Marcellus Baz grew up around gangs, dropped out of school, and was set for a life selling drugs. Today, UNISON’s police and justice conference heard the story of his unpredictable life.
Marcellus explains that, as a boy, he didn’t enjoy being at home. “My dad was always out, trying to put food on the table, but he didn’t realise we needed some direction and love: we never saw him.
“My mum was suffering from horrendous mental health problems. Once she gathered us together and said we were going to jump in the river and kill ourselves.”
Because of his home life he spent a lot of time on the streets. But the streets were full of gangs, drugs, violence and little else. So he took the predictable path, selling drugs, getting excluded from school, getting in trouble with the police.
It was when he was running from the police one day that he came across a leisure centre where people were boxing. Intrigued, he joined in. Taking up the sport was the beginning of changing his life.
“The boxing gym was a safe environment, it was the first time someone put their arm around me and said ‘well done son, you’re good at this’. Because I had never been good at anything.”
He was so good at boxing he was on course to become a professional – even a champion. But something went wrong.
Not entirely free from the gang life, Marcellus was attacked. Putting his hands in front of his face, boxing-style, he protected himself and saved his life, but the damage to his hands meant his career as a professional boxer was over.
Instead of returning to crime, though, he turned to education. He got a qualification in injury rehabilitation and, after struggling to find a job, he eventually began working in a leisure centre.
There he met other young people like himself, who had difficult lives and needed direction. He realised he could help them, and set up a boxing gym to give them focus.
Marcellus then set up a charity that focused on mentoring for young people who need role models. “I decided to do this because there was a real need in the community. And because of my personal pain – isolation and neglect.
“I didn’t want other people to go through what I went through.”
The success of these two organisations – The Nottingham School of Boxing and Switch Up – is extraordinary. Because of their success in changing the lives of young people, Marcellus has worked with the police, probation, and the Home Office. He has travelled as far as Norway, Brazil and LA to give talks on how he did it, and he has been awarded the BBC sports personality unsung hero award.
He has had famous athletes visit his gym and can cite ice skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean as patrons. Prince Harry has visited and, last year, Marcellus was given awarded the British Empire Medal for services to youth boxing and the community, and met the Queen.
Not bad for someone who dropped out of school.