'We need to embrace our differences, not be fearful of them'
I’m glad I have the opportunity to help celebrate Black History Month but I have to say, for me Black History Month shouldn’t just be a month - Black history should be part of the school curriculum that allows people to educate themselves in order to move society forward.
We fall into the same traps of people not understanding or fearing other cultures, other ethnicities, other skin colours and all because it is just the unknown or because it is not what we are used to or have experienced in our lifetime or because of experiences in the past, which maybe our parents have gone through. It just creates a whole debacle which I believe can be eradicated with education.
I was fortunate because Black history and Black culture was always preached to me by my family first, with my grandad, and then when I went to community centres and youth clubs. We would play football, watch football and then at the end of a Champions League match we would sit there for nearly an hour and a half debating Black history.
When I was younger there was a guy called Spencer Joel and every day he would preach to us for about half an hour and we would say to him ‘Spence, the Champions League is about to come on- now!’ and he would still be preaching but through that we could educate ourselves.
I am not saying that I am perfect when it comes to Black history and I also need to continue to educate myself, not just on Black history but we have many other ethnicities in and around Liverpool – it is a very multi-cultural city.
For me the main role models were those in my area, those community leaders, because they were the people putting the ground work in to ensure that us as children didn’t carry the baggage that they probably did growing up.
Liverpool is a predominantly white city but Toxteth is very multi-cultural and it has a great core of different ethnicities and different faiths so it has a wide-ranging demographic. This was important for me growing up, to understand different cultures and understand how certain people have grown up and what is the difference when they become Westernised and how us as Westernised people can help to make it feel like home, even if their cultures have transcended from somewhere else, which for me is important.
It is nice that people are now viewing me as a role model. When I was younger I didn’t have an understanding for how my football career, the actions in which I take and how I conduct myself can have an impact on somebody else’s life – I couldn’t fathom that.
But as I have got older and I have matured, it is a humbling experience for a young child to come up to you and say ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up’ – it is amazing. But I always say ‘don’t be me, be better than me’ because I always feel like there is so much growth that we can have as individuals.
The world is changing. Countries are becoming more multi-cultural, and we need to have an understanding of the differences and embrace them, not be fearful of them.
I think the last year or so has been huge with everything that has happened and all the conversations which we have been having. It has been impactful not just for us in England but worldwide. It is a movement that needs to keep on moving and we can’t forget where we have come from and where we need to go because we have made footsteps but they are not big enough in my opinion.
We are still experiencing racism, discrimination and inequality to this day and we see it during the men’s Euros and we see it every other Premier League game when the guys take the knee and there is booing - we still have plenty of room to grow.
For me, the taking of the knee is massive. It has a significance in understanding that as footballers you have the opportunity and a platform to speak for those who can’t be heard. It is also a way of showing that our society needs to move forward. Right now we are making tiny steps but I will say it again, those steps are not big enough.
We have to keep having the difficult conversations no matter how difficult it gets because we all have to have a better understanding on how we can move society forward and how we can get the best out of every individual.
We need to try to understand each other and not be scared by maybe not having an education behind us, because then we limit what we say, when we say it and who we say it to. If we do that then we will not have the impact that we need.
In the coming years, I really hope that things move forward and people aren’t discriminated against due to the colour of their skin and are no longer seen as a threat because of the colour of their skin or they lose an opportunity of a job or a promotion based on their gender, their ethnicity, their sexuality or anything like that.
Those kind of factors should not come under consideration because we are all human beings first of all and no one should ever be hindered by who they are and never feel ashamed about who they are as a human being.
Our differences should be celebrated.