Gen Z: Akeem Osborne

19 July 2017

Photography and interview Cecilie Harris
Words Claudia Brown
Model Akeem Osborne at Select Models
Special thanks to IMPOSSIBLE

Akeem Osborne at Select Models talks to Boys By Girls about his passion for basketball as part of our ongoing Generation Z series.

It's not where you are, but who you are with that counts for happiness and feeling at home. For Akeem Osborne (17) at Select Models, that's exactly why family comes first. Drifting through life without thinking too much about others’ opinions is the key to his placid and phlegmatic vibe. Although his roots are far afield, he is never happier than when he is sitting at his nan's kitchen table eating jerk chicken. Home really is where the heart is.

We all need to rest sometimes: to breathe, to reflect. It is at home that Akeem finds solace from the franetic lifestyle of being an aspiring basketball player. Practicing around the clock, he looks elsewhere for his crucial down time. And yet, listening to him, it is astounding that such a young man can be so driven by a dream. This Birmingham boy lives for his dream, swimming in it, drowing in it. The people around him rally confidence in this dream, providing him with the agressive impetus to make every minute a mission towards getting to where he wants to be.

In an interview as part of our ongoing Generation Z series, you are given another moment to dive deep into the mind of a boys of a new generation. This sleepy teen is a product of the 21st century and a firm diciple of its 'live and let live' creed. He is a dreamer, a stoic warrior of the basketball court.

What's it like growing up in Birmingham?
I think it's the same as anywhere, really. The only thing that's different is the people that you're surrounded by, like family. As long as you have them, it doesn't matter where you are. Like, I’m from all over - I’m Jamaican, British and Chinese.

How would you describe the boys of your generation?
They love chasing trends. It's hard to explain, but whatever’s new, they want a piece of it. But that's actually so unimportant - possessions, they either work or they don't work at the end of the day. If something does the job – it’s support. Other than that I’d say my generation can be a bit lazy, they’re poorly organised and lack motivation. That’s people my age for you. Older people tend to be more mature.

Why do you think your generation is lazy and lack motivation?
They don't understand what it’s like to work hard for something. They haven't experienced everything and haven’t got a grip on the future or what’s going to come. We haven't had that much of struggle in the same way that the older generations have, and we don't seem to understand that if you really want something you have to work, work, work. Young people nowadays just seem to breeze through life without making much of an effort. I mean - even I’m lazy at times and often lack motivation, but when there’s something to do - I get it done. Although, it may get done just at the last minute – but in the end I get it done. Like at school, I’m that guy who always does the essay the night before.

What motivates you at the moment?
I guess it’s just me at the moment becoming aware of the fact that if I mess up, I won’t have a good career, but also that people depend on me. My parents, for example, want me to be great, and so do my basketball coaches. They don't just motivate me in the basketball court, but also when it comes to my education. My coaches teach me life lessons; they teach me how to live life to the fullest.

What would you say are the good things about growing up today? And what are the challenges?
A good thing is that we get to live through things, gain experience and wisdom, and then we get to pass it down to generation…alpha? The bad things… I mean it depends on what area of the world you're in, but mainly it’s the people around you - wrong company or people with a negative influence. Eventually you learn to avoid the bad things as you grow up – I think that is what growing up means. If everyone was born an adult, then life would be pointless, as you wouldn't have to strive towards anything - you'd be an adult and that’s it. That’s a good thing about my generation, because as we’re growing up we’re learning, learning something new every day. Learning to help others and work hard, it’s really the small things that make up our generation.

Are you a helpful person?
Well, when I'm not being lazy. Sometimes I just enjoy staying in bed all day watching Netflix or basketball on my laptop. I like 'Prison Break' and I can sometimes spend all day watching it. When I have one of those lazy days, basically, I feel really guilty afterwards. I’m like; ‘I really shouldn't have done that’. But then I do it again and I still feel guilty, but it doesn’t change.

Did becoming a model two months ago help that?
It’s definitely given me more motivation. Nowadays, I have to balance school, basketball, family time, bloody social life, and then modelling - not in that order though. So I'm more organised, but I’m also learning - learning loads. I get to meet so many people and I'm learning a lot about the industry, about fashion, and what agencies and clients are looking for. I would say they’re just looking for a good photo, without really thinking that the models are any more different from the rest of humanity.

