British boxer sends message of support to bullied Syrian refugee

When boxer Fes Batista saw the video of a ...

Posted: Dec 2, 2018 10:38 PM
Updated: Dec 2, 2018 10:38 PM

When boxer Fes Batista saw the video of a teenage Syrian refugee being taunted and pushed to the ground at a school in northern England as other students looked on, it brought back a flood of painful memories.

The 28-year-old, whose real name is Mohammed Faisal but is known by his nickname, knows only too well the impact bullying can have. He said he came "within millimeters" of taking his own life after being taunted over his Asian background while at college.

Bullying

Societal issues

Society

Violence in society

Continents and regions

Europe

Northern Europe

United Kingdom

Education

Middle East

Middle East and North Africa

Syria

Syria conflict

Unrest, conflicts and war

England

Discrimination

Racism and racial discrimination

The fact that the Syrian boy, identified by his family's lawyer only as Jamal, was bullied in Batista's own West Yorkshire hometown of Huddersfield made the video more personal to him. It also impelled Batista to offer any help he could.

"I was absolutely devastated for him and it made me absolutely determined to reach out to him at all costs," he said.

Batista, who is trained and managed by American boxing legend Roy Jones Jr., splits his time between Huddersfield, a multicultural town northeast of Manchester, and Pensacola, Florida. He aspires to a world championship title and is living life to the fullest.

But things could have been very different. He never suffered racist abuse growing up in Huddersfield, he said, but when he went to university in another, less diverse town in northern England his experience of racially motivated bullying was horrific.

"They openly called me a terrorist, openly threw stuff at me, one girl spat in my face -- I remember that," he said. "I was boxing at the time -- it doesn't matter how tough you are, these things crush you from the inside. You can't clench your fist and say 'I'm going to fight you' -- it's something way more powerful."

Batista credits hearing a Lady Gaga song as he was preparing to take his own life with restoring his will to live. Now, he speaks in local schools against bullying and works with top-flight soccer club Huddersfield Town to spread an inclusive message.

The boxer hopes that hearing how he turned his life around and realized his dream of becoming a professional boxer will help Jamal and other young people like him. He's reached out to Jamal's family and hopes he may get to offer support in person.

"I want to send that message to him and to other people who are suffering bullying and are rock bottom," he said. "I can feel the pain he felt. These people most likely haven't been there. I've physically been where he's been."

Outrage and support

The incident from October at Almondbury Community School has shocked people in Huddersfield and prompted concern that an undercurrent of racism might be rearing its head in the community.

But it has also led to a surge of community support for the 15-year-old boy and his 14-year-old sister, who was also bullied at the school, according to the family's lawyer, London-based Mohammed Akunjee.

Supporters rallied outside the school on Thursday and a GoFundMe page set up to help the family had received more than £155,000 (about $197,000) in donations by Saturday, surpassing its target.

"Jamal and his family are doing well," Mohammed Tahir, the founder of the GoFundMe account said Saturday on Twitter. "I have passed along your heartfelt messages to them and they are very touched by your kind words and welcoming approach."

Speaking at the G20 summit in Argentina, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said what the boy had gone through was "absolutely terrible" but that the public response shows that the British are a "welcoming people."

The headteacher of Almondbury Community School, Trevor Bowen, said in a statement Friday that the school, which describes itself on its website as "inclusive," was treating the matter with the "utmost seriousness" and that students' safety was paramount.

"We can confirm that, contrary to statements you may have seen, the school has been working with the police and the local authority for several weeks in relation to the recent incidents," he said. "Be assured that any issues are dealt with quickly. We do not tolerate unacceptable behaviour of any sort in our school."

West Yorkshire Police say a 16-year-old male suspect has been interviewed about the October 25 incident and will appear in a youth court.

Kirklees Council, the local authority which covers Huddersfield, called the alleged bullying incidents "very serious matters" and that it was working closely with the school and police. "Our shared priority is the safety and welfare of all students," a spokesman said.

Impact on the boy's family

Jamal and his family, who are among a number of Syrian refugees in Huddersfield, are said to be considering using the donated funds to move elsewhere in Britain.

They had fled from Homs in war-torn Syria to Lebanon, said Akunjee, before being settled in Huddersfield under a UN program in 2016.

That's when Sleman Shwaish, a Syrian refugee who himself came to Britain in 2012, first got to know the family, as he acted as an interpreter for them. Since then, the relationship has developed into friendship, said Shwaish, who now works as a refugee service coordinator.

The alleged incidents at the school and subsequent furor have had a big impact, he told CNN. "I cannot describe how the family are feeling now, they cannot think straight. It's so difficult to deal with," he said.

The boy told Shwaish he couldn't stop thinking about what happened. "He would say sometimes, 'I was just having a nightmare and I cried and I didn't want to show my dad I'm crying," said Shwaish.

The boy and his father made a brief appearance as a small group of supporters gathered outside the school on Thursday.

"Thanks for everything," the teenager told them as he left. CNN reached out to the boy's family but they declined to be interviewed.

Shwaish's own experience in Huddersfield has been very positive, he said. He suffered racial abuse in other British towns when he first arrived as a refugee from northeastern Syria, including having eggs thrown at his window, but that changed when he came to Huddersfield.

"For me it was the best of places in the UK," he said, adding that he chose it because of its reputation as a multicultural town with a good university.

