Damilola Taylor's father talks to Rio Ferdinand 20yrs on from son's death

IT was a crime that shocked the nation and made headlines worldwide.

Ten-year-old Damilola Taylor was killed on his way home from an after-school club at the local library, ambushed and stabbed in the leg with a broken bottle.

He managed to crawl to a stairwell on the council estate where he lived but tragically bled to death.

The senseless attack, carried out by boys not much older than him, happened just four months after he had moved to England with his family from Nigeria in hope of a better life.

Rio Ferdinand grew up on the estate in Peckham, South London, where Damilola was killed. In the month of the tragedy 20 years ago, he had become Britain’s most expensive footballer, transferring to Leeds United for £18million.

The England ace made a direct appeal to children for information about the youngster’s death. Brothers Danny and Ricky Preddie, aged just 12 and 13 at the time, were eventually convicted of Damilola’s manslaughter in 2006.

Rio’s TV appeal was the start of a long friendship with Damilola’s parents Richard and Gloria. At his suggestion, they set up the Damilola Taylor Trust, which runs projects to help children and young people who are vulnerable to gang and knife crime.


In 2008, Gloria died from a heart attack aged 57. Richard, who has worked as an adviser to Gordon Brown and Boris Johnson, has continued campaigning to improve the lives of youngsters.

Eight years ago, BT Sport pundit Rio set up his own charity, the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, which runs activities and works with sponsors and partners to help with education and employment.

Rio, 42, and Richard, 72, have set up the Hope Collective, a network of 21 youth organisations, businesses and organisations to highlight the positive contributions of young people.

Here, ahead of Friday’s 20th anniversary of Damilola’s death, the pair discuss the tragedy’s impact and what needs to be done to ensure other young lives are not wasted.

Rio: It must be difficult with the anniversary coming up and then Damilola’s birthday. How do you and your family cope with this?

Richard: It has been 20 years but the grief never goes away. It’s a lifetime of destruction. The support we have received from people has been wonderful.

They took the tragedy as if it affected them personally. We feel so grateful to them. And I want to thank you, Rio, for the role you played. You were the first person to call.

After you came up with the idea for the Damilola Taylor Trust, you turned up with a cheque to help set up the charity. It was a huge sum of money.

As hard as it is not to have Damilola here, we are trying to turn our pain into something positive. We cannot bring our Damilola back but we can try to create hope for other young people.

You grew up in Peckham, on the estate where Damilola was killed, and went to school with Stephen Lawrence. What impact did their murders have on you?

Rio: They left a definite imprint in my mind, on my character. It really brought home the cold reality that in the area where we were brought up, there is violence.

You had heard stories from people in different areas across the world where this stuff happens, but not on your doorstep.

Richard: After Damilola’s murder, you made the public appeal and later supported myself and my wife in setting up the Damilola Taylor Trust. What prompted you to do that?


Rio: I am from that community and I was somebody who had a platform, who had leverage in the media to be able to bring this to light and to make people understand that these things happen and the severity of it.

There were other people I knew that were getting in trouble with the police.

There was violent stuff that happened on the estate that I grew up on so I had seen stuff like this, but not a young kid being killed in a stairwell. That wasn’t what I was used to hearing.

When you are in my position — at the time I was an England international — I just felt it was something I should do. I am in a privileged position and you have to use that for good.

How do you wish others to reflect on the 20th anniversary of Damilola’s death?

Richard: What matters to me is not just focusing on the tragedy of that day but what we have achieved over the past 20 years. For this 20th anniversary, and every anniversary, let’s give young people hope.

You may be weighed down with some issue or mistake but it’s not the end of life.

There are still opportunities. You have many years on this journey and a lot of mistakes to make but you still have to carry on because where there is life, there is hope.

Never give up, chase your dreams. Your destiny is in your hands. That’s the message I want to give young people.

For example, Rio, you have successfully made an impact as a result of the struggle and challenges you have had to go through and today you are one among many in the UK doing good.

You have played your part and are now leaving a legacy for younger footballers like Marcus Rashford to take over from you. It’s something that’s achievable for other young people.

I want people to think about that this year as we remember Damilola. We are very hopeful that the future is bright.

You know that I’m a Manchester United fan. Marcus Rashford has been tremendous with his “free school meals” campaign and promoting reading and literacy among children.

The Black Lives Matter movement has also been supported brilliantly by footballers. Do you think our young superstars in sport, music and the arts can make a difference to challenge social ills?

Rio: Marcus Rashford is proof that you can make a big change and you can do it at government level. I think that’s the difference now.

I would love to be a player now because the platforms are so big. With social media you can make change because you can get people alongside you.

You can get people that are like-minded who you can touch and feel through social media who can have a big impact.

So I think the responsibility now for these players is bigger than ever with these issues, because we have seen that they can make change and they can create movement and they can disturb and disrupt for the greater good.


Richard: Growing up, were there opportunities for you to go down the wrong path? And what were these?

Rio: There definitely were. I think that for every child who comes from an estate in disadvantaged areas, there is always that time or point in your life where there is a fork in the road.

You get a choice to go one way or the other. The group of friends I had, I am friends with all of them now. They were all at my wedding last summer.

Some of these guys, and other friends who I’m not in contact with now, there were moments where we would be playing football, the game would finish and then it would be like, “We are going to go here and do this”, some type of badness and I would say: “No, I’m not going.”

I was very fortunate that I had strong parents. My mum and dad were very prominent in my life, so I always had someone to answer to if I made the wrong choice, whereas other kids weren’t maybe as lucky.

