Ex-gang member from Wimbledon turns Cambridge graduate
An ex-gang member who was shot in the head and spent four years in prison has turned his life around to win a scholarship to Cambridge University.
Ali Niaz, 24, from Durnsford Road, Wimbledon, grew up on a Wandsworth council estate where he quickly got caught up in gang culture and began dealing cannabis at the age of 12.
At 16, his gang came across a converted replica gun, which was accidentally fired and a bullet was shot into Mr Niaz’s head.
He said: “It was the first ever firearm we got hold of. My friend accidentally let it off and he shot me in the head.
“I went to hospital and the police were involved. It wasn’t a real gun but a replica gun so that’s why the impact wasn’t as bad.”
The bullet remains lodged in his skull as its removal could result in brain damage and he was later charged with possession of a class A drug with intent to supply.
Facing a jail term and having recently become a father Mr Niaz contacted Regenerate UK, a charity that works with children from London housing estates, and accompanied a group of businessmen to Nairobi, in Kenya.
He said: “It was that trip that lit the spark in my head.
“I had just had a son and was about to go to jail. I realised I had to sort my life out and I came back with the intention of being a positive role model.”
On his return Mr Niaz was sentenced to four years in jail but he enrolled on A-levels in business and enterprise, while completing a day release scheme in which he worked at a Surrey-based company.
On his release in June 2010 Mr Niaz completed a meta-design workshop at Goldsmiths University, before winning a full scholarship to Cambridge University where he attained a postgraduate qualification in business.
This led him to establish Aspire to be Great, a social enterprise to support young people.
He said: “We go into schools and do talks and I share my story and stories about people who are trying to turn their life around.
“Dream, believe, achieve is the ethos. You can be whatever you want to be if you work hard.”
For more information visit aspiretobegreat.org.uk