“I found Noel to be a truly inspirational man, whose story showed our young people the importance of not giving up…”
When Lincoln Moses MBE first came to me with the news that he would like me to accompany a group of Continental Star F.C. young people to Germany, I had a selfish thought. Would I like to run around Europe with these hyperactive kids that I already coach and mentor every weekend of my life? Of course I would, that is why I’m involved with the club after all.
My next thought was about the boys, and about opportunities. These boys come from a similar background to me, and I first got on a plane and left the country when I was 21 years old and able to fund it for myself; it was never an option for my parents. I was aware that for many of these young boys it would be their first opportunity to leave the country and see some of the world. For many of these boys it would be the first time they had been out of their concrete city environment, first time they had been away from their parents for this long and their first taste of real travel. I was definitely not going to miss the opportunity to facilitate and bear witness to what I felt would be a truly momentous time in these children’s lives.
In the weeks leading up to the trip to Germany I took the boys to a local studio, and recorded a song which I with their help and inspiration had written. The song is about racial equality and mutual respect for those who are different. Also during this time I had the opportunity to meet Noel Martin for the first time. I found Noel to be a truly inspirational man, whose story showed our young people the importance of not giving up when times get hard, but to fight on and create ‘good’ from adversity. Furthermore, Noel epitomized everything that is wonderful about forgiveness, rather than feeling vengeful towards his attackers, the country and the race to which they belong, he has used his story and his experiences to build bridges, so that such a tragedy may be avoided in the future.
It was only after taking the time to conceptualize the song “The World is Black the World is White” and meeting the man responsible for the visit, Noel Martin, that I got a true feeling for how important this trip would be. Yes, we had the experience of young people travelling for the first time; and the expressions on their faces; questions about airports; planes; currency and everything else travel related would have made the trip worthwhile in their own right, but the real experience went far deeper than this!
It didn’t hit me until two days into our soccer camp at BSC Preußen 07, when I was stood talking to the man in charge of our visit, just how important this visit was to both our young people and theirs. Micheal Rickman (the man in charge of our visit) tapped me and said, ‘look at those boys; that are what this is all about’. I turned around to see a young boy who had come with us and one of the German youngsters walking side by side, none of their other friends, knowing only one or two words of each other’s language and looking as happy as could be. All barriers of culture, nationality or language had been broken, they were friends and that was all that mattered to them. My initial reaction was that this was the beauty of youth, too young to be prejudice? Too young to care?
But was it youth? I was standing side by side with a man who I had met only 3 days ago, knew very little about and had very little in common with. But before these boys had walked along we had been stood for how long talking? An hour? Possibly more. We had debated and disagreed, we had joked and laughed, we had shared and listened, we had taught and learned, and we aren’t children we don’t have the naivety of youth. We have probably both been victims of prejudice, both victims of others prejudging us and of prejudging others and never getting to know them. On this occasion though, we had not prejudged, and had not been prejudged, we had been allowed to be ourselves and had learnt about each other. By the end of my time in Germany I was not talking to a German, white man, I was talking to Michael Rickman, a good man, a friend! I was no longer worried about struggling to understand the Hungarian man who had driven us from the airport on the first day; this was Ralph, a man with whom I had somehow discussed hip hop music without hardly speaking a word of the same language, a good man, a funny man, a friend!
So if I was asked about my experience in Germany, I would not talk about the football training camp, which was a very good one; I would not talk about the awe I felt when looking at the Olympic Stadium and considering the history of it. These were great experiences for me and the young people from Continental Star F.C., but to me they were merely the shiny surface of a deep learning experience. I saw young boys and grown men become friends with people they could barely converse with, I saw our youngsters lead by German youngsters who were only a few years older than them and in turn lead those German youngsters who were only a few years younger than them. I saw the racial equality and mutual respect that I had wrote about for the boys’ song and I saw a group of boys mature slightly towards becoming men, most of them without even realising. I was a part of this experience, a facilitator, a teacher, a student; and I couldn’t be more proud of that fact.
I feel like the vision of the Noel and Jacqueline Martin Foundation was to some extent realised during this visit and I feel that the charity has supported and facilitated the development of responsible, understanding and tolerant young men.