"Since the day I arrived in Huddersfield, I've been so welcome. A lot of people showed me support, they helped me with so many things I needed."

Another Syrian refugee in the town, Reda Alsous, told CNN of receiving a warm welcome after arriving in Huddersfield from Damascus nearly five years ago. He now works for Amazon and in his sister's cheese factory while continuing his studies.

"Since I came here I lived with my family in an area full of English people called Crosland Moor and have lots of English and international friends," he said.

A diverse community

Huddersfield, which lies between Leeds and Manchester, is the largest urban area in the Kirklees borough. Grand Victorian architecture in the town center signals the area's history as a major manufacturing center, particularly for textiles.

That history and the town's bustling university have contributed to the ethnic and cultural diversity of the area. As of January 2017, more than a quarter of schoolchildren across Kirklees were of Asian or British Asian origin.

Waseem Riaz, of the Kirklees Faith Network, an independent group working for community cohesion, said the overall picture of race and faith relations in Kirklees today is very good compared with past decades, with race "not really an issue" for children.

"A lot of schools have done a lot of work over the last 15 or 20 years to break down those barriers," he said. "We've moved a long way from the 1960s and 1970s, where if you were a black or Asian person walking on the street you had to be very careful that someone didn't give you a punch in the face."

But he does fear that social media is helping to promote far-right views which could tap into some roots of prejudice.

"The far-right have been active in Kirklees for the past 50 years under different political names," he said. "Now they are using social media and their rhetoric obviously appeals to a tiny minority. But by and large, the picture is very positive."

Huddersfield has also been impacted by recent high-profile trials involving men of Asian origin grooming vulnerable white girls for sex, which has led to an unfortunate focus by national media on community division, Riaz said.

Recent figures from West Yorkshire Police show a significant rise in racially motivated crimes. Riaz, who sits on a panel that studies racial incidents in Kirklees, believes -- like the police -- that that is largely because of greater awareness are more people being willing to report incidents.

But he is also concerned that the pressure on schools to meet tough literacy and numeracy standards could mean school leadership teams have less time to focus on community cohesion.

Meanwhile, Batista is confident that his beloved hometown will weather this latest storm. And he'll carry on doing all he can to promote inclusiveness and kindness in schools.

"Huddersfield is a very tight community. People look after each other in Huddersfield," he said.

Huntsville
Broken Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 65°
Florence
Scattered Clouds
66° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 66°
Fayetteville
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 66°
Decatur
Few Clouds
65° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 65°
Scottsboro
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 66°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 16530

Reported Deaths: 591
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2124112
Jefferson1712100
Montgomery154134
Tuscaloosa67813
Marshall6689
Lee53332
Franklin5147
Shelby48419
Tallapoosa41864
Butler39213
Chambers34924
Madison3184
Elmore3137
Walker2991
Baldwin2819
Etowah24411
Dallas2443
DeKalb2413
Morgan2311
Coffee2241
Lowndes22210
Sumter2136
Autauga2053
Houston1884
Bullock1833
Pike1790
Colbert1612
Russell1590
Marengo1556
Lauderdale1532
Calhoun1523
Hale1517
Choctaw1488
Wilcox1347
Barbour1321
Clarke1292
Randolph1257
Marion11911
St. Clair1161
Pickens1014
Talladega1003
Dale990
Chilton971
Cullman960
Greene924
Limestone870
Winston820
Covington771
Jackson752
Crenshaw722
Bibb711
Henry712
Macon712
Washington666
Blount581
Escambia493
Lawrence460
Geneva400
Conecuh351
Coosa351
Monroe352
Perry350
Cherokee342
Clay272
Lamar210
Fayette130
Cleburne131
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 21679

Reported Deaths: 356
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Davidson489460
Shelby4718107
Trousdale13934
Rutherford111622
Sumner85245
Hamilton71915
Bledsoe6081
Williamson53310
Putnam4615
Robertson4412
Tipton4303
Lake4130
Wilson3878
Out of TN3794
Knox3575
Bedford2744
Montgomery2613
Rhea1980
Hardeman1940
Madison1752
Loudon1370
McMinn13614
Macon1243
Cheatham1180
Cumberland1111
Dickson1100
Fayette1102
Bradley1081
Blount893
Maury810
Sevier762
Washington750
Coffee680
Unassigned670
Wayne630
Gibson611
Monroe612
Sullivan602
Hickman570
Lauderdale561
Dyer500
Franklin491
Greene482
Anderson391
Marion381
DeKalb370
Grundy321
Hawkins312
Haywood302
Smith301
Hamblen302
Henry300
Marshall301
White300
Obion281
Jefferson280
Carroll271
Meigs260
Overton260
Weakley260
Lincoln250
Lawrence240
Warren220
Cocke200
Carter191
Jackson170
Morgan170
Cannon170
Campbell171
Roane160
Crockett162
Perry160
Johnson160
Polk150
Sequatchie150
Henderson140
Humphreys131
Chester120
Fentress120
Giles120
McNairy120
Scott110
Stewart110
Hardin112
Claiborne90
Houston80
Benton71
Grainger60
Clay60
Decatur50
Van Buren40
Union40
Unicoi40
Moore30
Pickett30
Lewis30
Hancock10

 

 

Community Events