Willie Jackson: Tyson could inspire our troubled youth

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I am always up for a challenge, so when Malcolm Boyle challenged me in his column ('Tyson not man for this', Herald on Sunday, October 21) to provide details of what Mike Tyson had to offer troubled youth, I couldn't resist responding.

But first, Malcolm, get your facts right. I have never made a race relations complaint against Graham Lowe, nor ever filed a complaint with the Race Relations Office.

As for Tyson, we believe his life story would have offered hope and inspiration to youth in South Auckland. When his visa was rejected, I received a message from former race relations conciliator Gregory Fortuin, who said: "I hope all those precious moralists will be queuing at the marae offering their services to make a difference to one lost person."

That's what it was all about for us - if we could have made a difference to one young person's life, turned them away from crime and the life that Tyson pursued when he was young, then his visit would have been a resounding success.

I am surprised that so many people didn't get that. Tyson's upbringing is similar to many of the young ones with whom we work.

His father walked out on him when he was two, he was an abused child and ended up in a juvenile detention in his teenage years but rose above everything, channelling his energies into a discipline, to become the world heavyweight boxing champion.

His life went down the tubes later, with his rape conviction, bankruptcy and drug addiction. But Tyson got sober and became a world media personality.

There is no doubt that he still slips up; his mistakes have been well-documented by this newspaper and other critics who would have you believe that Tyson is the devil reincarnated, with no chance of changing.

However, that's not the Mike Tyson we wanted. We invited someone who's trying to be a better man, a redeemed man, someone who - by sharing where he went wrong - could help us in our attempts to turn around young peoples' lives.

Despite the negative publicity, the response in our community was phenomenal and confirmed for us that our invitation to Tyson was appropriate.

So, Malcolm, it doesn't matter what you and your mates say about Mike Tyson. We are the ones at the coalface and we know what our people need.

- Herald on Sunday

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