alton brown (msc Development Studies, 2013)
Alton Brown

Alton is embarking on a difficult but truly rewarding journey in representing Jamaica as a Karate athlete in the 2020 Olympic Games, his passion for impacting the lives around him will help him reach his dream.

"I joined LSBU through a sports scholarship programme, I was a Martial Arts athlete at the time and had been competing for England since I was 17, any university I chose had to have a decent sports programme with good facilities and with the bonus of being in central London, LSBU worked for me. I even stayed in halls during the duration of my studies which I know is unusual for a student born and bred in London.

There are two people from LSBU who not only inspired me as a student but I still keep in touch with today. Senior Lecturer Frances Trought; she had a way of inspiring students to challenge perceptions, she really wanted students to understand their own thinking, she made things seem easy, allowed us to believe that no dream was out of reach. Even when I left LSBU and shared with her my dream to fight for Jamaica in the Olympics she came down to my workplace and helped me write a marketing strategy to help me get there. I have a team of people around me helping me to get to the Olympic Games and she chairs all those meetings – as far as role models go, she is amazing, she genuinely cared about student development and she continues to care for my success.

When you’re on a sports programme, it’s difficult for tutors to understand how you use your time, so my Liaison Officer Dave Cooke, now head of the Norwegian Taekwondo team, was key in negotiating my flexibility with tutors.

Although I went to LSBU with a grant from the National Lottery as I had won a title, I still worked whilst studying for my undergraduate qualification. I worked for the National Theatre and Time Out, both roles were voluntary but I got paid in theatre tickets. I was also teaching karate in a girl’s school to earn extra cash.

My first year out after graduation involved a lot of low-level jobs; I waited restaurant tables, continued teaching karate, volunteered in the Tricycle Theatre in north London, stuffed envelopes for marketing companies’. However, one thing I did learn is that it’s so important to share your dreams because you never know who's listening. I spoke with one of the mothers at the karate class and she just happened to work for the Daily Mirror in the marketing team and submitted my CV, I had an interview but was offered the junior role beneath the initial position. The job offered £20k, I asked for £28k and got laughed at, but they came back with £22k and I joined the team. I hated it. It was so cutthroat and high pressure; colleagues went home crying often. I stayed for seven months.

One thing I will say is, do not belittle work experience because after all the free labour I’ve done its led me to amazing paid roles like working for the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House and even the Roundhouse where I was Head of Partnerships and Relations.

When karate was announced as an Olympic sport I was working fulltime at the Southbank Centre but I knew I had to give it a go, I had tried so hard to get karate recognised as an Olympic sport and I was actually ready to retire, but, I had worked too hard for too many years to walk away. My main goal is to make history for Jamaica, make a legacy so young people behind me can blaze the trial. I’m all about developing young people through sport, I have an opportunity to make an impact with Jamaica and I’m not going to waste it. My brother was killed several months ago in Basildon and things for me really shifted, he was only 21 years old. I want to create a legacy for his life, what better way to relive him by lifting others.

It’s my calling to help others, I see myself in a lot of young people, karate gave me the opportunity to leave east London and exposed me to a bigger world. I feel like my life needs to have an impact, I’m most happy when I am able to support others to reach their dreams, I want to actively create opportunities for the next generation and be able to have better influence. Soon I’ll be traveling to Varanasi, India as an ambassador for a fantastic charity called FairFight, to teach sport karate to an amazing group of young girls, some of whom are victims of sex trafficking, drug trafficking and extreme poverty. A substantial proportion of the girls have families who simply cannot afford to send the girls to school and Varanasi itself suffers from a horrendous child prostitution racket. The girls practice karate daily and I’m really looking forward to passing on some of my skills.

I’m stressed most of the time, mainly because I care so much about what I want to achieve so I continuously focus on the points and steps I need to take to achieve my dream. Stress comes from work, being a dad, a husband, an athlete and just trying to maintain is difficult and trying to juggle being an athlete and a fundraiser at the same time adds to the stress. I refuse to give up, people tell me I can’t do everything but each time I come back stronger, I was told I was too old to compete but here I am. I have to protect my dream. The most difficult thing is protecting your dream, so there’s something about getting people around you to buy into your dream, that’s a skill you don’t get taught.

A lot scares me, being financially stable is always at the back of my mind, but the fear of not doing everything possible to achieve what I want scares me most, but in turn, the fear makes me act. Sport taught me that if I put the work in I get the results so I just need to keep putting in the work. I’m 35 and have lupus so this is my last year of competing, I’ve been doing it since I was 11, fighting for Jamaica is a dream come true, my family history is messy so I didn’t think I would even get a Jamaican passport, the whole journey has been meaningful for me.

My advice to anyone is, always look for opportunities to make a difference and impact and think about who benefits from your success, it’s not always just about you."

Find and contact Alton on LinkedIn.

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