June 9, 2023

Creating change through your story

Creating change through your story

Why sharing your unique story is the key to creating change in society

We live in an era that encourages us to share everything, from what we put on a plate to every thought that runs through our heads. While some people are happy to overshare, there are others who never disclose their vulnerabilities, trying desperately to hold on to their privacy and avoid unsolicited advice or savage comments from strangers. But when people have talked about painful or pivotal times in their lives online, we’ve also seen these stories grow into some of the most powerful posts on social media, which have lead to increased awareness of an issue and inspired people to create change.

Brandon Stanton who runs the Humans Of New York Instagram page is a good example of this. He interviews normal New Yorkers on the street then shares their moving, relatable and unheard stories, often leaving his 12 million followers in tears. Brandon also uses his platform to shine a light on issues close to his heart and regularly crowdfunds for the people he captures or the causes they fight for. He’s even taken the concept global, and with the help of his audience, raised millions to support underprivileged kids in New York, bonded labourers in Pakistani brick factories, refugees in Europe, orphans in Rwanda and so many others. His work really is a blueprint for how to create change in society.

Marcus Rashford is another great example. His sincerity comes through in all the hard work he does speaking up for kids living with food insecurity. His campaign really struck a chord with people because it came from a real place. Sharing his own story of growing up without much helped create change because people were moved, and they could relate to struggles in their own lives. People engaged with his posts at a phenomenal rate and Marcus’ efforts eventually forced the government into a U-turn.

For many people, I’m best known as the football player who was relentlessly mocked using blackface and a pineapple on Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football League in the 90’s. After experiencing weekly public racist abuse, I could’ve chosen to retire quietly and continue pursuing my interests as a coach, manager and football administrator but I knew I could do more. I’m certain most of my Black and Mixed-Heritage peers, and the players that have followed us, have experienced racist abuse but I don’t think anybody else has experienced it in quite the same way I did.

The uniqueness of my story motivated me to dedicate my life to learning how to create culture change in football.

I was determined that no other player would experience what I did, so I got myself a role in the Equalities department at the Professional Footballers' Association and started working. I used my unique insight to create a workshop that goes out to all first team players, teaching them what is and isn’t appropriate to say. It’s not just about the racially abusive language that we all recognise as off limits, but also the behaviour between peers that can often be dismissed as banter - even when it’s not cool.

Although it wasn’t easy, resilience is one of my core values, and I chose to use my story to create change. Instead of internalising the impact of this moment in my life, I have been open about how it affected me and my family, taken back the power in the situation and flipped the script to make sure nobody else suffers what I did. When I support players who have reported discrimination through The FA and legal process that follow, I can relate on a personal level and show them that these incidents don’t have to define them or the rest of their careers. The difference I’ve made through my work is clear to see, and to me that’s what creating social change is all about.

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