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Alton Brown, alumnus, MSc Development Studies

Alton is an international karate competitor who is pursuing his dream of competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. He graduated from LSBU in 2013

I joined LSBU through a sports scholarship programme. I was a Martial Arts athlete at the time and had been competing for England since I was 17, so any university I chose had to have a decent sports programme with good facilities.  LSBU really worked for me, and as a bonus, it was in central London. I even stayed in halls for the duration of my studies, which I know is unusual for a student born and bred in London.

Inspired by LSBU staff

Senior Lecturer Frances Trought is someone who inspired me as a student, and who I still keep in touch with today. She had a way of inspiring students to challenge perceptions. She really wanted students to understand their own thinking, made things seem easy and allowed us to believe that no dream was out of reach. Even after I had left LSBU and shared with her my dream to fight for Jamaica in the Olympics, she came down to my workplace and helped me write a marketing strategy to help me get there. I have a team of people around me helping me to get to the Olympic Games and she chairs the meetings they all attend.  As far as role models go, she is amazing.  She genuinely cared about student development and she continues to care for my success.

When you’re on a sports programme, it’s difficult for tutors to understand how you use your time, so my Liaison Officer Dave Cooke, now head of the Norwegian Taekwondo team, was key in negotiating my flexibility with tutors.

Alton's experience

Although I went to LSBU with a grant from the National Lottery as I had won a title, I still worked for The National Theatre and Time Out whilst studying for my undergraduate qualification.  Both roles were voluntary but I got paid in theatre tickets. I also taught karate in a girl’s school to earn extra cash.

My first year after graduation involved a lot of low-level jobs. I waited restaurant tables, continued teaching karate, volunteered in the Tricycle Theatre in North London, and stuffed envelopes for marketing companies. However, one thing I did learn is that it’s so important to share your dreams because you never know who's listening. I spoke with one of the mothers at the karate class and she just happened to work for the Daily Mirror in the marketing team. She submitted my CV, but I was offered the junior role beneath the initial position I’d applied for. The job offered £20k, I asked for £28k and got laughed at, but they came back with £22k and I joined the team. I hated it. It was so cutthroat and high pressure. Colleagues often went home crying. I stayed for seven months.

One thing I will say is, do not belittle work experience because the free labour I’ve done has led me to amazing paid roles like working for the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, and even the Roundhouse where I was Head of Partnerships and Relations.

Karate an Olympic sport

When karate was announced as an Olympic sport I, was working fulltime at the Southbank Centre but I knew I had to give it a go. I had tried so hard to get karate recognised as an Olympic sport and even though I was actually ready to retire, I had worked too hard for too many years to walk away. My main goal is to make history for Jamaica and to build a legacy so young people behind me can blaze the trail. I’m all about developing young people through sport. I have an opportunity to make an impact with Jamaica and I’m not going to waste it. My brother was killed several months ago in Basildon and things for me really shifted.  He was only 21 years old. I want to create a legacy for his life, and what better way to honour him than by lifting others up.

Call to help others

It’s my calling to help others and I see myself in a lot of young people. Karate gave me the opportunity to leave East London and exposed me to a bigger world. I feel like my life needs to have an impact, and I’m most happy when I am able to support others to reach their dreams. I want to actively create opportunities for the next generation, and be able to have better influence. Soon I’ll be travelling to India to visit some young women who currently live in a safe house as their mothers are sex workers.  It’s a dangerous situation for them. The girls practice karate every day as a way to take ownership of their bodies, so I’m looking forward to teaching them.

I’m stressed most of the time, mainly because I care so much about what I want to achieve so I continuously focus on the points and steps I need to take to achieve my dream. Stress comes from work, being a dad, a husband, and an athlete, and trying to juggle being an athlete and a fundraiser at the same time adds to the stress. I refuse to give up, though. I was told I was too old to compete, but here I am. I have to protect my dream. The most difficult thing is protecting your dream - getting people around you to buy into your dream, that’s a skill you don’t get taught.

Meaningful journey

There’s a lot that scares me. Being financially stable is always at the back of my mind, but the fear of not doing everything possible to achieve what I want scares me most. Fear makes me act. Sport has taught me that if I put the work in I get the results, so I just need to keep putting in the work. I’m 35 and have lupus so this is my last year of competing. I’ve been doing it since I was 11, fighting for Jamaica is a dream come true. My family history is messy, so I didn’t think I would even get a Jamaican passport.  The whole journey has been incredibly meaningful for me.

My advice to anyone is, always look for opportunities to make a difference and impact.  Think about who benefits from your success, it’s not always just about you.

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Alton Brown has been profiled as Alumni of the Month for May 2019. Check out our current Alumni of the Month