British boxer sends message of support to bullied Syrian refugee
When boxer Fes Batista saw the video of a teenage Syrian refugee being taunted and pushed to the ground at a school in northern England as other students looked on, it brought back a flood of painful memories.
The 28-year-old, whose real name is Mohammed Faisal but is known by his nickname, knows only too well the impact bullying can have. He said he came "within millimeters" of taking his own life after being taunted over his Asian background while at college.
The fact that the Syrian boy, identified by his familyâ€™s lawyer only as Jamal, was bullied in Batistaâ€™s own West Yorkshire hometown of Huddersfield made the video more personal to him. It also impelled Batista to offer any help he could.
"I was absolutely devastated for him and it made me absolutely determined to reach out to him at all costs," he said.
Batista, who is trained and managed by American boxing legend Roy Jones Jr., splits his time between Huddersfield, a multicultural town northeast of Manchester, and Pensacola, Florida. He aspires to a world championship title and is living life to the fullest.
But things could have been very different. He never suffered racist abuse growing up in Huddersfield, he said, but when he went to university in another, less diverse town in northern England his experience of racially motivated bullying was horrific.
"They openly called me a terrorist, openly threw stuff at me, one girl spat in my face -- I remember that," he said. "I was boxing at the time -- it doesnâ€™t matter how tough you are, these things crush you from the inside. You canâ€™t clench your fist and say â€™Iâ€™m going to fight youâ€™ -- itâ€™s something way more powerful."
Batista credits hearing a Lady Gaga song as he was preparing to take his own life with restoring his will to live. Now, he speaks in local schools against bullying and works with top-flight soccer club Huddersfield Town to spread an inclusive message.
The boxer hopes that hearing how he turned his life around and realized his dream of becoming a professional boxer will help Jamal and other young people like him. Heâ€™s reached out to Jamalâ€™s family and hopes he may get to offer support in person.
"I want to send that message to him and to other people who are suffering bullying and are rock bottom," he said. "I can feel the pain he felt. These people most likely havenâ€™t been there. Iâ€™ve physically been where heâ€™s been."