A ONCE-HOMELESS black man who raised more than £30,000 to study at Oxford University has spoken about his struggle to succeed after a childhood of poverty.
Roy Celaire, from Hackney, was sleeping on buses, park benches and floors by the time he was 17 and as a child went to friends’ houses just to eat.
In spite of this, he achieved A Levels and later graduated from Brunel University and the London School of Economics, while working full-time to afford food and bills.
Mr Celaire was accepted into Oxford in March 2017 but couldn’t raise the five-figure amount he needed for his master’s in Social Anthropology until someone suggested he try crowdfunding.
The 31-year-old told the Oxford Mail: “I wanted to come to Oxford so desperately.
“I’m a black man from a council estate, it’s not easy to get here from my background. When I got into Oxford, people said ‘Aren’t you worried you’ll feel out of place?’, but just because I’m poor and black, it doesn’t mean I don’t see myself here.”
After telling his story on a Go Fund Me web page – about his early life growing up in Hackney’s crime-ridden Holly Street Estate – donations began to pour in.
He said: “The Holly Street Estate was awful. People were injecting drugs on the stairs, and everything stank of p**s. Once, when I was lying down, a mouse crawled over my face. It was real poverty.”
Mr Celaire attended the Homerton College of Technology, a failing secondary school which was shut down due to low attainment and gang activity.
He said: “I get asked how I survived there. It was dilapidated, people would spit on the stairs. I was in the top sets, but students would throw things and be so disruptive. You were expected to fail. My teachers would be shocked if they heard I’d made it to Oxford”.
Mr Celaire had just started Sixth Form when his mum, who has mental health issues, kicked him out of the house.
He stayed with friends and in a succession of ‘awful’ hostels before he was given a permanent flat in Brentwood, Essex. Despite his ordeal, he never gave up trying to learn. After being accepted to a university, he would commute four hours a day to get to lectures, while working second and third jobs on the side.
Now he says: “I’m glad I told my story. I wasn’t sure how people would react, and I was almost embarrassed to share where I had come from, but people were so compassionate. I want to show others in my situation that if you want to go to Oxford or Cambridge, don’t think you can’t.”
Mr Celaire started his master’s degree at Keble College this October.
He wants to use his degree to research issues confronting the black community in Britain.