Jahswill turned trauma from vicious attack into positive with charity promoting ethnic minorities
An inspirational Belfast man who turned a tragic event in his own life into a positive for his local community picked up our Charity Champion Award sponsored by Coca-Cola HBC.
Jahswill Emmanuel was seriously injured in a vicious racist attack in 2012 which left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Too afraid to leave home and left struggling with anxiety and depression for years afterwards, he decided the only way to recover was to try and tackle the issue by helping to integrate Northern Ireland’s diverse community.
In 2016, Jahswill (34) set up Multi-Ethnic Sports and Culture Northern Ireland (MSCNI), a charity which engages hundreds of people from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.
Still unable to work because of the trauma he still deals with, the father-of-three devotes much of his spare time to running sports programmes and events to help develop ‘Black, Asia and Minority Ethnic’ (BAME) youth.
Ethnic minority groups struggle daily with life here and Jahswill wanted to help tackle the isolation they feel and encourage participation in sports.
Married to Catherine and father to Syienna (13), Jahswill (11), Cohinue (10) and Tirefimi (3), he is originally from Nigeria and moved to Northern Ireland to start a new life back in 2004.
He explains what led him to settle here: “I was with some mates living in London but was finding it a struggle.
“My cousin lived here and he said I should come over as it was a really peaceful place.
“When I arrived, there were no African shops and we had to use an Asian shop. Now it is so diverse you have shops for everyone as there has been such a growth in diversity and multi-cultural communities here.”
Jahswill was protecting the premises of a company in Belfast as a security guard in 2012 when he was the victim of a racist attack which left him with a broken jaw.
Although he had experienced racial slurs in the street on numerous occasions since moving here, this attack had a profound effect on him.
He recalls: “A guy came up to enter the premises and I told him that he couldn’t. Next thing there was a big bang around my jaw. He punched me and broke my jaw and I had to get my mouth wired. He called me a ‘black b’ and told me to go back to my own country. It affected me really bad and I started withdrawing from people. I got a lot of counselling but I discovered it wasn’t working.
“I realised it was going to destroy me and the only way around it was to do something to help people but how do you help people when you are depressed? I am naturally a jovial person and I like to see people smile and when they smile it encourages me a lot. I love to see the beauty of diversity and people living in harmony.
“We started the charity to bring people together through the medium of sport and we also organise cultural events.
“There are some ethnic minority groups who were not integrating with local people and we need to integrate and share our social lives with them and that’s what the charity aims to help them to do. It’s not just about me volunteering to develop other people, it is also about developing myself. It gives me confidence to meet people. To me we are all the same, regardless of colour, gender or age.”
As modest as he is about his achievements, Jahswill has become a hero to hundreds of people from a large variety of backgrounds in his local community. Through a lot of hard grafting and fundraising, he has reached out to many other groups as well, including the homeless.
When events stopped during the pandemic, he supported over 600 vulnerable people with everything from food packs to laptops to help kids to do school work from home.
One of several people who nominated him for our award said: “He solely puts others before himself. Giving up his free time and dedicating himself to others and their hardships shows he is a true role model and that he is showing others how to live with hope, integrity, optimism, and compassion.”
Being recognised in the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Ulster Bank has delighted this selfless man.
He adds: “I’m over the moon to know what we are doing in the charity and the impact on the community is being appreciated and it just motivates me to want to do more.”