The first time Tyrell had a knife pulled on him, he was 14.
Tyrell had a difficult childhood marked by family breakdown and exposure to crime and gang violence. But this was the first time he ever felt like his life was in danger.
“There were seven or eight guys, but two of them had knives,” Tyrell recalls. “They backed me up against the wall, while I still had my hands up – trying to push them away.
“Then, someone must have been looking after me because they changed their minds and decided to just leave me. I’ve been very lucky. But I can still see that knife coming out of the bag like it was yesterday.”
Tyrell likens his adolescence to a ‘war zone’, as this period of his life was overshadowed by conflict, trauma and loss.
One of Tyrell’s closest friends was killed over 10 years ago during an act of gang violence. He also knows other young people who have committed serious crimes and received lengthy jail sentences.
“That’s why it’s important for people like me, who’ve been in the war zone and gotten out, to talk about our stories,” Tyrell explains. “Otherwise, you might become a bikie, go to jail, and stay in that life until you die.”
This isn’t the first time that Tyrell has shared his story. He recently appeared in a video for Youth Off The Streets, describing his first encounter with the organisation’s outreach program and the positive impact that the youth workers had on his life.
One of those youth workers was Josh, whom Tyrell met when he was 15.
“I was hanging out at the park with some friends and Josh came up and started talking to us.”
“Josh saw we were hungry, so he left and 15 minutes later came back with some pizzas.”
After that initial meeting, Tyrell started connecting with a Youth Off The Streets outreach program on a regular basis. Alongside another youth worker named Tommy, he considers Josh to be his biggest role model from that time.
“When Josh and I first met, he was studying his Diploma of Youth Work,” Tyrell says. “We sort of grew together, which is really cool.”
“I’m part-Samoan, so the fact that Josh was also Pasifika really helped the connection.”
“In our community, there’s a lot of hurt and intergenerational trauma – Samoa was colonised as recently as the 1800s. Some kids are dealing with domestic violence at home too. When you add on the fact that your skin isn’t white, that doesn’t help.”
Josh and Tommy helped Tyrell imagine a different future for himself – one that was far removed from the ‘war zone’ of his teenage years.
He even received awards from the outreach program for continuing his studies, helping the youth workers set up games and barbecues, and assuming a leadership role while the staff attended an interstate conference.
“I still have those awards hanging up on my walls,” he says.
Ultimately, Tyrell left school at 17. He applied for numerous jobs and tended bar at an RSL for two years.
Then, his favourite gaming console broke.
As Tyrell was researching how to repair the device, he happened to see a job opening at an international technology company.
Tyrell’s aunt had introduced him to video gaming when he was very young. Tyrell had long dreamed of working with computers, but he wasn’t expecting his impromptu application at the technology firm to be successful.
“The first interview was a group interview, and there were 15 people in the room – as well as six or seven staff,” Tyrell says. “Everyone I interviewed with had a degree.”
“I’ll never forget it. Everyone was there in their suits and ties, and I had my Nike tracksuit and a bum bag on. So that was daunting.”
“The managers who interviewed me took a chance on me. They saw more in me than other people did. So, after three rounds of interviews, I ended up where I am now.”
In the five years since then, Tyrell’s career trajectory has changed several times. He advised customers at the tech company, then considered becoming a youth worker and investigated further study in that field.
Tyrell returned to the tech industry around two years ago. Now, he is thriving in a role that requires him to wear numerous hats.
“With one hat, I work with customers in our NSW headquarters. I do a lot of stuff in the community as well, like high school programs.”
“Then, my other hat relates to the engagement of Pasifika peoples. I personally look after Australia and New Zealand, and I also look after the team that takes care of Hawaii and the US.”
“So, it’s a bit of everything; no two days are the same. One day I’ll be talking about computers at a shop in the city, and the next I’ll have meetings with companies in New Zealand about taking technology to remote villages in Samoa.”
In addition to his work, Tyrell finds time to give back to the community.
After 17-year-old Uati ‘Pele’ Faletolou was killed in a brawl at the Royal Easter Show in 2022, Tyrell realised that young people were fighting the same battles that he had witnessed a decade earlier.
That’s why he volunteered to participate in the Youth Off The Streets video – to “continue the dialogue” and give young people the same inspiration and encouragement that he received from Youth Off The Streets.
Tyrell has also assisted Brothers in Need, a non-profit organisation that delivers youth services and a homeless outreach program, and donated nine gaming consoles and three monitors to Youth Off The Streets’ crisis refuges.
“I firmly believe that if you can change one life, it can lead to a domino effect. Kids are still dying, you know? So, I hope I can keep working with Pacific Islander kids, and just kids in general, to inspire them to make good choices about their future.”
Despite the hardships he has endured, Tyrell wouldn’t advise his younger self to do anything differently.
“In hindsight, I had to go through all that stuff to be who I am.”
“I don’t think I’d be as passionate about youth justice if I didn’t experience injustice. So, if given the choice, I don’t think I’d ever change what I went through.”