BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
LONDON, England — Growing up in a single-parent household in Nottingham — a city labelled the third most violent in Britain — could have meant a different outcome for 41-year-old Andrew Palmer.
In the late 1970s when his Jamaican parents separated, Palmer's mother was left to raise five children on her own in a neighbourhood dominated by gang and drug activities.
But when he was approved as one of the few blacks among 8,000 persons to carry the Olympic torch around Britain last month, Palmer could only credit this accomplishment to his mother's Jamaican background as a disciplinarian which ensured that her children did not go down the path of doom.
"We grew up on strong Jamaican discipline as she was all about instilling our Jamaican heritage in us," Palmer told the Jamaica Observer.
So entrenched was he in the Jamaican culture that Palmer recalled that it was not until he was in his 20s that he started eating non-Jamaican foods, having grown up on a diet of cornmeal porridge and Saturday soup, among others.
It was that solid background which Palmer said helped to steer him from the path that many of the neighbourhood kids had taken.
"Being brought up in the inner city, our mother made sure we never got involved in crime, drinking or drugs like some of the kids I went to primary school with," he said.
But while he was proud of completing college and establishing his own graphic design business, he was convinced there was still more he could do.
"I wanted to help kids get out of these areas, and sport was the vehicle to get them involved," he said.
Palmer therefore set up a programme to tackle gun and knife crimes as well as to address the issue of teenage pregnancy.
Two years later, the programme was reviewed by the Government and the stamp of approval was given.
"It is a very small city, and to be third in the country for crime was not a good thing because I was seeing around the area where young people were involved in crime, and to think that my nieces, nephews and son could one day be influenced by that, I had to do something," he said.
So severe was the situation at one point that a community group appointed him mediator to intervene in gang wars.
"They wanted me to wear a bullet-proof vest and go out and mediate between the gangs," he explained.
The programme is reaping great success as Palmer said many of the 228 kids who have passed through the programme have secured jobs as coaches and are helping other at-risk youths.
"We have got kids from inner cities who are now professional footballers who were going down the road of crime," he said.
Palmer said he gets a lot of youth, who are from West Indian and particularly Jamaican background, in the programme.
"We tend to get a high number of them because of the single-parenting and the fact that there are no fathers as role models around in many of these households," he said.
The day he carried the torch, Palmer said he took it to a number of schools to inspire kids to want to excel in like manner.
"Out of the 8,000 torch bearers there have not been a lot of blacks, and I put that down to the fact that people [were] never nominated, but we need to stand up and be counted as we have the chance now, more than ever, to put ourselves out there," he said.