Daniel Mendes: The Beacon of Hope!
By Ben White
The ‘unknown’ is a danger to those young and naïve, not knowing the consequences for your actions can lead you to you making decisions rash and bold, as you try and play ‘the cool card’ to appease the peer pressure put on you by your daring childhood friends.
For Daniel Mendes, the above echoes the sentiments of his youth. From school suspension, smoking weed and drunken street brawls to becoming a Southern Area Champion in boxing, an aspiring poet and an Alternative Provision Officer, Daniel has set the blue print for ‘how to turn your life around’.
After speaking with Daniel to assemble this piece, I can be sure that you will relish the read and heap praise on a man who has reinvented himself to become something out of nothing.
Daniel grew up on a cul-de-sac in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham and when asked to recite the memories of his time in Sparkhill, he recalls them fondly:
“My years in Sparkhill remind me of the innocent stage in my life when I would be playing outside with my friends, and all the parents knew each other.”
There was one particular memory from Daniel’s childhood that has always stayed with him, despite at the time not recognising the stature of the opportunity which would befall on him, the significance has been realised in years gone by; Daniel reveals:
“My greatest childhood memory involves a great man who I was blessed with the opportunity to meet, Nelson Mandela. This was in 1993, soon after his release from prison when he paid a televised visit to my school and I was honoured to be one of the lucky few to have the responsibility of shaking his hand and welcoming him to, ‘The Nelson Mandela School.”
“I did not fully acknowledge the significance of this man due to my age but I remember my parent’s reaction upon hearing of his visit and their further jubilation when hearing that I was chosen to greet him. Their pride in me resonated.”
Childhood became somewhat bittersweet for Daniel, following his relocation from Sparkhill to Small Heath where he would step foot into the unknown and at the same time become a teenager.
It was around this time when Daniel was introduced to boxing by his Dad (a former professional boxer). Unfortunately, deterred by the distractions of teenage life, Daniel took a different path and speaks with regret on the actions of his past:
“When moving to Small Heath, I met my teenage years and the filter I had on my life in Sparkhill had abandoned me. Suspensions and eventual permanent exclusion from school became my reality, defiance embraced, alcohol and weed became a key ingredient along with friends alike, and I became involved in the shadowy side of life.
“If I could change one thing in my life I would have found focus earlier, quit the weed and regular binge drinking sooner, followed instructions at school and started boxing at a younger age.”
“My permanent exclusion from school was like a virus of disappointment that spread across my family, my Mum and Dad most notably. They idly pleaded my case to the Head of School but I was wrong, I had to accept that.”
At the age of 16, Daniel and his Mum relocated once more, this time to London, to be with Daniel’s Step Dad who his Mum had just married. Daniel resented the fact he had to leave Birmingham but having had no other living arrangement, he reluctantly made the move.
Incensed by what had happened, Daniel put pen to paper to describe how he was feeling and in doing so discovered a knack and a love for something… poetry. He explains:
“I was angry, I had no friends, new surroundings, and as I lay in my step Dad’s office I wrote my first poem, an angry one full of obscenities. I wanted to be proud of what I had written; I wanted to show my Mum.”
The feeling of wanting to be proud again and to show his Mum what he had created emphasised a change in young Daniel, it indicated his desire to write the wrongs of the past and this was clear when Daniel explained further:
“I wanted my name to breed smiles rather than frowns.”
I asked Daniel whether he could pinpoint a specific moment that made him turn his life around to which he responded:
“My dependence on cannabis came to an unexpected end after hearing a speech from a gentleman which rang home. The story he told me was of a time when he was going away on a trip with a group of kids and one of the children challenged him to a race. He reminisced his own childhood and remembered that he used to be a fast runner and so he came to the conclusion that there was no way this child could beat him.
“The young boy then beat him in the race. The gentleman shared his after thoughts, and said that he once had a gift; we all have a gift be it physical, mental or spiritual. It’s our purpose not only to find it but to nurture it, and if we don’t find it, it will slip away, just like the ability to run fast.
“Having held records from 100m-800m during my time at school I reflected, related and concluded that alongside my weed addiction I would not accomplish a fraction of my potential. I returned to my group of friends and told them I had quit and to their dismay, they told me I had been brainwashed, that I couldn’t do it and that smoking is who you are. From that moment I never smoked weed again.”
It transpired that Daniel’s capabilities went beyond poetry and running, in fact aged 20 he went on to study Sports and Leisure management at Staffordshire University, following a stint at college where he made up for lost time.
Alongside his studies, Daniel reintroduced himself to boxing and signed up to Staffordshire University Boxing Club with the goal to lose his beer belly. His coach at the time Ian Smith and gym mates fed Daniel’s ambitions and enhanced his confidence to the point he became an amateur boxer representing Queensbury Police ABC.
He then opted to take his boxing further and as a result he sacrificed his University studies before turning professional. Daniel’s professional record currently stands at 10 wins and 2 losses and as a man of progression he has his sights set on boxing for the English title having previously claimed the Cruiserweight Southern Area strap.
Boxing, Daniel says:
“Has taught me the importance of structure and discipline but also to respect anyone who makes sacrifices and dedicates large portions of their life to building something positive; those who have found their purpose and are thriving to reach their full potential, in whatever walk of life.”
Alongside his boxing career, Daniel works full time as an Alternative Provision Officer, which involves working with children who have been or are at risk of permanent exclusion; he uses this position and his past failures and current successes to help motivate and inspire the children.
Daniel’s ambitions for the future are: to have a book published of his poetry, to build a homeless shelter and to visit Ethiopia. This is a man who started with nothing, so just remember wherever you are in your life, you can always become something!