In Their Own Words: Making My Way from Nothing

In Their Own Words: Making My Way from Nothing

Shemar Allen-Barnum, Second Year, McMaster Marauders Football

My name is Shemar Glenroy Jr Allen-Barnum and I am a second-year player on the McMaster Marauders Football team. I attended Beverley Heights Middle School, William Lyon Mackenzie, and Father Henry Carr. I was raised by my single mother Maxine Camille Allen. I grew up in Jane and Finch, which is a well-known Hood in Toronto.

Many people that aren’t used to the term don’t really understand what it means to grow up in a hood and how life works in those types of areas. Growing up in my area meant that you had to be good at either finding a trade job or being a star athlete.

“Growing up, you become accustomed to many things that you really shouldn’t be…”

There was never any real focus on going to university and studying to become something other than what we were all told as kids; using your talents that were not school or sport related or being anything more than what we were told to be. Growing up, you became accustomed to many things that you really shouldn’t be, like gangs, drugs, and constant violence.

I was pretty fast growing up, so I focused on track and field. From grades eight to 10, I held the number one rank for the 200m and 300m in Canada and went on to participate in the Canadian Nationals as a representative for Team Ontario, with my team ending up winning the relay. That experience really helped me understand what it meant to be an athlete and what it means to represent something more than yourself.

The following months took a turn for the worse when I tore my ACL in a pick-up basketball game; an injury that ended my future in terms of going away for school on a track and field scholarship. It looked as if my career as athlete was over.

Through mentoring from people close to me, I pushed for a comeback and tried my hardest to make it work. It did not come together the way I wanted it to; however, so I thought I would just try to find a trade job like I always thought of as a backup. At that point, I checked out mentally for track. But on November 19, 2016, that all changed for me.

When I was grade 12, I was part of a very good basketball team while I was at William Lyon Mackenzie. On the team were many of my close friends, but a new kid came to the school – Caheem Monteith – and he was one of the most talented basketball players I’ve ever met. More than that though, he by far had the most heart when it came to giving It your all and not caring who is trying to stop you. He made an impact on me in the way he played and talked. He was one-of-a-kind and making a connection with him beyond sports made me understand why he played so hard and why he always gave it his all in everything he does.

Caheem (a.k.a. Lights Out Lefty) was a 17-year-old boy who had is birthday on November 8, and on November 19, he was taken away from us by the same violence we were accustomed to in the Hood. He was shot in his friend’s backyard and died on the way to the hospital.

“I realized that I couldn’t give up so easily on my dreams…”

When I heard the news, I didn’t know what to think because something like this has never hit me so close and so fast. After attending his funeral, remembering what he stood for and where we came from, I realized that I couldn’t give up so easily on my dreams. I carried a message when I play my sport and that message is “Ball For LO”.

If I had the ability to play, I was going to honour him and what he stood for. I applied for university and ended up choosing McMaster. I initially came in trying to run track again, but the school did not have a sprint team, so I looked around to see what else I could do. I reached out to the football program and I’m thankful they saw the potential in me; taking a kid who had no prior experience playing football and giving me a chance to be on the team.

“I am focused on making next year my breakout season and showing the league something special.”

First year was a learning experience and set me up to come in this year as a real contributor to the football program. I was sidelined due to injury, but that didn’t stop me from trying to make a fast recovery, so I could give it my all and be a player that can make an impact. Now that the season is over, I am focused on making next year my breakout season and showing the league something special.

Growing up, I’ve met many people in my situation that made their dreams a reality, but the two names that come to mind that show what good can come out of the hood is Kwasi Adu-Poku – who is currently in his third year at McMaster on the men’s basketball team as vital part of the program – and Bally, part of a successful young rap group called 365 who are based out of Jane and Finch.

When I found out I could write about my experience as an OUA student-athlete, it took a while for me to find out what I wanted to say. I ultimately wanted to write my story of how I got from the hood to where I am today, how it influenced me to be the man that I am, and hopefully inspire someone to keep pushing for what they want in life, not just in sports.

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