Bradly grew up in Manurewa in South Auckland. He used to get bullied at school for having no shoes, and for being the rugged "white" kid. He's Ngāpuhi and Tainui, but no one believed him that he was Māori because of his fair skin colour.
He recently took part in Manawa Ora, a performance-based arts project run by our partner charity Ngā Rangatahi Toa that is designed to inspire a sense of purpose in rangatahi (young people) excluded from mainstream education.
The project pairs up rangatahi with a mentor, and over two weeks they prepare a piece and then perform it at theatres in central and South Auckland. For Bradly, that mentor was poet and rapper Dominic Hoey, aka Tourettes.
Dom generously spoke to us about his time together with Bradly. This is Dom’s story, as Bradly’s mentor and his friend:
I first met Bradly Johnstone at the Ngā Rangatahi Toa classroom out in Otara at the start of Manawa Ora.
Usually there’s a lot of small talk at the start of a project as you slowly get to know one another, but almost immediately Bradly was telling me about his life, the extreme bullying he’d suffered for years and how he’d turned his life around.
I was bullied growing up so I knew not only the pain, but also how difficult it is, as a young man, to speak about victimisation. But Bradly showed no hesitation in tackling the subject.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with Ngā Rangatahi Toa as an arts mentor on and off for the last three years. It’s been both the most rewarding and the most taxing thing I’ve ever done. The Kaupapa is to approach everything with love and kindness and at times this can seem an impossible task. But it works, and as we continued to talk, Bradly’s calm demeanour and focus had me believe that this was going to be an easy project. But life loves throwing a spanner in the works.
The first day came and there was no sign of Bradly. Eventually we got him on the phone – he wasn’t sure he wanted to do the programme anymore, but he agreed to come in at the start of the week.
Monday came and we made the trip out to Bradly’s house in Manurewa to meet his family and pick him up.
A world away back in Ponsonby we spent the day talking about the project, Bradly’s concerns, and why I thought it was important for him to do the programme. By three o'clock he had agreed to keep attending.
On the Tuesday we hit the ground running. The words poured out from Bradly and I recorded them all onto my laptop verbatim. We then started to give shape to his piece, moving parts around and deleting and rewriting sentences. By day’s end we had the first draft done.
Every morning before working on the performance piece, we did an hour of yoga and meditation led by Kristina Cavit, from the Kindness institute. The first day Bradly was noticeably uncomfortable, but by mid week he was up the front leading the class.
Even though Bradly had never set foot on stage before he quickly picked up the rudiments of performing. By the end of the first week his piece was starting to feel polished. But as opening night approached I could tell he was growing increasingly nervous. We worked on breathing exercises to keep calm. I explained to him that, as in life, if you acknowledge your fuck ups on stage they lose their power.
I remember walking out onto the stage with him that first night, and being reminded of what a huge thing it is that we ask of those teenagers, to get up in front of 200 people for four nights and tell their stories. I sat behind Bradly, feeling more nervous than I do at my own shows. But I shouldn’t of worried, night after night he got up and nailed the piece, ad-libing and making the stage his own.
We recently caught up for a final performance out in Otara. It was good to see Bradly again. He’s thinking about turning his hand to acting, and the confidence he gained from the programme and performing is still with him.
~ Dominic Hoey
Ngā Rangatahi Toa support heaps of kids like Bradly who have been excluded from mainstream education to build confidence and a brighter future. They don't take funding from gaming foundations and breweris, so they need all of our support. Go learn more about Ngā Rangatahi Toa and give your one percent.