Tragedy shaped Anthony Okereafor’s teenage years. Two of his friends were killed in separate knife-related incidents in 2008.
The easy option would have been to rebel against a society in which such things were happening, to turn his back on hope and instead embrace bitterness and anger.
Anthony chose the more difficult route of fighting against the status quo in which young people in the London Borough of Newham were being lured into gang culture and were carrying a knife as a matter of course.
A NASSA player since the first impromptu basketball sessions in Balaam Park in 2005, Anthony decided to set up the Carry A Basketball Not A Blade (CABNAB) initiative to try and educate his peers on how to cope with the temptations they faced.
Anthony enlisted NASSA’s help in persuading one of our supporting partners, Tate & Lyle Sugars, to fund school-based basketball sessions which incorporated knife awareness talks.
The extra-curricular sessions feature basketball skills training but also include the mentoring talks to help the young people understand how to avoid being sucked into gang culture.
These school sessions now reach over 2,000 schoolchildren each week in schools and colleges across East London. In addition, Anthony developed a CABNAB workshop which is incorporated into the Newham Juniors Citizens programme run by the Metropolitan Police.
Anthony explains: “CABNAB is all about breaking down divisions between youngsters from different postcodes and between youngsters and the police. Too many young people are dying just because they happen to walk into the ‘wrong’ area.
“If we can get to the youth of today before they slip into gangs or are involved in gang culture itself, getting them to do something positive and constructive like basketball, the impact will be a life with great prospects and positivity.
“To change just one young life is an achievement, but to inspire many is a success. This scheme has inspired thousands of young people and has shown it works.”
The wonderful work fostered by Anthony’s vision of communities in Newham not being torn apart by knife crime has helped contribute to a dramatic decrease in knife crime in the Borough.
In August 2013, the Metropolitan Police reported a 46% reduction in serious youth violence and knife-related crime in Newham. Still, though, 11 young people lost their lives in Newham as a direct result of knife crime in the preceding 12 months. In the 12 months to August 2014, that number dropped to six. Even more hearteningly the last 12 months have seen it drop to zero – no young person in the London Borough of Newham has lost his or her life as a direct result of knife crime in the 12 months to August 2015.
“It’s wonderful news that no family has had to endure the heartache that follows such a tragic event,” says Anthony. “But we have to keep working and educating young people so that no young person dies as a result of knife crime in the next 12 months, and each year that follows.”
In January 2015, Anthony received recognition for his CABNAB work from the highest office in the land when he was named as one of the UK’s Points of Light by The Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron .
In a letter to Anthony, The Prime Minister wrote: “Sport has a fantastic power to change lives. By founding Carry A Basketball Not A Blade you have given young people a safe place to be and are raising awareness of the dangers they face if they choose to carry a knife. You have engaged an impressive number of young people and schools in your important campaign.
“I believe it is my duty as Prime Minister to hold up examples of great volunteering and service as an inspiration to others. Through your hard work and dedication you are making our communities stronger and our country a better place. On behalf of the whole country, I hope this Points of Light Award can be a small way of saying thank you.”
The award came as a shock to Anthony, who has since been invited to No.10 Downing Street to meet Mr Cameron.
Anthony says: “It was amazing and very humbling to receive this award from the Prime Minister and then to meet him, but it really belongs to everyone at Newham All Star Sports Academy (NASSA) for their commitment to our young people.”