Tony Rutter is a good friend of mine and I'm SO pleased that he's decided to share his story with my readers on my blog. How perfectly apropos for the month of November, in my opinion.
"Against all the odds" - My story.
You do not have to be limited by your circumstances!
I am founder and director of a small and, mainly, self-funded international charity called You Can Thrive, http://www.you-can-thrive-charity.org.uk/Pages/default.aspx
I have followed an unusual sequence of stepping-stones, against all the odds, to unshackle myself from my limiting circumstances in childhood. Whilst I am comfy sharing my story with friends, I have never before shared it with unknown others like this. My story may move you, and it may inspire you to do whatever it is you want to do. My story illustrates how you can not only embrace difficulties from your past, you can also use them as a rich resource of motivation to both choose and act so that you achieve what you want in your life in the present, and for the future.
Born to an English mother and a West Indian father in Birkenhead, Merseyside at the end of the 1950’s, I didn’t have the best of starts in life. Their parents felt they would experience difficulties in England at that time if they remained together, so they split and I stayed with my mum. When I was about one, mum moved to Liverpool and met my Nigerian step-dad, and soon they had my two half-brothers. I have vivid memories of these early years, and especially ‘dad’’s stories about Nigeria, South Africa and apartheid. We followed a ritual of respecting food because “many Africans did not have much food”. We had to eat every single scrap, and this extended to licking our plate clean, as a sign of appreciation. Before I was five, mum suffered from her first nervous breakdown, and we three boys went into foster care for a period. Soon after, mum and ‘dad’ split, and as a young white woman with three mixed-race boys, she took us to live in Bermondsey, South East London.
Not long after, mum met my English step-dad and they soon had my half-sister and brother. Our new ‘dad’ did not treat us very nicely. He picked on us every day, especially me because I was the eldest: He instructed me that I was responsible for my two brothers and their behaviour. I became accomplished at cooking (dad was a chef in the territorial army), changing nappies, making bottle feeds, and I was a dab-hand at operating launderette washing machines and tumble driers. No doubt, this is from where the nurturing part of me stems.
There were so many unsavoury incidents at home, I shall spare you the detail, though a flavour can be sampled from our bath-times, where dad would scrub us with carbolic soap and that big, nasty hard-nailed brush mum used on the front door-step. Whilst scrubbing us, we would cry because of the pain, and 'dad' would recite “get white you black bastards”.
My two brothers and I were the only black kids (‘coloured/half-breed’ if polite or “niggers”, if not) on the Council estate, and we were subjected to daily incidents of racial discrimination, arguments and fights. We were feral kids and we always went out to play as a pack of three. Quite simply, it was us against the world. It actually became the ‘norm’ for our house to have broken windows, and dog-poo put through the letter box. Due to the problems we had with all of our neighbours, who didn’t want us anywhere near them, we had what seemed like weekly visitations from our ‘extended family’, the police and social workers. Alas, there was no appreciation of diversity or harmony in those days, so it should come as no surprise to hear that my poor mum suffered from another two nervous breakdowns.
By the time I was ten, the social workers realised that our white step-dad struggled with racist tendencies, inflicting daily physical abuse on me and my two mixed-race brothers. ‘Swift’ action was taken to split the family, with me going to a state-run boarding school for “maladjusted” children. The boys at the boarding school refuted this, saying that it was for ”children with maladjusted parents”! My brothers and sister went in and out of children’s homes, as did I during the weekends and school holidays. The boys at the boarding school could not understand my family. “Oi, how comes you have got a white mum and dad, two black brothers, a white sister and a white brother? It resembles the circus coming to town”. As a ten-year old, I felt humiliated. I answered questions about my family every time I returned to boarding school on a Sunday evening, when my family would accompany me after a weekend at home. When I explained that my mum had my different dads, they called my mum a “slut”! This pierced me inside, though I learned that I just needed to stand tall and be who I am. I didn’t need to take on any associated hurt from anything unkind that others said.
When I was 13, mum left dad and she returned to Liverpool with my brothers and sister and I stayed on at boarding school and in super children’s homes on the Kent coastline. Sadly, as an adult, I discovered that one of my brothers believed at the time that I had abandoned them when I chose to remain at boarding school. GULP! For me, boarding school was very strict, but a ‘doddle’ because there were rules and expressed penalties, all of which made sense to me. I felt safe and happy. Every Thursday evening, the boys would learn their ‘fate’ based on their behaviour record for the week. The house parents would read out the names of those boys going home for the weekend which they greeted with great cheers and smiles, and those who had to stay at school for the weekend, because of non-compliant behaviour, would cry. It was an evening of mixed emotions, especially for me because I had tears if I learned I was going home, and was happy when I had to stay the weekend. Consequently, I learned the rules ‘off-by-heart’, manipulating them so that I stayed most weekends!! The house parents and school teachers nick-named me the “back-room lawyer”, because I would stand up for the boys’ rights when I felt there was an infringement of the spirit of the rules by the adults (the cheeky little blighter I was!). By comparison, life at ‘home’ was chaotic and nothing made sense.
You see, although every day at home felt a little like a physical and emotional obstacle course, with me and my brothers needing to think on our feet to survive, we had adventures and fun surviving: The scarier part was our unpredictable home life, with the racial slurs aimed at us on streets a comparative safe haven! Looking back, my over-riding childhood memory is that it was adventurous and happy. I know that I have blacked out some of the most disturbing memories, though being tied up and locked in a dark coal cellar under the stairs is a rather stubborn one to shake off. I cannot say that I experienced much love. However, I did enjoy instances of great care and kindness around me from social workers, boarding school house-parents, teachers and the carers in the children’s homes.
The existence of clear links between my childhood and adulthood are not lost on me. At school, my favourite subjects were community education and sociaI studies. After school, I studied psychology out of interest. Over the next twenty years, I became and worked as an Internal Auditor for an international registered charity, during which I was fortunate to travel the world, experiencing many cultures, including wealth and poverty. Also, I married and divorced twice, and had four children, the last of whom was an adopted son – a choice we made. Later, I became a life and business coach, as I wanted to support others in the achievement of their dreams and goals, and this developed rather organically into involvement in charity work.
A year ago, I became the founder of my own charity, You Can Thrive. I run this charity in my ‘spare time’, as I work full-time with the Crown Prosecution Service. You see, my professional career mirrors the comforting rules and need for compliance which rescued me at boarding school, as well as the back-room lawyer finding a means for promoting justice and fairness in my world. My social life is concerned with caring about communities which I enjoyed studying at school - because it is not something I experienced much as a child. I just want to give others what I didn’t have as a child: A love of humanity.
Nevertheless, and based on my experiences at home, and abroad especially, I appreciate that I was extraordinarily fortunate to have as rich a childhood as my own. This is how I regard my past. Your past is what it is, and it provides a rich resource for your choices and actions in the present and future even when it is against all the odds. Are you using your past as a positive resource and motivation for your present and future?
Running the You Can Thrive charity is enabling me to be creative with my life as a service to others, and in my next blog, I tell the story of my charity and the communities it supports.
*****This is Shelly again......
In this month of Thanksgiving, I urge my friends and family to read my friend's post with a thankful heart. Not only should this put things into perspective for most of us, but I hope it will inspire you to join us in this project Tony has created. Give what you can! I know any monies donated will be used wisely and will be most appreciated!
Tony also belongs to a Facebook Group page, where you can join and be part of the wonderful movement he has created along with some friends:
Together, we CAN change the world~ one person at a time. Way to BEGIN, Tony!!!!