RARE  RISINGSTARS 2014 The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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No. 1



Politics, Social Enterprise and Community Activism
Melvin Mezue

Kenny Imafidon has jumped some of the highest hurdles imaginable to become one of the emerging leaders of his generation.

He had a tough upbringing in Peckham, south London, in a single parent Nigerian family. Living in an area where ‘it was much harder to avoid the gang culture than it was to get involved’, Kenny found himself on the wrong side of the law at a young age, after committing a string of minor offences around the local area. In spite of all this, Kenny left Kingsdale School with 12 GCSEs and actually took five of them in Year 10, a testament to his academic ability. After achieving his results and finally realising the depth of his potential, he determined to make real efforts to get involved in his chosen field of politics.

By his own admission, his numerous emails badgering Greater London Authority (GLA) member Valerie Shawcross CBE to give him work experience bordered on harassment. Thankfully, she recognised something in the 16 year old’s determination and gave him a chance. A week in her office was quickly followed by two weeks with Harriet Harman MP when she was leader of the Labour Party and, with ambitions to study PPE, it seemed as though Kenny’s life was back on track.

"I might not seem academic on paper, but I believe it is about finding ways to allow people to express themselves. There is beauty in that."

It wasn’t long, however, before tragedy struck. Three of Kenny’s friends were arrested on New Year’s Eve 2010 for a string of serious crimes, including murder. Kenny himself was somehow implicated and charged the following May, a matter of weeks before his final A‑level exams, and he found himself in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution. Undeterred, confident of his innocence, and in the hope that justice would be done, he became the first person to take A level examinations whilst an inmate at Feltham.

He started with no textbooks, no teachers, no past papers and very little chance. However, despite the pressure of a possible 30‑year sentence, he went on to pass his A‑levels and was eventually acquitted half way through the 8 week trial, after being remanded in custody for six months. Although he had lost out on his original places at university, and university fees had since tripled, he was able to secure the Amos Bursary three‑year scholarship to study Law at BPP, with the support of his sponsor and community organiser Viv Ahmun. Since then, Kenny has gone from strength to strength.

Wanting to use his experience as a force for positive change in the lives of others like him, Kenny determined to write a report advising on social policy. He was introduced to John Pitts, a foremost academic specialising in criminology and anti‑violence strategies in relation to young people, and told him of his desire to write a report that married academic theory with real‑life experience. Professor Pitts was initially unsure of Kenny’s ability and told him that he should consider writing a small article for a website instead. Undeterred, Kenny went away and wrote the first draft on his own. When he brought the draft back, Pitts – bowled over by its scope, depth and resonance – agreed to support him.

"I am passionate and committed to changing hearts and minds. I want to be the catalyst. These are the things that money can’t buy."

Kenny is now the award‑winning author of two prominent and major reports into youth and social policy on a variety of issues, which have been heavily referenced and resulted in a request for him to write an article. It was printed in the New Statesman in May of this year.

As a trustee and director of the British Youth Council, he and his colleagues represent the views of 7 million young people across the council’s networks, and he has had the opportunity to advise various organisations, politicians, civil servants and government departments. He is currently working on a report for the Europe Commission, in partnership with representatives from the governments of Poland, Lithuania, Germany and Israel, on how to engage more young people in social action and political participation across Europe.

After interning for three months at Coreplan, a social policy consultancy, he has recently been made a partner at the firm, and he is also the chair of a social enterprise called ‘Push Your Passion’. His ambition is to eventually embark on a career in national politics and become a Member of Parliament – with everything he has achieved and overcome at such a tender age, who would bet against him? Yet Kenny’s final words are humbling ones, as he refuses to take the sole credit for his success thus far and, instead, attributes it to the people who influenced his life:

"It takes a village to raise a child. It is because of my immediate family as well as those in my wider family – my community, mentors and friends – that I have advanced to the position I am in today: standing on the shoulders of giants."

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