“I got a second chance, ras. I didn't have to be here talking tuh allyuh. God forbid, I could have been in jail, or on the block smoking with a real big belly and three gold teeth in my mouth. Be a leader. Don't be a follower.”
For close to an hour, on Wednesday, Keston Bledman shared his life with a group of form three boys at St James Government Secondary, urging them to stay away from a life of thuggery.
Adorned with gold and tattoos, Bledman has the look that would instil fear in many. And he admitted to the young students that he once lived a life to suit that image.
Sport, however, gave him the opportunity to turn a new leaf, and he is now a double Olympic silver medallist and one of the fastest Trinidad and Tobago sprinters ever.
“You don't have to be a sportsman. Not everybody good in books. Not everybody good in sports. You don't have to learn everything, but learn something. Do trade, ras. Dancing, do something, anything positive. Make yuh school proud.
“I do real stupidness, and I don't want you to make the mistakes I made. But I got a second chance. I play badman in school, but when police come, I praying: 'I don't want to get expel, don't want to get held. Lord Jesus, I would go to church Sunday'.”
Bledman's motivational speech was powerful, the 28-year-old track star reaching the teenagers by communicating with them in their own language.
“I talking in allyuh terms. I young. All de wetman and wetgyul who I knew in school, if you see them on the road now, they are nobody. I'm being real with you. When I see wetmen on the side of the road now, it's 'Oh Bledman, gi meh something nah'.
“In school,” he continued, “I had all the fancy JanSport, with nothing inside my bag.”
Bledman warned the pupils about deceitful friends.
“I had this friend who was on badness, and one day I happened to go into the school library and he was in a corner hiding, doing work.”
The Pleasantville Secondary past pupil also shared about a “friend” who left him stranded in Port of Spain.
No money to travel home
“We went up to Youthfest at the (Queen's Park) Savannah. This fella I went with, he got real drunk. I took care of him. My girlfriend at the time begged me to leave with her. But no, I stayed with my friend. I would have put my head on a block that he would not have left me.”
Well, Bledman would have lost his head. The southerner was left in the capital city by his friend, with no money to travel home.
“To show you how blessed I am, I found $80 on the ground. The next day, two men who I had beaten up before came home to ask my father if I reached home. But the man who left me in town, my bredren, up to now he has not enquired if I reached home. You might consider someone, but that person might not consider you.”
Bledman also cautioned the teens about using social media to market themselves as badmen.
“Don't go on Instagram to pose and call yourself 'Short Boss' and that sort of thing. When it's time to get a job, the employers are going to go on Facebook and Instagram and other social media to learn about you.
“If you end up working at JTA or any supermarket, you're getting $900 per week. Or at KFC, $700 per week. And you know about Prada shoes and those kind of brands, it's $3,000.”
Bledman told the St James Secondary pupils there will always be people who fight you down and judge you. He insisted, though, that revenge is not an option.
“You might want to get back at them, but punish them by making something of yourself. I punish them when they buy the Express and I'm on the front page, the centre page, the back page.”
'I took badness into track and field'
Bledman said that earlier in his athletics career, he lacked an appreciation of his role as an ambassador. “I took badness into track and field. When I went abroad to meets, anybody want war, I ready. But it's not just yourself you're representing. It's your country, your family.”
Bledman shared with the boys that he was the victim of robbery in South Trinidad, making the point that a badman image does not insulate you from the criminal scourge.
'Robbed $80,000 in gold'
“I lost about $80,000 in gold. I was liming with a cousin, and a man came up to me and calmly said 'this is a robbery'. Thinking it was a bredren, I didn't take him on, but then I realised I don't know that face and he had a gun. So, I got to give him.”
Though Bledman's quip at the end of the account elicited a laugh, the young audience understood the gravity of the situation.
“If it was a outta timing man who really really really wanted me, he would have shot me in meh foot dread, and that would have been the end of Keston Bledman.”
Fortunately, there are more chapters to be written in the Keston Bledman story, his invaluable service to country continuing on and off the track.