Akino Lindsay wants an Olympic Gold medal, badly. At 22 years old and already a two-time ISKA World Champion in Taekwondo, Tokyo 2020 is much more than just a dream. But even that is not the most remarkable thing about him.
What is most remarkable about the self-described big kid, is seeing him interact with children from the various inner-city communities. Akino coaches Taekwondo with Fight for Peace, a partner organisation of UNICEF, which uses combat sports to channel young people away from violence.
Fight for Peace
“Fight for Peace has given me a family away from my family. The kids they are amazing. It is a joy to come and teach them; not only to teach them but to interact with them, ask them how their day was, ask them about school, and get positive feedback like, ‘Oh sir it’s because we did something in class that made us feel comfortable’.”
He doesn’t have to do this work, of course; it’s a distraction from his own sporting career. But Akino is passionate about coaching, partly because he believes turning professional would take the fun out of his sport. It’s also because he’s found something bigger than himself, becoming something of a father figure to the children and young teens that are buzzing around him the day of this interview.
Becoming a father figure
We’re at a photography exhibition at the Institute of Jamaica where Fight for Peace has gathered children who took part in their recent photo project. Unfortunately, of the 12 youths involved, from the downtown Kingston communities of Fletcher’s Land and Parade Gardens, only a few have turned up to be able to enjoy their expressions now printed and displayed on the wall. That’s because of a recent upsurge of gang violence in Parade Gardens that recently claimed the life of an 11-year-old girl.
“The kids haven’t been coming to class as much and that’s understandable because you can’t ask them to come out in that kind of situation. This is the second time this has happened since I’ve been in Parade Gardens teaching and I really hope that it blows over quickly because stuff like that is not really fair to anybody,” says Akino.
Michael Johnson Youth Leader
From joining Fight for Peace one year ago he’s becoming an increasingly skilled coach. Strengthening his empathy with children he received training Fair Play Child Protection Training for Coaches by the West Indies Cricket Board and UNICEF. At UNICEF’s invitation, Fight for Peace recently nominated Akino to take part in the Michael Johnson Youth Leaders initiative where he received training from coaches specially selected by the former Olympic champion.
Spending time around Johnson and his coaches made Akino reflect upon his own Olympic dreams and served as valuable preparation to set up his own educational programme with Fight for Peace, called ‘Maths Ninjas’. The programme pairs two of his skills, unsurprisingly: Taekwondo and maths.
Maths first, Olympics second
“I really want to go to the Olympics. Oh my God, I want to go to the Olympics so bad; but before I go to the Olympics I want to start Maths Ninjas and get it up to a level where it can sustain itself,” says Akino. “Initially I just wanted to teach just mathematics, because education is one of the five core pillars of Fight for Peace but then I learned about Khalil Fuller who did Maths Hoops with basketball; and I said ‘Hey, what if we could incorporate Taekwondo and mathematics just like he did with basketball?’”
The Michael Johnson coaches are helping him with a curriculum. With their help and the support from Fight for Peace, he hopes to launch Maths Ninjas in August. As with all the programmes Fight for Peace is supporting its partners to implement, Akino hopes that his programme will provide a long-term a legacy.
“The message I think that it would send to the kids, is that there is always somebody there for them. I think that they have figured out I have my own life but I want them to know that I am still here – even after doing that and going to the Olympics and coming back – that it is still coach and student. It’s a family thing and I want them to know that I’ll always be here, no matter what.”