Is it only what’s on the outside that matters?
Well no, because in photos you don't see much emotion, as you're seeing it from the outside. When you're on the outside looking in you just see a simple expression and you don't know what’s going on in the mind of a model until you've been one yourself. So I guess modelling is helping me understand what’s happening on the inside. Also, you need to be kind to book good jobs. It’s easily forgotten that clients have to spend the whole day with you, so you basically have to be nice and get on with them. Personality is key, as well as your look.

You must have family all over the globe. Do you find that all your cultural identities clash?
Both my parents were born here, but my nan and granddad were born in Jamaica. I also have family in Chinea, Sweden - everywhere really, Germany too. I don't know if I’d say the cultures ‘clash’, but for sure, in Jamaica they speak Patwah, which is kind of hard. When my auntie comes to visit us from Jamaica I struggle to understand her. I think culturally the Jamaicans are stricter, because they've had to work extremely hard to get to where they are now. Life is very different over there - there are fewer jobs, and they’re paid less. There’s just far less money to go around over there. For me personally, this culture doesn't affect the way I do things; I always just do what I do. Maybe my grandparents’ culture has changed things for my parents, aunties and uncles.

What are your passions?
I get pretty passionate about basketball, art and food. Am I allowed to say food? So I guess when it comes to basketball, I haven’t always loved it. I used to play football, badminton and table tennis. In fact, I’ve played county badminton and table tennis against people from all around the country, and from other places in Europe. Then I just stopped. I started playing basketball for fun, but then I got taken over with a want to improve my game. I did constant drills and shootings, and punished myself when I missed shots. I’m a three-point shooter, which means I shoot pretty far from the hoop. Basically you have five players on the court and I played twos and threes at the start of this season. When I get the opportunity, I just shoot and shoot and shoot.

How long have you played basketball and why do you love it so much?
I’ve always loved sport, but I’ve only played basketball seriously since September, when I joined the academy. I’m hoping to continue progressing and hopefully get a scholarship. I want to see how far I can take it. I just love it, I love to play and compete. I guess that’s what I love about it; I love beating people I just love to shoot a ball and watch it hit the bottom of the net, you know? But I don't want you to think I'm a bad winner or a sore loser. When I lose, I just learn how I can actually beat them the next time around. I might not be the most humble person - sometimes I trash talk (that’s what they call it).

What’s that?
I guess just chatting shit at people, like; ‘aw you're crap, you can’t shoot, you got no defence, you can’t guard me', that’s the main one - ‘you can’t guard me’. It’s just to intimidate, that’s the primary focus of it.

I’m totally going to try that next time I play basketball… Wait, actually I’m far too short to play basketball.
Well, you know, you have an advantage, because you see - smaller players tend to be faster. Plus I’m so tall I sometimes can’t get down as low as the shorter players, but because of my athleticism I can still get back in and block. It’s a hard sport. Perhaps the hardest.

You mentioned art and food earlier? Tell me about those.
Well with art, it just came naturally to me, unlike basketball that I had to work at to get to where I am. With art, I’m just good, I think. Both my nan and dad draw too, so I picked it up from them. I paint as well, but I prefer to draw.

Do you have a favourite artist?
Oh that’s hard, there are so many. I like the surrealists. I studied Dali at school - we had to create copies of famous works. In my free time I draw portraits or animals. I draw animals and then look for inspiration in the objects around me - I draw objects onto the animals to make them surreal.

With all these passions, why do you sometimes find that you lack motivation?
I’m passionate, for sure, but it’s fitting it all in that’s the problem. Painting can take weeks. It’s easy, but the difficulty lies in finishing through. I think it’s also good to have multiple motivations; you can't rely on one thing all the time. Motivation is important. As an artist, I find that I sometimes don't want to draw because I feel less inspired at the time. That’s when you have to look to various forms of motivation.

And another passion of yours is food?
Food… I love Jamaican food; chicken really. Jerk chicken, it’s so good. I can cook, but nothing beats my nan’s chicken.

Who are you?
I would describe myself as down to earth, understanding, funny - at times. Sometimes I’m boring, it all depends on my mood. I quite like to spend time alone. I’d say I’m just someone trying to get somewhere, with the same morals and aspirations as everyone else around me. Successful in basketball would be the end goal, if it pans out that way. I also have modelling.

How would you like your lifestyle to be in 5 to 10 years?
I just wish the days could be longer. Right now, I’m working hard at fulfilling all of my ambitions, but I don't have time to let my body recover. In 5 to 10 years, if I don't have a basketball career (if I do, ideally I’ll just train all day), then I’d still want to do something I love. To get paid to do something you love day in and day out - that’s the dream. I never wake up for a day of basketball and say; ‘aw I can’t be bothered’.

