Dwight Cooper, aged 13, does not say much. Instead he leads other children through his actions.
Their eyes following his movements, the taekwondo class shadows him step-by-step. Whenever a student makes a mistake, it does not prompt admonishment from Dwight. Instead his style is to pause the session, walk over and demonstrate the correct move.
“It means a lot coaching them and I treat them good. Like my coach Akino, if you give trouble in his class he gives you push ups – but me, I just talk to them. I would say, ‘Behave yourself, because if Akino hears you he will give you push ups!’
Student and a coach to younger children
In just three years, Dwight has moved from a student of taekwondo to coaching younger children, who now see him as a role model.
“Taekwondo teaches me discipline and self-control,” says Dwight who hails from Parade Gardens, one of six inner city Kingston communities served by Fight for Peace and their Unity and Peace (UP) programme, which combines combat sports, psychosocial support and education (see video below).
“Before, I was very angry,” says Dwight. Today though, he describes himself as “calm, not talkative”, at least when not around his friends.
Losing a father to gun violence
Dwight shares more than a love of taekwondo with coach Akino Lindsay, who is a 24-year-old world champion. Dwight lost his father to gun violence on Christmas Eve last year, while similar circumstances made Akino fatherless when he was just five years old. While Dwight looks up to him as a role model, Akino recognises a youth with the potential to emulate his achievements.
“I try best as possible with Dwight to ask how was school and what do you plan to do tomorrow,” says Akino. I try to have a little impact because I know it’s rough. Anytime I see someone who doesn’t have a father I instantly see myself in him.”
“But Dwight has really grown. In comparison to when I first met Dwight you couldn’t get a word out of him and get him to interact. I’ve seen him come from Dwight the reserved calm, chill person to Dwight the leader. Even though he doesn’t speak so much he has taken a central role in the class,” explains Akino.
Discipline and counselling with Fight for Peace
Fight for Peace has provided counselling for both Dwight and his mother Adissa Williams. Fight for Peace lead psychologist John-Earle Spence has gotten to know both of them better through these sessions.
“Dwight is a young man who is trying to move beyond the negative influences around him. Him losing his father has affected him deeply, more than he expresses, but it hasn’t derailed him. Instead he has stepped up and taken up leadership roles,” says Spence, who also credits a support network of Dwight’s mother and friends.
Dwight acknowledges the role of counselling and hopes that more children could have similar access.
Focusing on his life goals
During his three years within the programme, he has overcome other setbacks. In taekwondo he had to settle for second and third in his first competition. Not bad! But at every competition since he won at least one gold medal.
As for his future goals, Dwight says he wants to be an entrepreneur, or a soldier, so he can protect others. With Fight for Peace he is already well on his way.