Within a couple of short years of leaving school some of Adeola Gbakinro’s childhood friends had gained themselves a criminal record.
Locked away from family, friends and the hope of reaching their dreams, it seemed to Adeola to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But unlike so many people, Adeloa didn’t think, “someone should do something about this,” she thought: “I must do something about this.”
Which is what makes the 24-year-old from Bexley, south east London, so inspiring.
Since then – in addition to holding down a day job with a charity, in early 2017 she set up Uplift The Next Generation – an organisation focussed on opening up opportunities for teenagers from underpriviliged backgrounds.
Through a range of masterclasses, panel sessions and networking events she aims to show teenagers that anything they want to achieve can be possible.
“When the boys I knew went to prison I realised that it wasn’t just something that had happened to them, it was something happening to so many guys round my area who went down that path,” says Adeola.
“I thought if I don’t do something to change things, then who is going to do it?”
Adeola had already been a volunteer with Girl Guiding and President of the Biomedical Society at the University of Wolverhampton where she had fought for greater career opportunities for students.
But still she found time to set up her first Uplift event – where she invited local teenagers and their parents to an evening where they met professionals from a range of careers.
Since then – in addition to holding down a day job with volunteering charity NCVO – she has repeated the events, set up a website and organised a series of webinars for teenagers struggling with motivation during lockdown.
The online programme includes practical support on things like writing a CV, organising finances and career opportunities, as well as advice on mental wellbeing and self confidence.
Adeola says: “There is a lot of uncertainty for teenagers at the moment, particularly with things like some of them not being able to take exams or not knowing if they not having been able to take exams or not know if they are going to get into university or apprenticeship.
“But there are a lot of organisations offering these young people opportunities too. It’s just sometimes these young people don’t know about them or feel they can never achieve – even if the opportunity is there.”
So how does Adeola remain positive – and transmit that positivity to the young people she works with?
“For me,” she says, “it is always about remembering my ‘Why?’ For example if I’m feeling demotivated I’ll think ‘Why did I start Uplift The Next Generation?’ or ‘Why did I start whatever it is I am doing?’ And then I focus on the end goal and think: ‘OK so this is where I want to get to, and even if there are obstacles along the way I’ll just keep going until I reach that goal.”
And those surely are words which must Uplift the Next Generation.