Richard: Like many other youngsters in Peckham, Damilola looked up to you and wanted to be like you. Do you feel a responsibility to be a positive role model to young people?

Rio: I do now. I think when I was younger, I wrestled with that a little bit. When I got thrown into the spotlight I was only about 17 years old and it is hard to understand that responsibility comes with that.

So I made many mistakes. And it is important to let young kids know that you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes.

It could be any mistake, big or small. You are going to get a door closed in your face, you might shrug your shoulders and think: “Where is the next opportunity going to come?”

Don’t let yourself fall into a negative state of mind. It’s not the end of the world. You can come back and you can make a positive outcome for yourself.

I got told I wasn’t good enough for England aged 15. I didn’t wallow. I didn’t sit there and think: “Oh my god, I’m not good enough.”

It was always a wake-up call. “I have to work harder and improve so I won’t get knocked back again.” And eventually I went through the doors.

Damilola would have been 31 next month. What do you think he would think of us speaking now?

Richard: He would not have believed it! Damilola was very active and he loved football so much. He was a Manchester United fan. I encouraged him, as they are my team too. I can still picture him running around in his Manchester United shirt.

Rio: A recent documentary saw Damilola’s friend Yinka Bokinni, now a Capital Xtra Radio DJ, reconnect with others from the estate. What was it like to watch, particularly seeing how they have progressed?

Richard: It is wonderful for me to see. It is what we hope for every young person and gives me hope for the future. It is heartbreaking that Damilola didn’t have that chance, but through the success of his peers and other young people, his legacy of hope lives on.

Do you feel you are proof young people are not necessarily a product of their environment if they have the right opportunities?

Rio: Yes, I am definitely proof that with a little bit of luck, hard work and with opportunity, things can turn out positively.


It’s about building the confidence in young people, getting them the right training and education, having the opportunity at the back end of it then them having the work ethic to make sure it all falls into place.

You’ve got to work hard to come out of the areas we are talking about. You don’t really get given anything. You have to work hard to be seen, to get the opportunity. You have to work hard to get the job and you have to work even harder to keep the job.

That is how I have always thought. I took that into my football career. You never get complacent.

Richard: How did your experiences growing up in Peckham inspire you to set up your foundation in 2012?

Rio: When I was with my friends, we would always sit in the stairwell or on the grass and talk about if any of us make it you have to come back and do something for the community.

My mum was very big into charitable work in the community and that filtered down to me. I wanted to give other kids opportunities. Today we have had around 10,000 kids that have gone through our Foundation.

They have received education, training and employment opportunities in a range of different industries. The important part of the Foundation as well, which is lacking in a lot of communities, is hope.

If you don’t create that environment for these kids they won’t be able to actively go out and look at opportunities and take them. Without the confidence, it doesn’t happen.

Richard: What challenges do you see in Britain today and how do you think we can solve the issue of drugs, knife crime and violence among young people?

Rio: If I knew the answer to that I’d be running the country! I think it comes back to creating a confident environment for young people.

We need to make sure these young people are looked after and they don’t end up feeling lost and separated from society, because the problem with that is that they start to make bad life choices. They think they need immediate, quick rewards, and that is where crime comes in.

I want to use my foundation as an example. At the beginning it was: “Oh, let’s bring these kids in and educate them.”

But then we quickly found that there wasn’t that next piece in the jigsaw in terms of having the opportunity for them to go into employment. So we created that next element, where there is the actual opportunity for a job at the end.

If we can create more hubs and more places like this for young people, it gives them hope to succeed.

You have talked about Damilola’s dream of becoming a doctor. What do you think he would be doing now?

Richard: He would have carried on his ambition to study medicine. He’d spend hours in the library and once did a sketch of an operating theatre he’d copied from a book.

I’m sure he would have pursued his goal of becoming a doctor. He would be working in the NHS and I’m sure he would have been very useful in this pandemic.

Rio: What was the inspiration behind setting up the Hope Collective?


Richard: Damilola was hoping to save the world in his lifetime. He had a very kind heart.

Shortly before his death, he wrote a poem inspired by his desire to see a cure for the epilepsy that his sister Gbemi suffered from.

The idea for the Hope Collective came about because we wanted to create a positive legacy for Damilola.

I can’t think of a more fitting tribute than his birthday becoming a Day Of Hope, a celebration of young people and their dreams.

Rio: You have spent 20 years fighting for change and how you have continued your work since that tragic time has been inspiring for me, so long may it continue.

Now we are recruiting a growing number of Hope Ambassadors — young people who are sharing their stories of ambition, hope and positivity for the future. What is your hope for the future?

Richard: As I get older and my health wanes, my dearest hope is that other people will continue the work we have started, that my beloved boy’s legacy will continue. That’s my wish.

We all know that there’s a need to change and we need to work together for that to happen, with young people at the centre of it all.

HOPE 2020

DAMILOLA was just ten days away from celebrating his 11th birthday when his life was tragically cut short.

December 7 – what would have been Damilola’s 31st birthday – will be known as a Day Of Hope in honour of his legacy.

So far, 45 young people from across the country have been selected to act as Hope Ambassadors in recognition of the work they do to support their local community.

The day will celebrate these youngsters’ inspiring efforts to encourage hope in these difficult times.

The Youth Advisory Group, made up of youngsters aged 18 to 25, will also be running a series of events from December 1 until December 7 bringing together young people to discuss topics such as the voice of youth, community action and wellbeing.

It is asking people to get involved in the campaign by joining an event and sharing their hopes for young people on social media.

More information at: hope2020.uk/get-involved

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