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Ashleigh Evans: You don’t have to be a product of your environment

6th March 2019
Growing up surrounded by gangs, drugs and violence, Ashleigh Evans had has fought against her environment to now give back to girls like her as a Head of Social Sciences at an inner city secondary school.
 
“I wasn’t blessed with a strong role model, in the sense of career aspirations. My Mum worked very hard but always did non-professional jobs like cleaning, eventually doing care work. My Dad was absent in the main so it really was me, my Mum and my older brother and sister. We lived in an area that had a significant of gang culture, I remember one day my best friend in Primary School just didn’t show up. Turns out her Mum got murdered and I never saw my friend again.
 
We were relatively well protected from things, it wasn’t until my teenage years that I was really exposed to things that no youngster should see. I’ve seen crack and cocaine being cut, women running naked, screaming through the streets as they’ve been victims of serious sexual assault. One of my closet friends was shot and murdered at 15. I’ve been in a car when my mum’s friend had a gun held to his head by a guy who he had sold drugs to. This was just accepted as part of parcel of the area I grew up in. Fortunately it wasn’t accepted by my Mum!
 
The one event that still haunts me, but drives me in equal measure is looking out of my bedroom window late at night and hearing a woman almost howling and being loud as if she were drunk. The next minute she sits down and is completely calm, in a state of zen like euphoria. She’d had her hit of heroin and everything was OK again in her world. Her world, my world. Surely that was the same thing?
 
After seeing that, I vowed that wouldn’t be me. I wanted more for myself and my family. Children shouldn’t see things like that out of their bedroom window. My Mum basically had two full time jobs, one to provide for us, the other to stop us becoming products of our environment. 
 
I was lucky because I was sporty, I was more interested in playing football instead of selling drugs like some of my friends. I started playing tennis after winning a citywide competition, I got free coaching for a year and was one of the most promising juniors in the country but tennis is an expensive sport. Whilst my Mum did everything she could there just wasn’t the money to fund it. We also didn’t fit in, and at the time we didn’t fight against that feeling. We were a different social class, scraping to get by in a world we didn’t understand, we felt as if no one really wanted us there.
 
A positive from tennis was seeing these ‘rich’ people, it gave me the hunger to push myself and break the cycle. I quit tennis at 15, which was catastrophic and the closest I ever came to throwing it away. I lost my confidence, I stopped fighting for more, stopped attending school and started on a slippery slope.
 
Along the way there were a huge amount of times I could have followed my friends, assumed that my environment was all I was worth. My Mum is still formidable, she made sure we had structure and discipline, I don’t where we would all be without that.
 
Even then there were times when imposter syndrome got the better of me. I was offered a Scholarship and turned it down to go to an inner city secondary school. I didn’t believe I belonged there, didn’t believe they’d picked me because of my ability.  I sometimes wonder what may have happened if I had gone to a different school. Fortunately, I’m one of the few people I grew up with whose decisions haven’t turned to regrets and defined me.
 
I was offered a place at college to do my A levels and get myself back on track with my education, believe it or not, the connection came from tennis! Small world. I worked hard, got my A levels and went to Loughborough University gaining a 2.1 in Sociology. I’ve also since got a law GDL also. There is a running joke with my friends that I have had loads of careers. Some of that is down to not feeling good enough, not having enough confidence to be in circles that are different to what I’m used to. That is as a result of my experiences but I work hard to fight against that underlying feeling.
 
Teaching sociology is a massive role for me because it helps children to understand society, what they might experience, what others might experience and why. Ultimately my aim is to help them change society. Mostly to do with class, gender and ethnicity issues. I couldn’t be more passionate about those issues.
 
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