Who do you think influences the current generation?
I would say my nan is my biggest inspiration. I’m not really sure, I find it hard to generalise. Maybe teachers and parents? Celebrities might be major influencers for some people, but not me - unless they’re related to basketball.. For me it’s more about the people that are in my close proximity.

Like your nan? Is she cool?
Of course she’s cool. And she's wise. She has a lot of experience that can only come with age. She’s been through a lot, like a lot of jobs and children. She says children was the hardest - all that responsibility and love.

How do you think social media is effecting your generation?
It's a huge distraction. It distracts me. During exams I delete apps from my phone, so I won’t get distracted. That, or I give someone my phone and then they’re not allowed to give it back to me. If there’s no laptop or phone in front of me, I might as well work, as there’s nothing else to do. If I have the option to lie in bed eating and watching Netflix, or work, write and research, which one am I going to pick? Actually, the answer to that depends on my mood. Young people are super affected by their moods. Sometimes I actually want to study - sometimes…

Are you an emotional person?
I guess I am, deep down. Maybe people don't see that side of me from the outside, because I usually keep my feelings to myself. If something happens, I’m not going to tell the whole world - I wouldn't tell a soul really. Obviously there are some people at certain points that manage to get through to me.

And what about the people closest to you? Do you feel comfortable talking to them about feelings?
It depends on the situation really. Mostly I just keep it all to myself. I’ve always been that way. I doubt things a lot and I find it easier to ignore problems than to deal with them.

Do you cry?
Rarely, if I do it must be pretty serious. I express myself through art and basketball in a way. How I am outside the court is very different from how I am on the court. Off the court I am quiet, but on the court I am loud and aggressive, because that’s the way you have to be if you want to win. Generally on the court I’m very switched on – I become a different person.

When you experience strong emotions, like sadness or anger, do you find that you have control over them?
Before I never used to be able to, as they always took control over me. I do now though. I used to have a lot of rage and would get into fights - I would say things I wasn't supposed to say and lash out. But basketball, as soon as I'm on the court nothing else matters. I'm not thinking about girls, or work, or home. It takes my mind off of things.

How do you handle stress?
I find it hard to deal with stress, I usually just sleep through it. If it’s college work, then I will just ask for help, but if it’s one of those stressful situations where you don't want to speak to anyone and you're just there on your own, then you might as well sleep through it to take you mind off of it. When you're awake you're constantly thinking, and then when you’re asleep nothing is stirring in your mind - makes sense, right?

At the moment mental health is a buzzword, is it something that is close to your heart?
Yes, actually. My dad has a mental disability - he’s got schizophrenia. Obviously it’s quite hard to deal with it, but that’s life and you learn how to cope. I’ve learned how it can affect people, because it affected my family and I. At the same time I understand, because I’ve gone through all of it with him. But of course it's hard to really understand what he’s going through.

I want to speak about gender, because at the moment there’s a lot of talk about gender and gender fluidity. What do you think about that?
I mean, at the end of the day, if I don't know them it shouldn't bother me. I don't have to say anything and I definitely can’t tell anyone what to do. It doesn't matter what I think.

Do you feel like you have any feminine qualities?
Well if shopping is deemed feminine, then I'm guilty. Shopping is just a normal thing for me. Changing gender definitions are becoming more normal. They’ve been changing for years. I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't walk around in a dress. I do see drag queens, and, at the end of the day, it’s their choice, so long as it makes them happy.

Do you think masculinity is changing?
I feel like, as a man nowadays, you have a lot of pressure to look good and dress well. I used to care about my image a lot. I always pulled out all of my nice clothes and did my hair properly. Now I don't care about other people’s opinions so much, I don't have anything to prove to others. I am me, and at the end of the day, if they don't like me - they don't like me, that doesn’t bother me.

Are you spiritual or religious in any way?
My nan is really Christian, she's a reader at church. When I was young I took it very seriously and went to mass every week. Now I’m a teenager and I find it quite boring. I still have my faith *touches his heart*, and I know God is there, but I don't feel the need to attend church to praise him.

Have you ever been in love?
Not yet. Obviously everyone wants to fall in love. Maybe it will happen one day, and then I can look forward to spending the rest of my life with that someone. But if I don't - I'm pretty cool with that too. Right now I’m young, so I don't even want to think about all that. Maybe if I'm 50 and I’ve still never been in love, then I might feel sad. For now… Nah.

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