I first met Gwenton Sloley back in July 2018.
I was covering a Youth Summit event in Croydon on behalf of my radio station where I am a presenter. In attendance would be a variety of speakers, MP’s, and high ranking MET officers. It was due to be a daunting task but I was up for the challenge.
I did not recognise Gwenton’s name and honestly had not done any background research on him specifically. I remember thinking whilst waiting for the event to start that he had to be Jamaican. I’m sure no other island in the Caribbean has such a love for names ending in ‘ton’ and ‘roy’ like Jamaica does. I somewhat chuckled to myself with amusement but with also endearment.
When Gwenton eventually came onto the stage, I was somewhat in shock due to how young he was. Based on his name I assumed he would’ve been at least 55 or so. This is the exact reason why we shouldn’t make assumptions, I noted to myself.
Throughout Gwenton’s time speaking, I was literally blown away by his presence and authority. He spoke about the problems with young people involved in knife crime as being part of an addiction. This was an entirely new concept for me as I had not long finished my four part episode on Serious Youth Violence and Knife Crime (see previous blog for the podcast). At that very moment I thought ‘I need to have this man on Love Laid Bare!’.
Whilst I waited with anticipation to speak to Gwenton, a lady who appeared to be his bodyguard/manager told me that he was leaving now and wouldn’t be able to speak to me. There was literally no way I was going to let this man go without speaking to me first. I cannot remember what I said or the face of desperation I pulled, but she eventually obliged. The anticipation had now turned into full blown anxiety. Although I was nervous, I also knew that I would chase him down with my photographer if I had to.
Please bare in mind, I am not media trained and had never gone out on the field to interview anyone before.
Whilst everyone else had been generally quite warm and at least cracked a smile, Gwenton was the opposite.
During our short interview, Gwenton’s responses were blunt and to the point. He corrected me on some loose terms that I had used and I remember thinking to myself ‘bloody hell, you’re a bit of a tough cookie aren’t you?’.
I managed to get past my initial feelings of awkwardness from being corrected and his general air of ‘go away and leave me alone’ with my feelings still intact. This felt like the longest interview of my life!
Eventually, during our chat I noticed a slight change in his energy. Only slight.
He probably at that stage, looked at me, my £30 microphone attached to my phone and realised I was just a mere rookie and not from an actual news broadcaster.
I was surprised he actually obliged to take pictures after our short interview. Every time the camera clicked I nearly died because I didn’t want the blame for him being kept behind.
When we sat down for this podcast interview, he did explain that he was a bit ‘out of sorts’ due to losing his business partner a few days before.
Fast forward a few weeks (and with sweaty palms), I got into contact with him again. I proceeded to ask whether he would be interested in being on my radio show and in a round about way, he said yes! I almost couldn’t believe it.
It was all triumphant fun and games until I started to do my research preparation for the radio show.
Gwenton was not just someone that worked with young people and wrote books. Gwenton had been on TV lots of times.
He had been on the news, documentaries, featured on the front pages of The Times and The Guardian.
Why did he agree to speak with me on more than one occasion? Suddenly the feelings of self doubt and all those ugly words crept in, but it was too late to back out at that point.
I learned a lot about his hard exterior after reading his book, which may I add, is as much relevant now as it was when it was originally published.
We did the radio show and even had fun with it in the breaks. He wasn’t that stern after all.
Fast forward a month or so and we sat down for several hours recording this episode in my mothers front room. Upon entering he immediately went to take off his shoes and insisted on doing so. I smiled inwardly, acknowledging that despite his turbulent past as a youngster, this was a man who had been given a traditional Jamaican upbringing and still practiced the basics to this very day.
Alhough I had read his book and had him on my radio show, there were naturally some things that I wouldn’t know about Gwenton.
He opened up about the time he thought about committing suicide whilst in jail. I never expected to hear that from him. However, it just goes to show that even the toughest of us have a breaking point.
We reflect on the time when he was forced to remember the sexual abuse inflicted on him by his sister. His coping mechanism was to bury it so far into the back of his mind that he thought he may have made it up.
He has no qualms in admitting his fears, wrong choices and how his emotions have gotten the better of him at times. He is honestly a beacon of hope and inspiration for so many young black men that have gone off track. His perseverance to always lead and be a better version of himself is admirable. His key to manifesting what he wants is to keep negative energy away and remain positive.
There are so many gems in this interview, everyone can take something away with them.
I want to personally thank Gwenton for giving me this oppurtunity and also for unknowingly being a little bit hard on me. I had to learn to build a bit more resilience and not take his demeanour personally.
If I had allowed my fear to take over, I would never know his backstory as well as all of the amazing work he is doing all over the UK.
His story needs to be heard on as many platforms as possible. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to share it also.
This episode is split into two parts and its imperative that you listen to both.
Listen on Apple Podcasts below:
Listen on Soundcloud – If you are having problems getting onto the links below!
If you are affected by any of the issues discussed in this podcast, please visit our resources page for a list of support services including his organisation, Crying Sons.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy this episode.