police knew me by my first name and I had my solicitors number on speed dial!

I carried a knife, I sold crack-cocaine and I didn’t care about anyone. It wasn’t good.

New model army

When my dad died, I latched onto the men on my estate. I wanted to be liked. But I also wanted to be like them. Have their power. To create the same fear in others.

Looking back, I didn’t make a great deal of money. It’s amazing how many drug dealers live with their mums and have a car on lease. Although I had a reputation, I wasn’t going anywhere. I was also playing with fire. Every time you’re stabbed, it’s a roll of the dice. I was lucky. Unlike many of my friends I survived. Just.

However, it was a series of moments that shaped my future.

 

Arrival partnered me with a coach – James Arnold, now Chief Client Officer at Investec. He was Jewish and didn’t care that I was Muslim. He listened and took an interest in me. He was really smart. He could put things in a way that made sense. I will never forget his generosity and kindness.

Shafik Ali

Chemistry Student at University of Surrey

The dice rolled deuces

My best friend was stabbed to death over… well, basically nothing. It showed me how I had taken ‘fitting in’ too far.  We didn’t even understand what we were doing, or why. It was mindless stuff. 

But then I  was selected for Arrival Education’s Success for Life programme. Game changer. I was given loads of amazing opportunities and exposure to top corporates.

Arrival partnered me with a coach - James Arnold, now Chief Client Officer at Investec. He was Jewish and didn't care that I was Muslim. He listened and took an interest in me. He was really smart. He could put things in a way that made sense. I will never forget his generosity and kindness.

Things started to change for the better

At 16, I won funding to fit-out a local youth gym on my estate.

I was invited to Downing Street twice - first to meet then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown to talk about the new Green Economy and a programme I did with The Eden Project and then again, after my GCSEs to meet with the deputy PM, Nick Clegg.

I was on BBC National news talking about my good school grades.

At 19, I’d booked over £250K of legitimate business in my gap year job.

By 21, I bought my family a house in Bangladesh.

Arrival Education allowed me to see a different life. With different sorts of people. Doing different sorts of things. I was now on the inside looking out for once, and not the outside looking in. I was listening to real success stories that made it feel like I too could achieve things and change my world for the better. 

A new perspective from up on the hill

When I was a kid, I would break in and smoke on the top of the tallest local building block on the estate and look at The City.  In the distance, you’d see all these glass buildings, and wonder, what happens there? Who works there? What do they do? How do earn a living? And what do you need to do to have the top office?

I was looking at what I now know to be The Gherkin.

Who knew that one day, thanks to an event with Coutts through Arrival Education, I would be inside the Gherkin looking back across to my estate? 

I was looking back at my estate, but also my past in a way. It allowed me to reflect on the distance I had travelled. It gave me some perspective. 

I made a decision to do more than simply accept the ‘hand’ I was dealt. I wanted to be successful in spite of all the voices, who said I would never amount to much, waiting for me to slip back. It’s hard to break out. It takes courage to break the cycles.

I no longer was willing to be poor. I stopped wasting time. I didn’t want my children to see or do the things I’ve seen or done, in order to feed my family. It brutalises you. I think it took Arrival a long time to help me be open. To stop being so angry. Stop being such a smart-ass!

 

Wasted youth, wasted capital

Don’t get me wrong. I learnt a lot of things surviving my estate. The hustle, drive, perseverance and persuasion. Fast decision-making, under insane and dangerous pressure. These were skills we learnt on the block. I become very good at numbers and looking for an angle. Those qualities are part of my DNA. They are things you cannot learn through normal academics. No one can teach you that stuff. 

There was so much talent in my community. It breaks your heart to see it wasted because they don’t know how to apply their talents. Programmes like Arrival’s only come along once in a blue moon. My luck was that I managed to grab it and hold on. Most don’t.

I once looked up the name of the person my estate was named after. We all learn to play on the things put in front of us. Mozart just did it better than everyone else. Perhaps given what I had to play with, he would have been proud of me? 

About the author

Shafik is studying Chemistry, at the University of Surrey and is currently looking for a placement in the environment or low carbon energy field, in finance or research. Please email us if you can help. 

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