Interesting People #6
Before we talk about Justin as an interesting person, we should point out that a lot of people seem to be interested in him. Over the last couple of years he’s been in demand for all sorts of things from opera to local politics – and more recently he’s become involved in Luma, the new Instagram channel run by Eggtooth and Isolation Station.
The surprising thing about Justin is how he has emerged from a difficult childhood into such a thoughtful and articulate adult. A ‘difficult childhood’ can mean many things: in Justin’s case, it involved being brought up by a young single mother in a family where he didn’t feel he fitted in, leaving home at 16 and being homeless for a year. Not fitting could well be down to his heritage: he only discovered two years ago that his father was Greek, not just a different Englishness but a whole different genetic pool!
So Justin appears to be something of a cuckoo, emerging into an environment not suited to his character and dealing with all of this as he was growing up. Fortunately, he encountered the Eggtooth organisation quite early on and was given a second chance at hatching. (Eggtooth is
a local organisation that works to enrich people’s lives in many ways www.eggtooth.org.uk)
In fact, Justin first came across Eggtooth at 12 when it was running a summer school at a local Academy. He then volunteered to assist team leaders as an older student and has been working with them on and off since. Sally Grieg, Director of Eggtooth, says: “He’s an incredibly caring young person.”
PRETENDING TO BE SOMEONE ELSE
His perception is that he had to pretend to be someone he wasn’t when he was growing up “just to make people happy”. That includes his mother – although on reflection he admits that she has recently told him she’s proud of him.
Part of the problem seems to have been ‘the Billy Elliot syndrome’. People tried to pigeon-hole him because of what he liked to do, and assumed he was gay. “Apparently it was because I like to sing: I like to perform, to act; for some people that makes me gay. It always confused me.” But his response is a confident: “I am who am. I’m not gay, I’m straight. I’m unique and I’m Justin. My own version of myself.”
He also likes speaking out on certain topics and always has. “I love debating. And that’s probably why I got into arguments with other people. I have my opinion and school kind of deprives you of that.” He goes on: “I’d felt like I was an outsider for as long as I could remember: family, friends, workplaces and it gave me feelings of loneliness and anxiety.”
STRENGH FROM ADVERSITY
When I asked about his apparent confidence, he said this might have come through faking it over the years, faking that he was OK. “I’d never had the ability or the courage to actually let my true self be known to other people until it got to the point where I just had enough. And I started thinking ‘Why should I hide what I really am from people?’” And that was when he was around 12 and, interestingly, when he got involved with Eggtooth.
Justin accepts that strength can come from adversity. Talking about his homelessness and whether it was the worst experience of his life he answered: “It should never have happened in the first place, and it should never happen to anyone, but in another way, it actually helped because it helped me become even more independent than I already was.
Everyone has a fear of not being good enough, though most people would never admit it
I think being homeless could have been one of the best things that ever happened to me. Like it was bad, but it was also a part of growing up. Not everyone goes through being homeless, but at the same time, in a way, we do because there’s always that time in everyone’s life when they have to move out of their parent’s home, no matter what age. And then they’re thinking ‘How am I going to do this? How am I going to cope? I can’t be alone’ and that goes through everyone’s head.”
But there were difficult experiences, the worst being “sleeping on the street in the rain and having a bunch of drunks and drug addicts shouting at you in the night”, he says. “It got to the point where I wouldn’t sleep at all at night, and I’d go round to a friend’s house during the day and take a nap.”
Nevertheless, Justin managed to turn his life around: currently he is involved with the Barefoot Opera and Luma, the new Youth social media channel, as well as being Vice Chair of Hastings Youth Council. Recently he was involved with the Wilding Festival (“Amazingly helpful,” says organiser Beccy McCray) and he is talking with Cllr Maya Evans about the possibility of becoming a councillor.
Asked about whether he was getting involved in too many things, he said: “To be honest I don’t think I’m doing enough. I see so many issues, so many challenges every day walking through Hastings. Hastings is in the top 5% in the Southeast for homelessness, mental health problems, domestic violence unemployment – and that’s not just in adults but in youth as well.”
And he doesn’t feel this is just the responsibility of the council. “It’s everyone’s first assumption to blame the council. They do what they can. Since the budget cuts they don’t have much money. As Vice Chair of the Hastings Youth Council I know what the council’s like and what they do. Hopefully I’ll actually join the council at some point as a young councillor.”
Talking about what people can do for themselves, we got onto the subject of cooking and why some people find it so difficult. Justin says he learned how to cook at a very early age. And unlike many young men, he’s proud of his cooking skills, proud of the Cajun Gumbo, Chicken & Chorizo Jambalaya and Seafood Chowder he cooked for his GCSE Food Preparation practical exam. His view on why so many people don’t know ‘how to cook’: “Everyone has a fear of not being good enough, though most people would never admit it.”
But in the end, what really brought a smile to his face was telling me that he’s recently fallen in love, not something that happened out of the blue but with someone he already knew as a friend. They’d just been hanging out without any expectations and “we’ve slowly fallen in love with each other”.
• Read more of our Interesting People series here
We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.